Tampa political fixer and bolita ‘dean’ Charlie Wall built the Yellow House in the 1920s, using it as a headquarters for his bolita operation. Over the course of two decades, Wall lost his control of the bolita rackets to the Trafficante crime family. Control of the Yellow House passed to Augustine “Primo” Lazzara, a capo – racket operator and enforcer – in the Trafficante family. Lazzara expanded operations with roulette, blackjack, and poker inside the functioning bar for almost two decades. Upstairs was also a brothel operated by Lazzara in service of the Trafficante family.
Local police and prosecutors kept their distance from the establishment due to bribery, corruption, and fear of crossing Santo Trafficane Sr., the head of the crime family. The Trafficante family was not afraid to resort to violence in order to achieve its objectives. Santo Trafficante Sr.’s son, Santo Jr., would narrowly avoid being killed by an assassin waiting outside his house, a block away from the Yellow House.
The “Era of Blood” in Ybor City, a spate of twenty-five gangland assassinations and numerous other attempted murders that stretched from the 1930s to the early 1950s, directly touched the Yellow House twice. In 1937, a bolita numbers runner was targeted in the alley behind the Yellow House, but escaped with his life. In 1950, Augustine “Primo” Lazzara’s bodyguard was robbed at gunpoint as he left the club in the early morning with $2,000 in checks.
As time went on and federal pressure on the American Mafia intensified, the Yellow House faded in importance and patronage. The Yellow House bar was sold in the late 1960s and a restaurant named the Eagle’s Nest opened in the same space. In 1988 a fire destroyed the structure. Today, the building has been purchased by a private developer and will soon be converted into an office space.
The history of Ybor City is, of course, far richer than the shadowy world of organized crime. Yet, we as residents and tourists should recognize the dark with the light. We can enjoy and admire the history of Ybor City more fully if we understand and accept its marvelous diversity and complexity.