1600 East 8th Avenue
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Improv Comedy Theater
The Improv is THE perfect place to go tonight.
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Just figure it out when you get here!
Ybor City: The Heart of Historic Tampa
In 1886, Vincente Martinez Ybor bought forty acres of land from local Tampa citizens and began building Ybor City. Thus began this community of factories and small workers' houses. Eventually it became a thriving, cosmopolitan center, rich in culture and ethnic diversity.
Downtown Tampa originated with the founding of Fort Brooke in 1824 as a military outpost at the mouth of the Hillsborough River and Tampa was platted as a town in 1847. The area declined after the Civil War and only began to revive in the 1880's.
Plant further developed his Florida interests by expanding his transportation system to include steamships and hotels. He bought a number of ships which carried freight and passengers to places such as Mobile, Fort Meyers, Key West, Cuba and Jamaica. Realizing that he needed accommodations for his travelers, Plant built and/or bought eight hotels, including the magnificent Tampa Bay Hotel with its silver domes and minarets.
In 1886 Ybor, acting upon the advice of his friend, Gavino Gutierrez, came to Tampa and established Ybor City as a center for cigar factories and as a company town for the managers and workers who made the cigars. Accompanied by another factory owner, Ignacio Haya, he moved his operations to Tampa from Key West to escape labor conflicts and by doing so added tremendously to the prosperity of Tampa. For many years the cigar industry was the only major manufacturing concern in Tampa.
The next chapter of the story occurred just to the west between Ybor City and the Hillsborough River. Tampa residents began to move to higher ground in hopes of escaping the frequent yellow fever epidemics. They arrived a mile north of downtown in Tampa Heights, Tampa's first suburb. The area was subdivided in 1886 and became the location of choice for the businessmen and professionals of Tampa, representing from the beginning an ethnic mix of Latins and Anglos. In the 1880's the more adventuresome of Tampa's residents, led by William A. Morrison and James M. Watrous, began building homes in what is now Hyde Park. This movement was augmented by the building of streetcar lines in the 1890's and the paving of Bayshore Boulevard in 1907.
Another development was the opening of West Tampa on the west side of the river, north of Hyde Park. Hugh Macfarlane, a developer, saw the success of Ybor City and in 1892 spearheaded a second cigar factory area. As Ybor had done, he planned this "company town" to include both factories and worker's cottages and ensured its prosperity by running a streetcar line from downtown.
All of this steady development culminated in the 1920's with the creation of Davis Islands. Conceived by its founder as a "little Venice", Davis Islands featured an assortment of Mediterranean architectural styles, including Venetian Gothic, Early Renaissance and Spanish vernacular. The project had a short but splendid life. Davis began selling lots in 1924 and was extremely successful until the Florida "bust" destroyed his bubble and the bottom fell out of the real estate market in 1926.
Today's Tampa still retains the patterns established by these two visionary entrepreneurs, Vincente Martinez Ybor and Henry Bradley Plant.
Text and photos provided by Ybor City Museum Society.
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