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1 Ybor City Oral H istory Project Oral History Program Florida Studies Center University of South Florida Tampa Library Digit al Object Identifier: Y10 00060 Interviewee: Tony Pizzo (TP) Interviewer: Gary Mormino (GM) Interview date: April 14, 1979 Interview location: Davis Islands, Tampa, Florida Transcribed by: Kyle Burke Transcription date: April 25, 2008 Audit Edi t by: Kimberly Nordon Audit Edit date: June 18, 2008 Final Edit by: Mary Beth Isaacson Final Edit Date: October 19, 2009 Gary Mormino: My name is Gary Mormino and I m talking today with Anthony Pizzo in his lovely home in Davis Islands. Tony why don't we begin? Why don't you just kind of tell the listeners maybe the first moment where you can remember you became very interested in history? W ould you attribute it to any one moment or period that you first acquired a historical interest? Tony Pizzo: Yes, it happened back around 1948 forty nine [19 49 ] in that era. We had just organized the Ybor City Rotary Club in 1948. GM: Mm hm TP: And we became very closely affiliated with the Havana Rotary Club. So we had trips back and forth and fin ally some of the Cubans were wondering why is it that so many Cubans are going to Miami for their va cation when it used to be Tampa? Well what happened af ter World War II, we lost the we had a steamship, t he Cuba and Florida plied between Tampa and Havana twice a week. And we had real close intercourse with Cubans. R ight after World War II, they the airplanes and so forth, the connection with Miami they discovered the beaches of Miami, which were very attractive to them. And then we read in Time magazi ne that Cuban tourism was worth thirty four million dollars to the Miami area. And we thought G ee whiz, we had a ll these Cubans coming to Tampa. W e had ties. And so on one of our trips we met a fellow by the name of h e was a newspaperman by the name of Cabus, C a b u s. And he said to me, he said, "You know, it says Tampa really means more to us than any other town because it is the cradle of Cuban liberty. Of course here we are, born and raised in Ybor City and Tampa. We knew very little about the ba ckground, how Ybor City came about, or the history or anything And he
2 started telling us how Jos Mart worked and organized the Revolutionary Party h ere and so on. And we thought, B oy if Tampa and Ybor City is that important maybe we could put up histo rical markers. And I broached the subject with a Rotarian whose name is B u ck He still lives in h e's in Miami now. His father was one of the big cigar tycoons of the 1890s. And they were well to do and a really outstanding family. And Mr. Buck, at the t ime, was in charge of the (inaudible) institutes of Cuba. T hey had a following. And also he was a Rotarian in the Havana Club. And he volunteered to make all these historical markers for us a nd put them all over Ybor City. And so he says, "All you need t o do is do the research and we'll write em up." We thought W hat a fantastic deal that would be! So I took it upon myself to you know find out as much as I could. T he way I started first of all, I went to see some of the old timers Cubans that were i n their nineties eighties and nineties. And what I learned from them was unbelievable you know t hat we had such a rich history A nd then I started meeting historians in Havana, Cuba. O ne of the friends that I really admired very much was [Jose Rivero] M u i z who has written many books. He has written abo ut the conquistadors in Florida; he wrote a book called Los Cubanos en Tampa Mu i z sent me a lot of material. In fact he sent me the first copy of Los Cubanos en Tampa in the Spanish version w hich I still cherish I have it here in my library. And he was able to give me a lot of information that I could never find in the libraries or books or anything like that And to boot, he also sent me a book published in Ybor City in 1897, in Spanish, about a v isitor from Cuba 1 And he described all of Tampa: (inaudible) the sandy streets, and the Italian column. He described the funerals of the Italians, how the women used to nurse their babies with their breasts hanging out (laughs) you know, on the porches. And it was like very common. And it impressed him very much. So to me this is a very invaluable book. GM: Right. What was Tampa like in forty eight [19 48 ] when you first set out on this quest? TP: Well, it was still in its let's say it was right to t hat point it was still intact. The people had not moved out. GM: In Ybor City you're talking about? TP: Ybor City yes. The people were still there, the communities but things were beginning to change. After the war, the prosperity started to increase and the younger generation had been going to college and they wanted to live in nicer homes. And something happened in 1950 that really started the downfall or you might say the demise of Ybor City as we really knew it as a colony of Spaniards, Cubans a nd Italians. 1 Impresiones de un viaje a Tampa by Juan G. Pumariega.
3 And that was that in the downtown area where the uh I think they call it Progress Village T hat used to be the Negro quarters and it was called the Scrub. Now from Nebraska [Avenue] to Central Avenue and from Cass S tree t to about Harrison [Street] it was a world of its own. No one went in there. It was like a jungle. There were no paved streets. The houses were all framed : very, very old, decad ent And actually, I remember the stories at the time ; it was a cesspool in the heart of Tampa. And no one dared go in there because it was just like a jungle in there. And unfortunately this started way back in the early days when Ybor City was established two miles away from the village of Tampa. T he Scrub area came about because we started getting Negroes from about the 1880s all these big lumber companies started closing down. And the Negro came to the villages to get jobs and right in th at Scrub area, there was a lumber mill a nd they started settling around the lumber mill. And besides that, we started getting Negroes from Key West that actually came from Bahama, from the Bahama Islands. And that's how the black quarters emerged, around that lumber mill. And there was a wilderness between Tampa and Ybor City. And they were right in the m iddle of it. So, this Scrub area up to the 1950s, the city had all grown into one. Ybor C ity and Tampa were joined and everything around it was paved. It was a very prosperous community but that little area in there, nothing was ever done about it. So in 1950, the City of Tampa was able to get some funds to clean out the whole area. And there were a lot of black people who owned property themselves in there. So they were paid off in pretty good money. And where were they to go? They were being displace d and they didn't have anywhere to go. Ybor City was the logical place. And the Latin people saw the great opportunity The people in the real estate business, they saw a great opportunity and they gouged the black man. They started s elling houses in Y bor C ity that were really Ybor City, by 1950, had reached a point where it was really a blighted area. The houses were very old. And the people were moving out into bigger and better homes, and going to better areas. The younger people had become educated and they wanted to live in it wasn't that they didn't like it there but there was a question of economy. How could you build a beautiful thirty thousand dollar home in those days in an area that was decay ed ? And we saw what happened to two or three people who built beautiful homes. The value just deteriorated before us you know To put in a really good example, on Sixteenth Street and Thirteenth Avenue Fourteenth Avenue, there's a beautiful home today, with yellow brick, built for Dr. Paniello And he was a good friend of mine. And I asked Dr. Paniello once, "Doctor, why did you build this beautiful home right here in the middle of Ybor City with all the shacks around it?" He says, "Well, I made my money here. These are my people. I want to live amongst them." Sooner or later, his children got out of college and all a nd they wanted to live in a better area. And he built another beautiful home in the Inter bay section.
