Chamber of Terror: Tampa's Fall Carnival

It may not be Bozo, but have you met Bubba?

Banner, 2019
Welcome to Tampa's only fall festival. After the fall of the Last Laugh Toy Company, the residents have struggled, looking for some form of refuge... Somewhere to call home. That refuge was found just south of Gandy, at a civic center off Oklahoma. There's tents of fun, games of chance, and even a kissing booth. Do you dare take a step inside and experience the fun for yourself?

 Truck, 2019
Chamber of Terror has consistently been one of Tampa's most terrifying haunted houses since their pro debut on the scene four years ago. Prior to becoming a pro haunt, Chamber of Terror spent many successful years as a backyard Halloween event. After taking a year off to reinvent themselves, Chamber of Terror is back and it's time for an entirely new concept.
Bubba, 2019
Right off that bat, I'll say that I've been critical of Chamber of Terror's sets in the past, mainly using the location they've been in as the s…

Ybor City: Past, Present, and Future

Who's ready for some history? Cool! Today, we're going to discuss the history of Ybor City.

Centro Ybor, 2017

     Vicente Martinez-Ybor was a Spaniard who, at the age of 14, moved to Cuba to avoid Spain's mandatory military service. During his time in Spain, young Ybor took on a lot of odd jobs until he ended at a grocery store as a bag boy. While there, an elderly gentleman offers to teach Ybor the ways of cigar rolling. Ybor learns the trade and opens a factory in Cuba which becomes WILDLY successful among the locals. He named his company El Principe de Gales (The Prince of Wales). Ybor's factory was known to produce 20,000 cigars a day. All was good for Ybor in Cuba, until...
     The Ten Year War broke out in 1868. Cubans demanded their independence from Spain which led to a massive war. Ybor was caught funding the Cuban resistance by the Spaniards and word came back to Ybor that they intended to prosecute. He and his family fled to Key West, Fl. While there, he continued to produce his cigars and brought workers in from Cuba to fill his factories. Tensions rose between the Cubans and the Spaniards and Ybor found Key West to not be the best location for his factory to begin with...


 Mural of Vicente Martinez-Ybor, 2017

     Gavino Gutierrez was a Spaniard living in New York who ran a fruit packing plant. He sold fruit from Spain, Cuba, and Mexico. He had heard rumor that wild guava grew in Florida so he took a trip down and spent some time searching for the tropical fruit. He never did find the fruit (duh!), but he did like the idea of opening a plant in Tampa so he didn't have to import some of his products. Gutierrez decided a trip back to New York by boat was the best idea, so away he sailed, making a stop in Key West where he met a man by the name of Ybor who was looking to relocate his cigar factory elsewhere. Gutierrez informed Ybor that Tampa had the perfect climate for him to keep his tobacco and that it was a very small town, so land should be cheap. And then there was the small advantage of...
     Henry Plant built many train stations and steam boats around the southern United States. If your city had a stop on one of his rail lines, you were a very big deal. Plant made his way south and had put a stop in Sanford and continued his trip south. Henry Plant built a railroad stop in Tampa, acquired the Hotel Punta Gorda and the Tampa Bay Hotel, and established a steamboat ride out of Tampa to Havana. This was very intriguing to other businesses.


Ybor's cigar factory, 2017

     Ybor had originally planned to move his factory to Texas, however his new friend Gutierrez convinced him otherwise. In 1885, Ybor made a trek to Tampa to take a look around and Ybor instantly fell in love with the city. After a battle over the price of the land (which ultimately almost had Ybor relocate elsehwere), Ybor purchased 40 acres just north of the actual city of Tampa.
     By the next year, 1886, Ybor was becoming the greatest cigar manufacturing city in the world. Gutierrez, who also studied architecture, was brought in to design the new town while Ybor and rival cigar manufacturer Ignacio Haya built their respective factories. Ybor's cigar factory encompassed one full city block and was the largest cigar factory in the world at that point.

Cigar roller at work, 2017

     In 1886, a fire broke out in Key West and destroyed most of the town. This brought a lot of the cigar workers to Tampa looking for employment in one of Tampa's 200 cigar factories. In an attempt to prevent the Cuban-Spanish problems experienced in Key West, Ybor provided good wages and his company built houses in Ybor city which were sold at cost to the workers in the town. This also gave Cubans a reason to stay in Tampa instead of traveling back and forth to Cuba which was common at the time. With people now living in Ybor, there had to be more than just cigar factories.
     Before his death, Ybor had established a brewery, an insurance company, a brick factory, gas compay, and an ice factory. He also established Tampa's first streetcar line. The city took a little time to grow, but once it did, Ybor City was producing tens of millions of cigars a year. Ybor also had one of the most educated work forces in the U.S. thanks to the lectors, whose sole job was to read to the workers as they worked in the factories. They were read newspaper articles and stories alike, which helped to keep their spirits up while working.



One of Ybor's many breweries, Coppertail, 2017

     On December 14, 1896, Ybor died. The newspapers of the time made it front page news, and businesses around Tampa shut their doors in his honor for his funeral. Ybor's family and business partners made an attempt to sell off his holdings, but deemed that there wasn't enough money in Tampa to do so. It took nearly ten years.
     Ybor continued to thrive for decades after Ybor's death. Up until the Great Depression swept through the United States. Consumers of cigars cut costs by switched to less expensive forms of tobacco and the cigar trade in Ybor took a massive blow. Many factories either laid workers off, or shut down entirely. The factories that did chose to remain open had switched to mechanical rolling methods, thus eliminating even more jobs. By the time World War II had ended, the jobs in Ybor City were gone, and many returning veterans made the choice to leave.

Man enjoying a cigar, 2017

     In the 1950's and 60's, the Urban Renewal Project set out to destroy as much of the history of Ybor as possible in exchange for new housing. The destruction took place, but a lack of funds prevented them from rebuilding Ybor. The construction of I4 through Ybor also destroyed most of the north/south routes through the city. By the 70's, very few businesses remained.
     In the 1980's, artists seeking cheap studio space came in to Ybor City and started the slow transformation from cigar capital of the world to what we know today. Slowly, the vacant cigar factories and empty store fronts turned into bars, restaurants, and night clubs. The city, which was built before cars were commonplace, now needed to build parking garages in the city. New housing was built, new uses for older social clubs were implemented, and a new core to the city was built in the way of Centro Ybor. For the first time in decades, people were moving back into the city.

People walking in front of the infamous streetcar line, 2017

That's all for this installment of Tampa History. Did I miss anything? Have an idea for the next entry? Leave a comment below. If you'd like more information on Tampa, check out my YouTube Channel and if you'd like to support my efforts, don't hesitate to buy a shirt from our Spreadshirt. Also, don't be afraid to click subscribe and you'll instantly be notified whenever a new entry is posted. If you'd like to meet other people who love Tampa, consider joining our Facebook Group. Thank you all and I will see you next time!

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