The History of Ybor City

One of Tampa’s gems, Ybor City is a popular destination for both tourists and locals. Known as “Cigar City”, Ybor City has a long history rich in tradition and culture and is now a center for entertainment, art and more. From the city’s rise in the late 1800’s to its decline during the depression era and it’s late 1900’s rebirth, the history of Ybor City is evident in its old-world architecture and multicultural charm.

The Birth of a “Cigar City”

Cigar makers

In the late 1800’s, Ybor City was an undeveloped region in Florida that was inhabited by a small group of Cuban and Spanish immigrants with a talent for rolling fine cigars. In 1885, after finding some success, these cigar manufacturers founded Ybor City as an independent town.

Later annexed by Tampa in 1887, Ybor City quickly grew welcoming many more cultures into their mix. Soon, both Italian and Jewish immigrants saw the opportunity that Ybor City could bring and began setting up shop building farms, retail stores, factories, and more to better serve the workers in the now wildly successful cigar industry.

Over the next few decades, Ybor City continued to grow and modernize. Having established several aid societies, labor organizations, and social and civic organizations, Ybor City became a hub for a wide variety of cultures, and eventually, this vast multiculturalism gave way to a new “Latin” culture not found anywhere else in the world.

An Abandoned City

Ybor City Historic District plaque

Source: Wikimedia Commons

In the early 1930’s, Ybor City took a major hit. With the Great Depression came a greatly decreased demand for cigars and other non-necessity items. As a result, some of the area’s cigar factories shut down altogether citing an inability to afford production, while others laid off a substantial amount of highly skilled hand-rollers in favor of the cheaper production costs associated with mechanized rolling equipment.

Even after the war when the demand for cigars began to increase, most of the returning veterans abandoned the city in search of more affordable housing and better economic opportunities. This only exacerbated the city’s decline.

To make matters worse, the federal government began its Urban Renewal project during the Civil Rights Era and decided to construct Interstate 4. While this provided vital transportation, it also required the demolition and removal of several of Ybor City’s historical buildings and houses. At that point, Ybor City became all but forgotten.

A City Reborn

Streetcar in Ybor City Tampa, FL

Thankfully, the 1980’s saw an Ybor City primed for growth. As during its initial founding, it slowly became a hotspot for artisans. During the 1990’s, Ybor City once again began to modernize by opening several popular bars, restaurants, clubs and other entertainment venues, and since 2000, the city has seen significant population growth as it has slowly worked to restore its historical buildings, complete new construction and build its commercial presence.

Nowadays, Tampa residents and visitors can get to Ybor City quickly by car or by Streetcar and enjoy great nightlife and amazing daytime festivities. From the many annual parades, farmers markets and art festivals to the comedy clubs, dance clubs, fine dining and more, Ybor City is a great place to soak in some history while enjoying a day or night on the town. It is also still a prime location for those seeking high quality cigars, because Ybor will always and forever be America’s “Cigar City.”