4 And so this was what was happening. So the real estate people they went to the black people who were getting their money from the federal government, and they started buying houses in Ybor City. And before long, all t he blacks had just about the whole community had moved into the Ybor City area and the Latins had a great opportunity. They were getting seven, eight thousand dollars for houses that you wouldn't have paid a thousand dollars [for]. GM: Up to that time there were few if any blacks living in Ybor City? TP: There were very few blacks living in Ybor Ci ty. The few blacks that lived in Ybor City in the great majority were the blacks from Cuba, which really were very different from the American blacks. To begin with, they were highly educated, and not only formal schooling in Cuba, but also they were cigar makers. And they worked right next to the white cigar makers and they lived right in the white neighborhood. They were mixed. And there was a lot of respect, one for the other. And the Cubans had their own clubs and everything the black Cubans They had their own baseball teams. So it was no d iscrimination between the Latin white s and Cuban blacks. They lived together, they worked together. GM: How did the Cuban blacks and the American blacks get along once this transition took place? TP: Well, to begin with, the Cuban blacks there was a barrier there. Most of the Cuban blacks couldn't speak English. So that kept them a little bit separate. And also, the Cuban black was actually a lot better educated than the American black. And they just didn't mix tha t way. They just didn't. The Cuban blacks associated more with the Latins in Ybor City than any other group. There was a good bond of friendship amongst them. So it was a real different situation. GM: Could anything to have been done to prevent, as you c all it, the demise of Ybor City? Even once this black migration took place? TP: Well, after To go in sequence, after the blacks moved in, then a few years later, this urban renewal project was adopted. And for some reason the state of Florida could not t ake advantage of it because it said that our constitution didn't allow us to use this kind of money to clear areas and so on. But anyway, the Fowler, White firm Mr. Cody Fowler and Milo Smith, city planner they went to the Supreme Court. And they present ed the case for the C ity of Tampa before the Supreme Court T hey used Ybor City as the bridge or the wedge to get the law authorized. Daytona had tried it and they were turned down. Other cities had tried it. So Milo Smith asked me if I would make a m ap of the city of Tampa showing all of the historical areas, the buildings, which I still have I still have that map. That map of the city with all of the historical information was presented and so because of history the Supreme Court judged that it was all right. So the whole state of Florida after that, all the cities were able to use urban renewal money.
5 So the first urban renewal project was really the Ybor City project. But it was held in advance until they cleared out the back of the [Tampa] Unio n Station, Marilyn Avenue project. That was the first area S ee all those apartment houses for blacks that was the first project that was used for urban renewal. The second project was the waterfront where the Hixon Convention Center is. All of that was railroad warehouses and railroad tracks. So that was number two project. But the project that made i t really possible was the Ybor C ity program by being a historic area. That came third. W hen they started building in Ybor City, the blacks were moved out again, a nd they were scattered to the four winds. A lot of them went into the Tampa Heights area. So the people from the Tampa Heights area started there was another shift of population. And so now you have the Ybor City area from let's say Columbus Drive to Seventh Avenue, from Twenty Second Street to Nebraska it's all practically empty. There's nothing left there. So they really scattered the people all over the city. U rban renewal was a good thing, but it was poorly, poor ly planned. They should have been divided in a way that w hat they should have done was take a block at a time rebuild and have the people keep their property and let them stay. We could ha ve had beautiful Spanish type cottages and even today there is a lot of nostalgia for Ybor City. And people were still dreaming of the old days. They wished that somehow they could have all stayed there. But the circumstances didn't permit it. And so urban renewal just went in there and roughshod cleaned everything out. A lot of the big buildings that should have been preserved were not preserved. There were some very beautiful big buildings that are irreplaceable. GM: Do you remember any specific incidents? TP: Yes. I'll give you first like the Number 4 Fire Station. We were going to turn that into a museum. T he politicians worked up a fast deal and before we knew it the thing in twenty four hours were down, b ecause the junior college and what have you wanted to take the land see And this was part of the the people who were involved with it I think were MDA or whatever project that was. GM: What's MDA? TP: Model C ities GM: Oh, Model Cities Development. TP: Either that or well, Tallow, I think, is in charge right now, at the head of it. But th at was a real sad thing. And then on Fifteenth Street and Ninth Avenue you had two beautiful brick buildings with a lot of wrought iron and they just tore those down. GM: Who was responsible for this?
6 TP: Urban renewal. GM: So what TP: At the time, we were trying to save the balconies o n Seventh Avenue. We were trying to save the buildings. But we weren't organized. You didn't have that fever going at that time of preservation. The only group doing any kind of preservation was the Ybor City Rotary C lub. GM: We're talking early fifties [1950s] ? TP: Yes, that's correct. GM: What's you r reaction to the kind of sardonic statement that a lot of people make that urban renewal means urban remo val? TP: That's right, that's correct. Urban renewal ruined many American cities. In fact, urban renewal just had complete disregard of the welfare of humanity for the changing of a physical aspect of a commu nity, which to me, was wrong I f you go to Chicago or New Y ork you'll see what they have done there, and many other cities [as well]. GM: Now who should we blame? I mean should we blame faceless bureaucrats in Washington or were these Tampa people running it here? TP: Congress. GM: Congress ? TP: Congress. Of course it goes through every level. It started in Congress because the law was formulated ill formulated, l et's put it that way. They had no regard for humanity. If a blighted area needed to be raised that's all it spelled out. It had to go. It didn't take into account historic buildings. It didn't take into account the welfare of the poor or anything. They just paid everybody off and you f ou nd yourself another house. And they displaced people indiscriminately, which was wrong. Congress passed the law and the n all the way down on the local level, there were other axes to grind. They tore up buildings because it was to their advantage. The more buildings they tore down, I imagine, the more money they were able to get. They wanted to prolong the project and so o n. So on the local level a lot of things were done that were wrong. They were actually in my book, dishonest. Not that they stole money but they didn't care about the community's welfare. GM: Would s ome people might argue TP: They had people that came from out of town into Tampa to live who had no feeling for Tampa. But they were in a position to conduct the business of that bureaucracy A nd
7 there was no feeling for the welfare or the history or the past of the community. And this ha s happened. I m not mentioning names but uh GM: Sure. TP: I was pretty well inv olved To a certain degree I fought like a one man fire department trying to preserve things, like the El Pasaje building for example. They had a beautiful balcony on the second floor O ne day I saw it was gone and I went to see the owners. And the old lady said "W ell, we just didn't want it to fall and we got it in the back of the yard and so Well anyway she said they were going to replace it. It never was replaced. To me that's one of the most next to the Tampa Bay Hotel, El Pasaje is the second most historic building in Tampa. GM: Do you think she was pressured? TP: S he was probably in her late eighties and her husband was in I mean her husband had been a doctor. T hey were a very prominent family, Dr. Avellanal. The son was living in Mexico and so I imagine that she was probably having a hard time making ends meet by this time. And she was trying to run El Pasaje as a hotel and probably she had financial problems. The easiest way was to take it down and not replace it. That's what I mean. But anyway that was a sad thing. Another time, I drove up south Fourteenth St reet, and I saw the Ybor Factory and the original fountain was gone. And we inquired and finally [w e found out that] somebody had taken the fountain. It took reporters from the [ Tampa ] Tribune with stories and so on but they found the fountain. And the man said, "Well it was given to me by one of the executives of the factory," and this that and the other. We went to see the executives and they said, "Well, it was a mistake. We're sorry but that's the tru th ." So I went to see Nick Nuccio 2 and I told him, I say at the time they had project going. They were going to you see, let me digress here In 1950, they had a bond issued, a fifty million dollar bond issued to build a convention center and clear all of that area. So GM: Curtis Hixon [ Hall ] ? TP: Curtis Hixon, right. So we went to the Ybor City Rotary Club, called a meeting of all the people that were really the leading citizens of the community and we had an evening meeting and a nice dinner at the Columbia Restaurant. And we broached the subject that out of the fifty million we wanted one million dollars ear marked for Ybor City. And we got the million dollars. The city fathers and all of the leading community leaders and everybody agreed that something should be done. So we had a million dollars earmarked for Ybor City and we were going to redo all of Seventh Avenue and really, you know, try to revive it. 2 Nick Nuccio (1901 1989) was mayor of Tampa from 1956 to 1959, and again from 1963 to 1967. He also served on the Tampa City Council and the Hillsborough County Commission before becoming mayor.
