City State Museum: A Statement About Heritage
By Richard L. Servis Jr.
know that Caesar Romero's grandfather was Ramon Rivero Rivero, founder of several Cuban revolutionary publications and leader
of the Revolutionary Party? The Party raised money from the tobacco workers in
support of Jose Marti for Cuba's independence from Spain. A bust sculpture of Jose Marti is on display at the museum. Ramon
Rivero Rivero's two prime publications were: "Cuba, La Rivista de Florida", and "Critico de Ybor City." He also founded the
El Loceo Cubano, a literary and artistic society for Cubans.
Ybor City is noted for it's Hispanic influence today, early immigrants from several European countries were a strong influence
on the community, namely Jewish, German and Italians. In a very general sense, the Jewish people owned many of the stores,
Italians were fishermen and fish merchants, and the Cubans owned or worked in the cigar making industry. A prominent brewery
was owned and operated by Germans. These are but a few of the many facts visitors
learn when visiting the Ybor City State Museum.
of the Ybor City State Museum is dedicated to Mr. Francisco Ferlita, founder of Ferlita's Bakery in 1896, which operated until
1973. During the peak years the bakery could produce 1500 loaves of bread per day, 500 of which were delivered directly to
homes. A nail was placed on the outside wall of the house and the deliveryman would slap the Cuban bread against the nail.
The wall-hung bread would be waiting for the customer to retrieve when convenient. Francisco Ferlita had five sons, two of
whom survive today. Tony Ferlita was noted for his expertise in pastry baking, and John Ferlita was noted for his baking of
bread. John and his wife Rose often visit the museum with a great deal of pride, and share first-hand stories of the old days
with the staff and volunteers.
City, home delivery was common for most consumer goods
such as ice, milk, eggs, and newspapers. Grocery customers could leave
a list with the grocer in the
morning on the way to work, for later delivery at the customer's convenience.
section of the museum features a full-sized wall mural
of cigar makers working in a production area. Several original cigar-making machines and hand tools are on display. Behind the main desk in the lobby
is a large colorful "decoupage"
of cigar box labels.
through the self-guided tour, (guided tours are also available, visitors notice a mosaic display or "module" featuring Tampa
and Ybor City's Jewish heritage. A small photo of Mayor Sandy Freeman as a tennis professional is on display there. The names
of Maas (Mass Brothers Department Stores), and Wolfe (Wolfe Brothers Clothing Stores) appear on a plaque among several
other well-known family names of Tampa. The "rotating" or circulating Tampa/Ybor
City oriented display is on loan from the University of Florida and will be here for another six months. Later it will join
a permanent all-Florida display in a building now under construction in Miami.
the museum, a Spanish style courtyard and garden lends additional atmosphere to the visit. A covered platform in one corner
of the courtyard is used for lectures and outdoor meetings. There were 22 events held in the courtyard and gardens last year
alone, and six so far this year. The courtyard and garden may be rented for weddings, receptions, and other appropriate occasions.
A bust sculpture of Vincente Martinez-Ybor is tastefully placed near a fountain declaring him "Pioneer of the Cigar Industry
in Florida, and Founder of Ybor City."
Martinez-Ybor owned a successful cigar manufacturing business in Key West before settling and establishing Ybor City. Serious
problems with the workers union helped force him to seek a new location. Fortunately, the "Tampa Board of Trade" encouraged
him to open his cigar manufacturing business in Tampa in 1886. Anyone familiar with the rustic shopping mall called "Ybor
Square", and the popular eating place called, "Spaghetti Warehouse" have already trod upon the floors in two of Ybor's original
will notice during the Ybor City State Museum tour that cigar workers were called cigar "makers", and were treated as skilled
professionals. Cigar makers came to work in good clean clothes daily, sometimes wearing suits, hats, and often white shirts
with starched collars. Two facets of the profession were "bunchers" and "rollers". Other tasks in the industry were also given
appropriate titles. Each worker respected the other for their expertise. Most
honored were the "master" cigar makers who could construct a cigar from start to finish-- alone. Their handmade cigars called
"Spanish Hand" sold at a premium, worldwide. Their work was viewed more as artistry than as craftsmanship. Most of the production
of cigars was done in "teams" of three
people, all of whom were not necessarily Cuban. Workers from many nationalities
worked in the cigar factories, with teams sometimes combining Hispanics, Anglos, and Blacks. Each job was paid by piecework,
with everyone getting exactly the same rate. A fierce union strike insisted upon
it in the contract. The cigar industry at that time was the only place a black worker could receive the same rate of pay as
a white worker in the same trade. In the year 1900 Tampa cigar manufacturers produced 111 million cigars.
to the museum's courtyard and garden is "La Casita", meaning "Little House", where a cigar maker lived with his family. The
house was one among many constructed in 1895 for rental to
cigar factory employees by Vincente Martinez-Ybor. The rent was $2.00 to
$3.00 per week. La Casita is not part of the museum-proper, but is unofficially associated. One may purchase tickets for the
museum and/or La Casita at the museums front desk.
City State Museum is operated by the Florida Parks Department. Ranger David Alderman is one of the very few connected with
the museum or La Casita without an Ybor City upbringing. However, he has certainly done his homework on the history of Ybor
City. In spite of his modesty, he can answer almost any question from visitors about Ybor City history. Nearly all the volunteers at La Casita were born and raised in Ybor City, and can enlighten visitors on
Cuban-American culture as well as local history.
Garcia, a volunteer with Ybor City Museum Society at La Casita is also very active in attempts to restore the landmark building
of Centro Asturiano, one of several ethnic clubs located
in Ybor City of yesteryear. The club was named after Asturias, a province
in northern Spain,
and the former home of many of the immigrants who settled in Ybor City.
Ms. Garcia's eyes sparkle with enthusiasm when she reflects on the organization's celebrations, separate dances and music
for older and younger generations in the same building, special fiestas, and cultural traditions.
the street from the museum in Ybor Centennial Park, a monument was erected in recognition for all immigrants who settled in
City State Museum is located on the corner of 9th Avenue and 19th Street in Tampa. The telephone number is (813)247-6323.
walking tour of Ybor City can be equally pleasant, but seeing the museum first helps one to appreciate the walking tour much
City Chamber of Commerce is located a few doors away from the museum, and the staff are delighted when people make inquiries
about things to see and do in the area. A calendar of events is available. Their telephone number is (813)248-3712.
Approximately 1264 words
Copyright 1993, Richard L. Servis Jr.