By AAA Travel Editor Michelle Palmer
September 14, 2021
With the bars that line 7th Avenue, Ybor City is a historic neighborhood within Tampa that has garnered a reputation for being a place to party. However, it’s not the whole of Ybor. I encourage you to spend a day exploring the National Historic Landmark District to learn about its history and Cuban-American culture.
In the 1880s, Vicente Martinez Ybor moved his cigar manufacturing from Key West to Tampa where he oversaw the building of his three-story cigar plant, had affordable houses built, called casitas, that his workers could purchase, and even planned parts of the city infrastructure.
In Ybor City’s heyday, when it was known as the “Cigar Capital of the World,” the population was made up primarily of Cuban and Spanish immigrants, but there were also Italians who mostly worked in the cigar factories as well. When Romanian Jewish immigrants came to the city, they opened shops that served the community, and German immigrants brought their skills in lithography and printed cigar labels.
Cigar manufacturing in Ybor peaked in the 1920s, but the Great Depression took its toll on the industry. Along with advancements in manufacturing, demand for the pricey hand-rolled cigars decreased, and most of the big manufacturers left as the industry declined.
While cigars are no longer the big industry in Ybor, their legacy can be seen today. Many of the original brick structures with their wrought-iron balconies still stand, and several business names allude to the area’s past. Also, historical sites are accompanied by green signs that explain their significance.