8 Well what happened was we had an election year coming up and the city representatives who were running for reelection, they didn't want to up the budget A nd things got so involved that they had public meetings and they Ybor City became a pawn. So what they did they dipped into the one million dollars, the measly one million out of the fifty million and took six hundred thousand. That way they didn't up the budget, because they were afraid that the people would vote against it. This is true history So, the following year when the election came along, Nick Nuccio lost to Julian Lane. 3 And Julian Lane we went to see him and we said, "Look there's so much money." And Julian Lane agreed with us and he redid our cemetery, beautified it, built a mall with the four hundred thousand. So out of the four hundred thousand, not only was the cemetery beautified, as it is today, but also the old or iginal lamppost s that were there were taken down during the Curtis Hixon administration 4 and they were given to schools and to hospitals, TB [tuberculosis] hospital. They were scattered all over. Some of them were even taken over to the you had lake place s. But those lampposts W e fought to keep the lampposts bu t would you believe that the Ybor City Chamber of C ommerce wanted to have a new type of lamps and actually told the city Y eah, take them out. The Ybor Rotary Club was against it and we wanted to keep the old lampposts. So when Mayor Lane decided to redo all of Seventh Avenue, then he hired Milo Smith to be the planner of what to do. And one day I get a call from Milo. He said, "Tony, we want to put up fountains and we want to put the old lamp posts back. Where can we find one?" And I said, "Well, I think you can get one at the Orange Grove Grammar School. They'll lend you one." Well, to make a long story short, in redoing all of Seventh Avenue, the city had to pay a thousand dollars for each la mppost, which we had you know a nd they were no longer the original ones. So that was another lost cause. And the fountain I was telling you about, the Ybor fountain ? T hey wanted to put up fountains I said "W e got one fountain, we can make a mold and then we can go ahead and [have it copied] at the foundry at Six Mile Creek. We can give the man who had the fountain a copy of it, put the original back at the Ybor F actory and then the city will have a fountain for the mall. And that's what we did. And right back here in my yard you'll see a copy of that fountain. And I wish now I had bought more than just one because at that time in the sixties [1960s], I paid only 150 dollars for that beautiful fountain. GM : Uh huh. TP: And so that's the way things went along and of course Mayor Lane fixed it all up because it had never been used. And then four years later, Nick Nuccio came along as mayor. Lane lost out and later he ran and became senator state senator 3 Julian Lane (1914 1997) was mayor of Tampa from 1959 to 196 3. 4 Curtis Hixon (1891 1956) was mayor of Tampa from 1943 until his death in 1956.
9 GM: What period saw the greatest amount of property removal and housing removal in Ybor City? Was it fifties [1950s] sixties [1960s] seventies [1970s] ? TP: It was in the sixties [1960s] I think it was about the middle sixties [1960s] when everything went to p o t. But I want to go back to the historical markers. GM: Uh huh. Sure. TP: So I went to Cuba. We had, you know, done all of the research and we found out that Jos Mart had come here in 1891. He had made about seventeen trips. The bas ic s of the Cuban Revolutionary Party were actually drawn up right here in Ybor City. The Cuban Revolutionary Party was ratified at the Maceo Cubano on Thirteenth Street and Seventh Avenue. That's where Jos Mart made his two most famous speeches of his career. A nd, uh, the speeches are called Para Cuba q ue s ufre o p ara b ien de t odos ," and the other speech was Los pinos n uevos At any rate, we found that we had taken a tremendous part in the liberation of Cuba. The Cubans were being trained here the volunteer s The rebels were being trained here. There was a hotel on Ninth Avenue and Sixteenth Street where the Golden Eagles Club used to be which today is the Labor Temple. GM: Uh huh. TP: And right on the corner was a hotel called Hotel Victoria ; that was a stopping place for all the rebels who came in to be trained in Ybor City a nd then clandestine ly they would be sent to Cuba to fight. We found that Jos Mart during his time here, they tried to poison him at one time And there were a lot of i ncidents that happened. You cannot write Cuban history w ithout talking about Ybor C ity and what Ybor City did. The workers in the factories that included Cubans and Spaniards, Italians most of them gave one day's pay every week to the cause of Cuban libert y. And they called that a d a de la patri a So [for] all of these things we have made markers. T he first marker that was put up was the marker in front of the Ybor Factory. It's a beautiful stone and it was put up by the Ybor City Rotary Club. I think it was 1949. That was our first marker. GM: Uh huh. TP: And of course then [Fidel] Castro came in and our project went completely [in] disarray. We never were able to get anything out of Cuba. A ll of our frie nds left Cuba and moved to the S tates. So what we did by this time it had become a very personal project to me because I had done all of the research. And we had a foundry on the Hillsborough River that I went to talk to and I'm trying to think of the man's name. He was very, very nice. He said, "Tony, I'll make those markers for seventy five dollars apiece."
10 Well, he made about well what I did to raise the money I went to about twenty five business houses. I said, "Look, this is a hist orical marker W e're thinking if you 'll donate the money for a marker we'll erect it B y the Tampa Electric Company, By the Tampa Tribune Company. '" I went to all of the major corporations and nobody turned me down. So I was able to raise the money and had the plaques all put up. And then we made it an official project of the Ybor City Rotary Club, because I didn't want to do it as an individual. I went before the board of directors of the club, and I said, "I have got this ready to go." And so the Ybor City Rotary Club adopted, or sponsored it. But the research had been done, the money had been gathered and the city cooperated in putting up the markers. Well, he started off the markers were made at seventy five dolla rs a piece but after the first ten, he said, "I can t do it. You ve got to pay a hundred." So we went a hundred. Later, he went to 150 And of course today, they 'r e being made in O hio. All of the markers that are being made today are being made in Ohio. A nd they cost 450 dollars a piece. GM: Is that right? Well (laughs) TP: We are still putting up mark er s. My guess is that I personally have been involved with more th a n forty historical markers that have been put up, not only in Ybor City but all over Ta mpa. GM: H ow many more do you expect will go up ? TP: I hope to continue as long as I live. And I have several markers that I would like to see put up. One of them is on Captain Joseph Fry H e is the first Anglo Saxon or the first citizen born in the community of Tampa in 1826 which was nothing but Fort Brooke. And Captain Joseph Fry went to Annapolis; he became a naval officer and fought in the Civil War on the side of the South. And in 1872 he became c aptain of a ship called the Vir giniu s And as ca ptain of the Virginius they were taking arms, ammunition and rebels to Cuba in 1872. That was during the T en Y ear s' W ar the first revo lution, you might say, of Cuba. 5 They were captured by the Spaniards and Captain Fry and half of the well most of the Cubans and half of the crew had been executed. And a British warship [HMS Niobe ] came into Santiago de Cuba when they heard what was going on. They came there from Jamaica. And Captain [Sir Lambert] Lorraine was the name of the English captain And he said, "If you don't stop the executions, we will bombard the city of Santiago. So they stopped it. But by this time, Captain Fry had been executed. Several of the younger rebels like Ruben and Garcia, who finally came to Tampa as a grown man t hey made history in the community. T hey were spared because they were 5 The Ten Years' War (1868 1878) was the first of three liberation wars Cuba fought against Spain.
