Ybor City, also known as Cigar City, has a rich and varied history, starting as early as the late 19th century. It is the cultural and creative epicenter of Tampa, FL, known for its diverse restaurants, cobblestone streets, gorgeous architecture, exquisite art, unique celebrations of centuries of industry, and, of course, hand-crafted cigars. Walk down the cobblestone path of history with us as we dive deeper into Ybor City.
In the 1880’s, Ybor City was founded by Spanish, Cuban, and Italian entrepreneurs and cigar manufacturers, notably Vicente Martinez-Ybor. Before their arrival this area of Tampa was isolated and quiet, populated mostly by immigrants and other people who made it their home following the end of the Civil War. However, with a railroad going through town and a convenient port, this area was ripe for industrialization. Martinez-Ybor contracted hundreds of houses to be built in order to attract more workers to the area so that he could hire a sustainable workforce for decades to come.
Together with his cohort of other cigar manufacturers, Vincente Martinez-Ybor created this incredible city and Ybor City, as it was now known, became a major hub for cigar production and distribution. Cigar factories opened and the local economy flourished. Schools opened, restaurants were packed daily, industries sprouted up, and the incredible city began to take shape. With immigrants from Spain, Cuba, Italy, and Germany (among many other countries), the population began to grow, and it grew quickly. By 1929 there were over 100,000 residents of Tampa. This is in great contrast to approximately 40 years prior, when the residential population was barely 1,000.
This booming economy was welcome to the once quiet, struggling city. However, tough times loomed on the horizon for the emerging metropolis.
Hard Times for Industry
The Great Depression affected nearly every industry in the United States of America, and cigar manufacturing was no exception. People were looking for less expensive options for everything, and leisure items, like cigars, were quickly tossed to the side in favor of necessities like food, clothing, and shelter. The economic effects of this were felt for several decades, through the First World War, Second World War, and even the Vietnam War. The historic neighborhood emptied out as people relocated for work to other places. Redevelopment started and stopped, started and stopped, started and stopped, almost always due to lack of funds.
Loss of Cultural Landmarks
To make matters worse, the Federal Government began a potentially catastrophic Urban Renewal Project during the Civil Rights Era. This meant tearing down old buildings and renaming historic streets. Despite these changes being crucial for providing better access to travel, they also removed some of Ybor City’s most important monuments. The once thriving district was now lost in time, becoming known only to those few who could still remember what it had been before.
Resurgence and Resilience
By the 1980’s, Ybor City was in a state of disrepair. Gorgeous streets that once housed restaurants and homes sat vacant and boarded up. But then artists from all over the world started to come to Ybor City for inexpensive rent, beautiful weather, and historic and inspiring architecture. Communities started to thrive once again: the area was alive with beautiful art, restaurants pumped delicious odors onto the cobble stone streets, and buildings reopened. Historic Ybor City was waking back up. Bars, restaurants, and hotels started opening all over the district during the next several decades, improving the community infrastructure and ensuring the future of this beloved district.
Modernity + History
With help from individual developers and the City of Tampa, redevelopment has finally proved successful. Now Tampa residents and visitors can easily access Ybor City by car or public transportation. They can enjoy great activities such as annual festivals, museums, parades, farmers markets, comedy clubs, and dance halls for all tastes. There are also some amazing dining options like fine-dining establishments, multi-cultural fusion restaurants, or places serving up good old American comfort food. Many people come here to find cigars at a cheaper price than one might find in other cities. But Ybor was made famous by being called America’s Cigar City, so it remains a hotspot for cigar aficionados who know what they want and where to find it.
Remember that no matter how much time has passed since its inception, Ybor City will always be America’s Cigar City, thanks to the incredible entrepreneurs and workers who saw this city for the future it could have: strong, diverse, and, of course, great fun.
Here are a few of our favorite Ybor City businesses: