Friday, January 22, 2010

Back to Better Times

Magnet # 149:  Ybor City Shells

Material:  Rubber

Purchased By:  Lindsay

On the first night of our trip, we asked the friendly clerk at our hotel for a recommendation on tourist sites in the Tampa area, and he was quick to tell us of nearby Ybor City.  He told us about the Flamenco dancers at the Columbia restaurant there, and said we'd have a great time, and I should be able to find magnets.  He also mentioned a gigantic mall close to us that I was a little curious about, but Lindsay convinced me that we should go to Ybor City, and I'm glad she did.

Ybor City was founded in 1886 by Don Vicente Martinez Ybor, who moved his cigar manufacturing factory there, inland from Key West, farther away from the political unrest that was going on in Cuba at that time and spreading to parts of Florida.  Soon, Ybor's actions had turned the city into the Cigar Capitol of the World, and factories there were turning out millions of cigars every year.  The thriving industry brought in Cuban, Spanish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants, which gave the city a unique, multi-ethnic feel.  In 1929, 500 million cigars were produced in Ybor City, a record high - and then the Great Depression hit.  It wiped out demand for high-quality cigars, shutting down factories and after World War II, returning vets eager to take advantage of the US Veterans home loan program steered clear of Ybor City, as it had few new homes that were required by the program.  The Urban Renewal program of the 1950s and 60s also hit the city hard, as it tore down old buildings, but never got around to building new ones for lack of funds.  The final blow came in the 1960s, when Interstate 4 was built, and a significant amount of buildings were destroyed and roads were altered.  The once proud city was nearly in ruins, but in the late 1980s, artists began to rediscover the area, both for its charm and inexpensive lodgings.  Soon, restaurants, night clubs, and bars were bringing so many crowds into the area that it was struggling to keep up with all of the traffic.  The city of Tampa helped with renovating the area, and it's now a charming, popular tourist destination, and many more Floridians have moved back to the area.

We definitely had a fun time checking out Ybor City's 7th Avenue, where quite a few shops and restaurants are located.  There were strings of lights stretched across the street, and plenty of tourists and locals having fun.  We stopped by the Columbia Restaurant, a local eatery that has been open over 100 years.  It was amazing - it was covered with Spanish-styled columns and arches and plenty of colorful tiles.  The entry room was particularly striking - there seemed to be tiles everywhere.  Even though it sits about 1,7000 customers, the wait was about 45 minutes, so we didn't eat there, but we did stop by their gift shop, where I bought a couple of really great magnets.  We walked for blocks, just glad to be out of the car for awhile and enjoying much warmer weather than we'd come from.  Yep, the trip to Ybor City definitely helped improve our moods.

Someday, we'd like to get back to the Tampa area and make reservations to eat at the Columbia Restaurant.  Ybor City even has a free museum centered around cigars that I might want to stop by, just for fun.  But this delightful little community helped make Lindsay and I feel much better on a crummy day, and we'll always be grateful for that.


  1. I am happy that you had fun during your visit to Ybor City but disappointed that you were not able to enjoy dinner at the Columbia. I hope you will return to Tampa again and enjoy our 100 year old family recipes and hospitality.
    Cheers, Richard Gonzmart, 4th Generation Columbia Restaurant

  2. I hope so, too - we definitely enjoyed just seeing your wonderful establishment.