11 youngsters. But the people of America were so grateful to the English captain that the state of Arizona presented him with a gold brick. And on the gold brick they put, "Blood is thicker than water." Yeah. It' s quite a history, which I m trying to tell you Gary. The first child born in Tampa died for Cuban liberty. And that is a story. GM: The Virginia D a re of Tampa. 6 TP: You might say. GM: Right. TP: That's right. He was born June 14 1826. And as you know the fort was established in January of 1824. So it was two years later after the fort was established ; that's before the Seminole War. 7 GM: Who was the oldest individual you've talked to? W ho lived here the earliest? You ever talked to someone th at lived here before Ybor City? TP: Yes but they are all gone. I m trying to think I have talked to so many people. GM: W ho's the most interesting character you ever talked to? TP: You know, I hav e his picture and I am sitting with him. He wa s very old in 1948. And somewhere or other I have his name written down. But he was very, very old. And he had come here in Ybor when Mr. [Vicente Martinez] Ybor came. And he told me a lot of stories I also talked to a man who s e name was Tynor and he was born in Tampa. When I talked to him in the 1940 s he was in his eighties. And I never forget it. It was one evening we were sitting on the curbstone out in Gary and he was telling me the story o f the Spanish American War here: all about the saloons and how wild they were the soldiers and all of the prostitutes. And of course I used to visit D.B. [Donald Brenham] McKay a lot. Y ou know he died in the early sixties [19 6 0s], and he was ninety four y ears old. He was probably in my book the greatest citizen that ever was born in Tampa. Really the greatest name in my book is D.B. McKay. He was a cour ageous man, a very talented man, served as mayor of Tampa for several terms. 8 He contributed towards t he history of pioneer Florida. In his late days years rather he published a Sunday page called "Pioneer Florida" in the Tribune. Invaluable information was preserved because of him. 6 Virginia Dare (1587 ?) was the first English child born in America, to settlers in the Roanoke Colony. 7 Pizzo is referring to the Second Seminole War (1835 1842). In December 1835, troops from Fort Brooke were killed in the Dade Massacre, which was the event that started the war. 8 McKay (1868 1960) served as mayor for two terms, from 1910 to 1920 and from 1928 to 1931.
12 I came across a story in the Tribune in 1887 about the y ellow f ever epidemic. He was running the newspaper then. He didn't own it at that time; he was just running it a young man. The Tribune said that in 1887 you could shoot a shotgun down the street. You just didn't find anybody E verybody took off GM: (laughs) TP: because they went into the woods. They thought it was safer in the woods, so everybody left town. The competitor of D.B. McKay's newspaper, the other newspaper wrote that by golly everybody had gone. But Mr. McKay stayed right here during the epid emic and he kept putting that paper out. GM: Was this [Wallace F.] Stovall or was he McKay's boss? TP: No, at the time Stovall hadn't come in yet. GM: Oh okay. TP: Before the Tribune had to I know that there was a Tampa Daily Tribune and there was a GM: The Morning Tribune. TP: Well no. The Tribune s ee, the Tampa Daily Tribune then changed into the Tribune GM: Oh okay. TP: I think it must have been the Guardian the other newspaper. And of course the little papers were at each other's throat s all of the time. They couldn't stand each other. The opposition should have complemented him; in those days he was really something. GM: From your conversations with these pioneers, would Tampa have been a good place t o live in the 1870s or eighties [1880s] ? TP: Well, in the 1870s Tampa was r eally in a doldrums. Things were bad. Tampa had shrunk in population. And the 1870s was probably the worst part. There was nothing going on here. It was an isolated co mmunity. Progress was at a standstill. But those that lived here seemed to have enjoyed it. There was a lot of game, a lot of fishing. It was quiet. The weather was beautiful. It was also really lovely. And there were those who didn't see much prosperity. We had an influx in the 1870s. Not a very big influx in population, but we had a lot people com e from the state of Nebraska. And we never could figure out what brought them from Nebraska to Tampa.
13 GM: Th at why Nebraska Avenue was named ? TP: P robably had something to do with it because they started developing orange groves along Nebraska Avenue. GM: I s that right? TP: I f you take from Seventh Avenue to Columbus Drive, Nebraska Avenue was a dirt road with orange groves on both sides. GM: Uh huh. Right. TP: There's a lot of little interesting anecdotes that we discovered in the pioneer days of Tampa. For instance, downtown Tampa most of the square you know the squares ? were mostly orange groves with little building s on them. GM: Right yeah. TP: When they just started building the Tampa Bay Hotel t hey started bringing in shells from a mound out here at Bullfrog Creek and the Alafi a [River] So a lot of the mounds are right under the Tampa Bay Hotel there t he shells T hey used to put them on barges and they used to fill barrels with the shells. One of the barges capsized right by the Tampa Bay Hotel on the river and all the shells went into the river. They had an awful time getting the shells all out of there. Also, when they started deve loping the downtown area after 1891, some of the orange trees were transplanted on the grounds of the Tampa Bay Hotel. GM: Right. TP: J ust like they did there in Ybor City T hat area on Thirteenth Street and Columbus Drive in the 1890 s used to be cal led Morey M o r e y Morey Heights. He was a developer, a real estate developer. From Columbus Drive on out everything was wilderness. But there were orange groves in that are a so they had to take the orange trees out. A lot of the orange trees were tra ns planted on Bayshore Boulevard where the Spanish Club built the Centro Espaol Public Hospital. And until recently, until they sold the hospital and it was torn down and that's a crime. If you see pictures of that hospital, the architecture that's one of the crimes of Tampa when they tore down that hospital. Anyway, a lot of the orange trees were still there when they tore down the building. Now they put a complex of apartments up; they call it Bayshore Trace. And that was where the hospital was located. But uh GM: What do you say when someone says progress ?
14 TP: Yeah, progress. GM: How do you answer? TP: I believe in progress and I believe that some changes have to be made but I think there is a limit to it You take for example today the Lati n clubs : the new generation is not interested. What functions have the club today when you have got all this Medicare; you've got policies you can buy. You know, the Latin clubs started as mutual aid societies and they served a tremendous purpose. Latin p eople are a very proud people. They never got on the welfare rolls. No one from Ybor City would go on the welfare roll. The club took care of it In other words, the Ita lians took care of the Italians; the Spaniards did the same thing. The Cuban Club final ly e merged also. And what I was going to say is you take the Cuban Club it's one the most aesthetically beautiful buildings in Tampa y et the club is not able to get financially keep the building in first class shape. And that building should be forever preserved. So should the Italian Club and the Centro Espaol. You take the West Tampa area. You go up Howard [Avenue] and Cherry [Street] and you'll see the Centro Espaol building. It's go ne to p o t but it's still beautiful. T hat building should never b e torn down A nd there again you have the same situation in West Tampa. This building stands out like a sore thumb in a wilderness of shacks. Those buildings all those wooden shacks today were built in the 1890s an d the early part of the century And I ca n't see how a lot of those houses I know there are a lot of rental units there, and I know we have minimum hous ing but I still can t see how we promote people to live in some of those houses. If urban renewal was in existence today, I am in full accord that West Tampa certainly needs it because the houses are unlivable. And that building stands ri ght in the middle of all this w hich served its purpose at one time. So preservation I definitely believe in. Gary that's one of the reasons I organized thi s historical society. You know the Tampa Historical Society I became the first president. It's going gangbusters today. GM: What do you see reminisce as your finest jewel, your best historical accomplishment? TP: Physically? GM: Physically or emotionally, intellectually; whatever you choose. TP: Well I am very proud that I organized the historical society. Very proud because I could see what happened. There were people who were es pecially descend a nts of many old pioneer fa milies who built the city and to them it was something of why hadn't we done this before? And today we have some of the most prominent families and people from all walks of life are involved in the historical society. And this naturally gives me tremen dous pleasure. And now our headquarters we're able to obtain the cottage that
15 Peter O. Knight I 9 built as a honeymoon cottage and that' s going to be our headquarters. We 've been rais ing funds and we have obtained quite an amount of money and it's all bei ng put back into it. W e're really proud of that. We have tremendous people especially young ladies that are doing a great job. So the historical society has been a blessing to Tampa and I'm really proud of that. T he next thing that I am very proud of is the Jos Mart Park. I don't want to sound braggadocious bu t I'll ne ver forget an elderly Negro man, a Spanish Cuban N egro coming and pointing to the old shack H e said, "That's where Jos M art lived." That's where that N egro woman Paulina Pedroso had her boardinghouse. And when they tried to poison Mart, she said, "You are going to live here. This is going to be your headquarters and my husband is going to be your bodyguard." When I heard all of this I did research to make sure that the old ge ntleman was right. And so I went before the Rotary Club and we formed a committee to either preserve the building b ut the building was so far gone e ither that or do something with the historic areas. We made many trips to Cuba. We were offered lumber by C uban companies. We were offered money by Cuban patriots who really believed that something should be done. Newspaper people started coming in from Cuba and stories started being written about it and it became about the most historic thing through the fift ies [1950s]. T here's nothing but stories. And finally what had to make a long story short, we made many trips and we saw President [Fulgencio] Batista twice ; the committee went. In the committee we had Doyle Carlton, former governor of Florida; 10 we had T ony Grimaldi and Johnny Di az those were the stalwarts and Curtis Hixon mayor of Tampa. We went and we have a picture with the president of Cuba, Batista. And he pledged to give us money. And he said, "I am going to give you twenty five thousand dollars. But the house he sent architects from Cuba here. They studied the building. The build ing was riddled with termites. It was so far gone you really would have had to build it all over [ for it ] to be preserved. So we said, "Why don't we make a little park ?" And we made I have the original plans on what the park was supposed to look like. Anyway, on the second trip Batista's deputy placed the money. And he said, "We'll send you the money." Well we waited about two or three months and nothing happened. A nd in the meantime, the building catches fire and it was saved. So we took a picture of the building, shown partially burnt, sent it to all of the newspapers in Cuba, and then every newspaper in Cuba ran the picture "Jos Mart 's house is goi ng to be raz ed. It's been burnt. I t's not going to be preserved." And things got so hot in Cuba over that one 9 Peter O. Knight (1865 1946) was a prominent lawyer in Tampa who founded the Holland & Knight law firm and the Tampa Electric Company. He also served as mayor of Fort Myers and in the Florida legislature in the 1880s. 10 Doyle Carlton Senior (1885 1972) was Florida governor from 1929 to 1933.
16 building that this is believe it or not President Batista called a special session of congress and they appropriated, officially, the money for the house. GM: Is that right? TP: When the money was sent here, it was sent to the Cuban c onsul in charge here He formed his own committee, cha n ged the plans and put up the project. Of course I raised hell. I went to see him and I said, T hat's a very dirty way t o do things." Part 1 ends; part 2 begins GM: Tony, as we start a new day, you had just brought up an interesting point. What are your feelings when you look at all of the historical activity going on in Tampa right now? There appears to be a real resurge nce of historical interest among the young, among preservationists, historians at USF and Hillsborough Community College and Gainesville and Tallahassee You're deluged by phone calls. What's your feeling about this when you think back [to] when you were a lone in forty eight [19 48 ] ? TP: I think it's a wonderful thing to see young people today have really a pride of heritage and they are very inquisitive as to their roots. This has come about in the last few years but I think that people should have We' re a nation of nationalities you know. T he only real Americans are the Indians. And I think that now I find in all ethnic groups, whoever you talk to, the y seem to want to go back to their roots You hear about trips people making trips to the old countr y to see where the village is where their ancestors came from. I think this is good. You have to be proud of what you are. And of course that doesn't mean that because you're proud of your heritage that you're neglecting your Americanism. Your citizenship is after all you're born here and you love this country I don't t hink anything will ever take it s place. But roots are very important. I think that they do something for y our character. They make you fee l proud because regardless of what country you p ick, every country has its own merit and its own heritage that everyone can be proud of their own heritage. So I think it is a good thing for all Americans to be proud of their source, where they came from. And of course things have changed in that area. Like I was telling you a few minutes ago, why can't my children be like I am ? I speak three languages that I have spoken all my life. I was brought up in an environment that is so different today. My children the environm ent has changed. They don't have the background that I have. I m not saying this is good or bad. It's just that we're in a changing world. And it's constant. The only thing that's permanent is change. And the environment is education has changed in itself. And of course the neighborhoods have changed. A lot of the well the big influx of immigrants happened at the turn of the century. We haven't had really another influx of
17 immigrants except for lately from Vietnam or Southeast Asia. But the second or third generation eventuall y will lose a certain amount of that heritage. It's inevitable. That doesn't mean that you couldn't be a fifth generation Italian or Spaniard and not be proud th at your roots are Spanish or Italian. But that's the way it is in America. We're a melting pot. GM: To follow this up, what do you think if you were to look ahead twenty five years from now, fifty years from now, maybe a hundre d years fro m now? What will Ybor City be like? What will Tampa be like, historically? TP: Well I think fifty years from now even today Ybor City is not what it was twenty five years ago. I see that area changing to the point t he eastern part of Tampa is heavily industrialized out towards that area. We see growth going to the north and northwest. The northeast area with Plant City and Lake Thonotosassa, that eventually will hit i t s growth too u nfortunately, because I think that growth is not the best thing for any community. But there was an article in the Tribune this morning that this is happening all over the United States. We're having a population explosion and there aren't enough houses and we keep growing short. As far as Ybor C ity, remember that Ybor City was a company t own. It was established by Mr. Ybor and Mr. [Ignacio] Haya. They brought the workers here ; primarily there were Cubans with a sprinkl ing of Spaniards. And then of course the Italians started coming soon thereafter and they came in pretty good size quan tities. But you had a unique area in Ybor City where you had three [groups] and some crackers you know, American s in the area and it made a very unique neighborhood. For maybe fifty years, that area never changed. It had its own Italian newspapers, Span ish newspapers and movie theaters. It had legitimate theaters like opera houses. Companies were brought in by the Italian C lub. And it was the three big clubs were the Cuban Club, the Italian Club and the Spanish Club and of course the Centro Asturiano, which is also Spanish. But in themselves there was a rivalry I t was not an obscene rivalry. It wasn't a rivalry of hatred or anything. But if one club built a beautiful clubhouse the other clubs would want to have an even more beautiful one. I t was be cause the people were very proud you know. But what they did, they got involved with the theater. They brought in some of the best talent of Spain came into Tampa [or] from Italy. The Cubans were so close ; it was an overnight boat ride you know. And they had a lot of legitimate acting brought in fro m Cuba. That was very easy to do. And in the early days they used to even bring in opera singers. I remember one in the 1880s was a lady by the name Lecc i, L e c c i. And they called her a Cu ban. GM: ( laughs )
18 TP: She was natural ly Italian; she was a great opera singer. But because she was very popular in Havana and took Havana by storm, the Cubans remember that the Cubans had a very close relationship with Havana. Newspapers were being sold here from Havana. Not only that, you had two ships plying back and forth per week. GM: I think our listeners would really enjoy if you could paint a picture of what you consider the high water mark of Ybor City and what a stroll down Seventh Avenue would be like. What time period would you say was the pinnacle of Ybor City? TP: I think that the late twenties [1920s] and early thirties [1930s] probably was the peak of the Ybor City culture and the peak of Ybor City as a Latin and colorful community b ecaus e after World War II, then things began to change. When the war was over and many of the Latin boys came back, most of them went to college a nd by that time that generation that period they were getting highly educated. And they wanted to Ybor City was becoming a blighted area. Remember, most of the houses had been built in the eighties [1880s] and nineties [1890s] And so to build a new house you would build in a neighborhood that it would the prices would hold up. Then is when you start seeing a chang e in Ybor City. But up t o about 1950 it was still pretty well intact. After that was the demise of Ybor. After 1950 you could see the beginning of the end. And that I think w as inevitable because after all, l et's not say it was only Latins. It doesn' t matter who it is. Any neighborhood that begins to deteriorate people are going to eventually move out because they want t he children they grow up, get married, they want to have a new home. Now remember, Tampa Heights, which was adjacent to Ybor City and just north of downtown Tampa that was the most plush neighborhood in Tampa. And the most eminent citizens all lived in Tampa Heights. They had beautiful Victorian homes. I have many pictures of them. But in time, my generation those that lived in t he areas of the Anglo Saxon families they all left there and started moving into Hyde Park because the land value was higher. And people do want a change. It's like styles in clothes. Neighborhoods change. I think that it's a miracle Ybor lasted as long a s it did. GM: The Irish comic I don't know if you remember Mr. Dooley 11 TP: Yeah. GM: He once said the reason he didn't like history [was] because historians all they do is study what nations died of and he liked to know what they lived of. L et's talk maybe about the you know, what you remember about the vibrant sides of Ybor City. Again, take us down that stroll down Seventh Avenue. 11 Mr. Dooley is a fictitious Irish immigrant character created by newspaper writer and satirist Finley Peter Dunn. Mr. Dooley was a bartender in a working class Irish nei ghborhood in Chicago who commented on political and social issues. Dunn's columns were syndicated nationwide and were extremely popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; they were also collected into several books.
19 TP: Well as I was coming up as a child I was born in 1912. Now all the not only the senior citizens but the generat ion before mine they were all immigrants GM: Uh huh. TP: the great majority. So I was in an environment that was so different than let's say twenty years later. You know after my generation started coming into its own. It was a different world. They all spoke Italian or Spanish or the Cubans spoke their language. They were oriented to the club. The club was the mecca. The whole soul of the Italian life was the Italian Club and the a ctivities of the Italian Club a nd the same thing with the Spani sh c lubs and the Cuban Club. But those clubs had things going on. They had beautiful libraries, they subscribed to many newspapers from foreign countries and from the north. I remember one particular newspaper came, the Correo de America and even a lot of Italians subscribed to it. But the Italian C lub had regular weekly dances, beautiful ballroom. They had legitimate theater. T here was so much going on. And the whole social focus was with the clubs. And some of the activities in the summertime were pi cnics out in the countryside. All of the clubs did this and this was very enjoyable. And Rocky Point was very popular, Ballast Point was very popular De Soto P ark in Palmetto Beach. And a little later on they started having big picnics on the Alafi a River and Bullfrog Finca Destal they called it Bullfrog Creek. They were very happy days. But if the Italian Club gave a picnic it didn't mean only Italians went. You know, the whole community would go. And that was true with Spanish picnics and Cuban Club picnics and all. GM: Uh huh. TP: And Seventh Avenue was a vibrant main dr ag Seventh Avenue probably surpassed Franklin Street at one time. The best shops in Tampa were on Seventh Avenue. And payday was on Saturday so you can imagine thousands of cig ar makers getting their pay on Saturday afternoon. They go home take a bath and get dressed up in their best finery a n d walk up and down Seventh Avenue. And there were cafes all up and down pause in recording TP: All the shops on Seventh Avenue they kept open on Saturdays until eleven o'clock. And if there was a dance going on on Saturday night, if one of the clubs had a dance they didn't start their dance till eleven o'clock. GM: (laughs) Is that right?
20 TP: Yes And do you know that customers still come down to this day? A lot of the Latin c lubs still start their dances at ten and eleven o'clock at night, w hich today really doesn't fit. And t hey wanted all of the employees c lerks and so on to be able to attend th e dances. GM: Would you find an Anglo on Seventh Avenue in 1930? TP: Well, you used to find them on Saturday morning. They used to come in on s ee you must remember Hillsborough County was very rural until the forties [1940s] And Ybor City was a very f ine shopping center. And the crackers tha t was what we called the farm people would come in; they used to have caravans of wagons full of their families. Everybody would come in and go shopping all up and down Seventh Avenue. T hen by the afternoon they wou ld take off and go back home because they had quite a ways to travel. And then in the eve ning, then the Latins came in, s o Seventh Avenue w as a big day on Saturday. They had a big day. And uh GM: Any ethnic distinctions that you might see on the avenue ? For instance, would Italians dress up just like Cubans ? A nd would Cubans talk to Spaniards? TP: Well, no. They all dressed up more or less the same. They did all their shopping in the same stores and the styles were being followed, the American pattern of dress and so on. However, there were restaurants ; on Saturday night all of the restaurants would be crowded. And it wasn't like it was you know today they have two or three restaurants. In those days you had two or three restaurants on every block! GM: ( laughs ) TP: And they had pastries. And they served coffee the old Cuban style. You know, the y used to boil the milk had a coffee pot GM: Caf con leche. TP: Oh yeah. And the waiter would come along and say, "Do you want it oscuro dark or medium or light ? And he would pour the coffee according with the milk, you know? GM: Uh huh. Any notable exceptions? There was Las Novedades do you want to elaborate any? TP: Well Las Novedades was originally in the middle of the block where between Fourteenth an d Fifteenth on the north side and it was a unique restaurant. I t reminded me very much of a European restaurant. A lot people were very sad when they moved out of there and built a modern type of Spanish motif or a Moorish accent. But it s str ange that the Spaniards who owned the Spanish restaurants always tried to the y were from n orthern Spain and yet they all went for the s outhern Spain architecture, the Moorish accent you know.
21 GM: That's interesting, yeah. TP: But I imagine that's typi cal of Spain ; everybody does it. GM: I suppose it's a commentary o n the times that it's a gay bar now. I mean ( laughs ) TP: Oh that's very sad. Actually one of the things that really made a lot of people very, very upset was the closing of Las Novedades. I still believe that something could have been done to save that restaurant but there was no desire. GM: Was Columbia [Restaurant] always a jewel of Yb or City? TP: Uh, the Columbia Restaurant was opened in 1903. And it opened up as a saloon, a little caf. They had a bar, which is still there. And they had they served pastries and so on. It was a regular coffee shop or a bistro or a cantina if you wan t to call it that. What made Twenty Second Street in the early days very popular it r eally was a crossroads. Twenty S econd Street wasn't called Twenty S econd Street in those days. It had a name. In the early days it was called Livingston Avenue. GM: Tw enty S econd was? TP: Twenty S econd St reet And then they changed the name. When they finally cut a road down to Hooker's Point and started developin g Palmetto Beach and the street car line was built down there to De Soto Park then that area became very p opular and the crossroad became a very popular place. Then every morning on Twenty S econd Street t hey used to call it the Seminole Corner. And now the reason they called it the Seminole and the Italians used to call it the Semin o l I often wondered what the heck that meant and then all of a sudden it hit me that it meant Seminole. GM: Not in the week but in the Indian [sense]? TP: Well if you hear it in Italian or Latin Semin o l Semin ol I t didn't sound [like] Seminole. I thou ght maybe it was an Italian name they gave it or something. GM: But you used to be able to g o to Hooker's Point via Twenty S econd Street huh? TP: Yeah. GM: Oh I didn't know that. TP: Yeah. And Twenty Second Street became the gathering point for the f armers in the morn ing. That's where they traded, a long Seventh Avenue and Twenty Second Street.
22 They'd come in with their wagons and they'd get their produce. And we had a lot of peddlers in the early days, Italian peddlers that peddled vegetables and frui t. They would come in about four o'clock in the morning and before you know it there were hundreds of wagons there and the crackers and farmers wo uld come in, sell their wares, a nd the peddlers would buy. And so the place really was a very active corner for many, many years. And later on I found out why they called it the Seminol Corner. There was a saloon there. GM: The Seminole Saloon? TP: The Seminole Saloon. There was in the early days at Twenty Second Street let's say at the turn of the century it was still a little bit out in the sticks. The re weren't to o many houses out that way. There were dairies. GM: Right. TP: And they had two saloons and they were very notorio us. One was called the Red La ntern Saloon. And the other was the Seminole. A nd there's a cute story about the Seminole caf or saloon. A black cowboy wande red inside the bar on horseback. H e was drunk a nd he pointed his gun at the bartender and said, "I want a mug of beer and a mug of beer for my horse." GM: (laughs) TP: (lau ghs) So we had a touch of the Wild West. GM: Speaking of other Now the area called the Scrub was equally notorious. TP: Yes. Didn't I tell you last week? GM: Did we talk about th e Scrub? I guess we did. Okay, a ll right. What about the there must have been thousands and thousands of young people teenagers by the thirties [1930s] by the time you were growing up, your age. Tell us maybe about some courtship patter n s on Seventh Avenue. What would young people do? TP: When my generation came along this is hard to believe but my generation, when we were in high school, if we dated a Latin girl, usually we had to have an escort. The mother would go along. Dating started when my generation got into high school. We could date. But we had to take the m others to the movie with us, or go to the dance GM: ( laughs ) Right. TP: take the old lady. GM: Uh huh.
23 TP: I remember going to the dances at the Centro Espaol which was really the plush dances of my period. And you'd see all along the wall all the Spanish ladies, and some Italians, with their daughters. And that's the way it was until when I went to college. Then w hen I started coming into Tampa and started dating things were changing. I was dating Latin girls and I could take them out witho ut their mothers. GM: Now did Italians tend to be stricter or less strict than Cuban girls for instance? TP: Of all the three Latin races in Ybor City, the L atins were the strictest of all. GM: The Italians you mean? TP: I mean the Italians. (laughs) GM: Uh huh. TP: Very strict. GM: And th e Cubans were the least strict, I would guess? TP: The least strict. Now, the Spaniards weren't that strict but they still had a very strong feeling like the Italians. They w anted their own to marry to Spaniards, you know. And the Spanish people because of their position the cigar industry was owned primarily by Spaniards. And all of the key positions in the factory like the selector or the foreman and all th e better jobs ou tside of making cigars, the jobs beyond that were always held by Spaniards. Very rarely you fou nd a Cuban or an Italian. And all of the readers were usually Cubans, most of them. And that meant that the key jobs were in the hands of Spaniards A nd they wer e the u pper strata of society b ecause they had the money, and the y lived in better neighborhoods because they could afford it. And of course the selector or the packer, these are the fellows that were making twice what the cigar maker was making. The amb ition of most of the Spanish mothers was that their daughter would marry one of those fellows you know. B ut the Italians they started coming along and intermarriage started But in the early days of intermarriage the Italians just didn't sit down and take it that easily. They really got pretty rough at times. I ve heard of incidences where actually either a Spaniard or a Cuban who was courting an Italian girl was absolutely intimidated and told to leave town. An d he did And they did. They meant business. It was that bad. And there are occasions when an Italian father, after the daughter married a Cuban or a Spaniard I know of two or three. I won t mention their names; the family is still here. But I am talking about back in the twenties [1920s] The fathers never talked to their daughters [again]. They resented it that much. GM: Is that right ? Equally familiar to you as thwarted courtships in Ybor City was of course, the bolita. Would you care to refresh the readers about the
24 TP: Gambling? GM: The gambling, right. TP: Yeah well bolita came very early with the cigar makers. You know, one of the stipulations Mr. Ybor made when he came her e to establish his community he knew the cigar makers, he knew their habits, their likes and dislikes. The Cuban particularly the Cuban who actually was in the great majority ; it was Cubans t hey weren't good churchgoers. They would all wear the medallion and they believed in God, but when it came to going to church, someh ow they weren't that good. That was true with most of the Latins in Ybor City. But there was a reason for all of that. But anyway, when Mr. Ybor came, he said to the city fathers, "Okay, remember this community is going to be out in the woods by itself. And I want you to know that I know the Anglo Saxon spirit of church on Sunday and no gambling and so on." And the Anglo Saxons the board of trade they were so anxious to get the cigar industry into Tampa. It really Tampa was nothing. With the coming of the industry they could see the tremendous influx of money and development and so on. So, they said, "Well they're going to be all by themselves in the country, a little community out there, let them do what they want. If they want to gamble let them ha ve gambling." But a little later on, the Anglo Saxons, when they saw Ybor City developing and saloons open on Sunday and the gambling they had games of faro and dice and card playing and there was even cock fighting. And so the religious people of the little town of Tampa they started opening up little branches out there a nd they called them missions. Because they wanted to Christianize the Latins! (laughs) GM: (laughs) TP: Anyway this actually happened and of course a lot of the Cubans became Baptists and Methodists. GM: Didn't you once play as a youngster play a part in the bolita game? Were you a messenger boy or something like that? I thought I heard you say that once. TP: No. T he Tribune wrote a story about t he area, you know, bolita And see I was in terviewed When I was going to grammar school I would get through early in the afternoon and I would sell the Tampa Times in the evening up and down Seventh Avenue. And in those days, we had open streetcars and I would work between Twenty Second Street to Fourteenth Street up and down until I got rid of my last newspaper. In those days, they had casinos. And the most plush of the casinos or gambling houses was t he Lido on Fourteenth Street. And I described what I saw when I walked in as I was selling my newspapers. I t was a regular Las Vegas type of casino. It was very plush and
25 it was full of people. T hey were well dressed and the women were wearing mink. And they had bolita throwing and so on. Bolita s tarted back in the early part of the century here. It was introduced by a man the y called Gallego He was a Spaniard. And at first, the newspaper people didn't know what bolita was or they didn't understand the game. But there were rumors going all over t own about this new type of lottery. And Mr. [Robert] Mugg e who used to be the probably he brought well, he did. He brought in the first car t load of Budweiser beer into Tampa. He made a lot of money during the Spanish American W ar. He was an importer of beverages, hard liquors; a distributor in other words. And one day he made a remark. He had seen bolita thrown and the grand jury called him in and said, "We understand you have seen this new game played." He said, "Yes, I have, a nd he described it all. T hat was the first description of bolita ever published in the paper. GM: (laughs) What year would this have been? TP: It must have been about 1903. And then, the paper would write you know when things got really where bolita was becoming so popular a nd so widespread the paper wrote that on Fourteenth Street between Seventh Avenue and Tenth Avenue there were about six bolita joints. GM: ( laughs ) TP: And they started raiding them and so on. And they said in those days, most of the families had their washing done by black women who took in washing. T hat was very common. So we had over two hundred washwomen. And the paper said that the husbands of the washwomen are stealing their soap so they can get that nickel and go play it on bolita But in time, bolita became Tampa's second industry you might say. It became so widespread. They had bolita peddlers or salesmen sell ing bolita and it was very common through the forties [1940s] to see riders the y used to call them riders go into offices, doctor's of fices, lawyer, even the mayor's office. And they would sell bolita you know? GM: Uh huh. TP: And it was a way of life in Tampa. It w asn't i t got to the point Well of course they had to have protection from the city authorities and the county and the state. And somehow, it became so lucrative that for a long time, you know everybody was involve d in it. And it was okay I guess. And people took it in stride. But after P rohibition see, during P rohibition there were Italians who really dominated the P rohibition business. And that doesn't mean that all of the bootleggers were Italians because every nationality was involved. But the Italians seemed to predominate and they became very important in that field and very successful. Th en wh en P rohibition was amended, these same people looked around and they had nowhere to go nothing to do.
26 And all of a sudden they realized that the Cubans and Mr. Charlie Wall and other people really had a good thing going in this gambling. So they st arted muscling in. And that's when all the shootouts started throughout the thirties [1930s] And there were some killings and shotguns GM: Right. TP: and you know killings. And finally, by 1 950 the paper and the state and (inaudible) and so on an d it all started to go down the drain. And that was the end of bolita the end of the gangster s as far as that goes. GM: Right. You had mentioned earlier that there was a reason why Ybor City was anticlerical that is, not very religious. Do you want to e laborate? TP: The Spaniards as well as the Sicilians came from little villages of their own particular country. And the clergy in those villages they actually rule d the communities. F rom what I have read and heard and so on, a lot of the clergy would c ater to the well to do. And the poor, the peasant, the tiller of the soil and all he could see that it wasn't really what it was suppose d to be you know. The church should look upon every individual equally. It isn't like our church here in America. It w as very provincial and the priests played their politics and those who had nothing that became the immigrants of Ybor City t he y resented the way that things were conducted. I'll give you a good example: If you read Mr. [Angelo] Massari's book 12 as a young boy he went to church for confession. The priest sat at the head of the altar like he was the king of the community. And everybody would get in line and the don of the community, any of the well to do, the prominent people, they would come in and go straight to the priest to pay tribute. And Mr. Massari said when he saw that, he just got up and never went to confession. N ever went to church again. He resented it because he figured that man should have gotten in line like he did. And he was a y oung man. T hese are the resentments that people brought with them. That's true with the Spaniards because they had the same situation. The clergy just ruled the roost. GM: Uh huh, r ight. TP: W hen the Catholic Church was organized, the Spaniards actual ly were probably the best churchgoers. The Italians were second the Cubans third. And the GM: The women tended to go more than the men? TP: The women went to church the children went to church. They went to Catholic s chool. And the men just didn't y ou know? 12 The Wonderful Life of Angelo Massari Massari was an Italian who immigrated to Tampa around the turn of the century.
27 GM: Uh huh. TP: T he Italians were the hardest group to get together. When the Italian church was organized in Ybor City in the 1890s they brought in a priest from out west because he spoke Italian. They felt with all these Italians here we oug ht to have an Italian priest. And his main job was to really get people to become churchgoers. He never succeeded in his job with the Italians. I n the early twenties [1920s], they organized an Italian church and put it in an Italian community in Eighth Ave nue and Twenty Third Street. I became an altar boy at that church. U ntil about ten years ago that church was still in existence. GM: Yeah. Tony, in conclusion of this really interesting interview, kind of wrap up your thoughts about Tampa, what do you t hink? If you could capsulate Tampa's history in just a short sentence or two its motto ? A nd what do you think the future holds for Tampa? You know, is there going to be these mutual benefit societies? Will they still be standing fifty years from now? Will we recognize the Tampa of tomorrow like today? TP: Sadly I can't see how the mutual aid societies are going to exist. You 'v e got Medicare and you've got government programs going and you can buy insurance for health care and so on. I t goes beyond the m utual aid societies. The mutual aid society as we knew it in the early days the immigrants when they started it it not only took care of their medical needs but it also served as an organization to protect themselves. They were immigrants and they needed help and if there were problems [there was] the club and unity, there was strength. And this is how they became so well organized. But today, the need is not there. They used it for politics too. And every candidate would come to Ybor City and try to get in with the president and the board of directors of the club because they thought that the Italians would vote in a block, and the Cubans and the Spaniards. They didn't actually. There was no such thing. People are pretty darn independent. But that's the way many of the key people in the clubs were able to get political plums and jobs you know. But the clubhouse or the mutual aid socie t ies as we knew them I think the y re facing a drastic change. GM: Uh huh. How about Tampa? What do you think? How would you capsulate Tampa? TP: Well I think Tampa is a unique community because it s always been cosmopolitan from its very beginning. It started as a fort and people ca me ; camp followers s tarted settling near the fort. And in the early days you had Cubans already living here or Spaniards who were fisherman on the shores of Tampa Bay. You had people from the Canary Islands living here in the early days. You had a few Germ ans; not many but there were a few German s. And a Spaniard or two would c ome in because of Cuba the relationship as the districts were so close. T hen when you had the influx after the hurricane in 1848 the fort had to be rebuilt and a lot of workers came in from St. Augustine. There were no towns that existed in those days outside of Jacksonville, Tallahassee, St. Augustine and maybe Key West. So we
28 started getting a lot or rather a group of third and fourth generation Italians that came in 1767 during the English period to establish New Smyrna. So the descend a nts and the y spoke Spanish they started coming into Tampa. So those Italian names are still with us. But they go back to the 1700s. And so from the beginning, Tampa was really a polyglo t of nationalities. And it always seemed to progress. It had its bad periods but it kept [going]. The port was very important, the weather was very important. P roximity to Latin America and the cigar industry I think is the thing that really gave it its big boost. And I am not overlooking the railroad. The railroad came into Tampa in 1883. But the railroad was able to make it possible for the cigar industry to come here. And the railroad also brought in a lot of the development of lumber mills and so o n. But the cigar industry when it comes to total money brought into the area it was really the prize. I think that Tampa has a tremendous future. And it s going to grow and I'm afraid it s going to grow beyond the limits that we'd like to see it grow, unfortunately, because of the ecology You think of how beautiful fishing used to be in our bay and our rivers. And things are changing and the pollution is affecting our health and the aesthetics of the community. I look at my car every morning, and I wash it almost every day so it s not covered with dust I t's just sad. And sometimes you see some of your palm trees dying from the pollution. So progress is fine. But I think there's a limit to anything. But a s far as Tampa as a community it is going to keep growing. I think it ha s a great future. Geographically, it has a tremendous position One of the t h ings that gave Tampa a really big boost and people don't seem to realize it, was when the y opened up the Panama Canal. Ta mpa became a very popular area. It brought a lot of people in and in dustry in here and everything b ecause the [shortest] distance between a good port to the Panama Canal was by rail to Tampa and onto the Panama Canal. In fact the C ity of Tampa was so del ighted in 1908 or 1910 I don't remember the date exactly they had one of the biggest function s h eld by the city in its history w hen the y opened the Panama Canal. GM: Is that right? TP: They brought in the first airplanes [that ever] came into Tampa then They brought in the first dirigible and they had one full week of festivities, parades and so on. And they called it the Pan American Exposition. It was a great celebration. GM: Yeah. Well Tony, this has really been enjoyable and I appreciate it. Tha nks again TP: H ad a lot of fun talking about it E nd of interview
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Pizzo, Anthony P.
Tony Pizzo oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Gary Mormino.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (85 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (28 p.)
Ybor City oral history project
Interview conducted April 14, 1979.
This is an oral history interview with Tampa historian Tony Pizzo. Pizzo was born in Tampa to Italian immigrant parents in 1912, and grew up in Ybor City. A successful businessman, Pizzo was the founder of the Tampa Historical Society and was a noted local historian. In this interview, he discusses urban renewal, historical markers, Jos Mart and relationships with Cuba, and Ybor City's mutual aid societies. He also recounts a number of anecdotes and stories about Tampa and Ybor City.
Pizzo, Anthony P.
Ybor City (Tampa, Fla.)
Ybor City (Tampa, Fla.)
Social life and customs.
Mormino, Gary Ross,
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
Ybor City oral history project.
y USF ONLINE ACCESS