On the corner of 7th Avenue in the heart of Ybor City stands a steakhouse called Carne. If you were to travel back in time, that same building with the scarlet red bricks would have had a different and more important purpose. For decades, the building was was a staple within the community of Ybor City. It was the Centro Espanol de Tampa, a mutual aid society that was created for the betterment and aid of Spanish immigrants in Ybor City.
The Centro Espanol de Tampa was a place in Ybor where Spanish immigrants could come together. As a mutual aid society, the Centro Espanol provided voluntary assistance and relief to club members and extended educational facilities to the community. In a time before formal medical insurance, club members and their families were eligible for benefits when they became sick or were hospitalized. No one within the Centro Espanol de Tampa would make any kind of monetary gain from the club. All money and resources would be put to helping the people the club was established to serve, Spanish immigrants.
A huge benefit to being part of the Centro Espanol de Tampa was the ability to have free medical care. Any member for more than two years could go to the Sanitorium del Centro Espanol, a hospital the club created, and be given medical treatment as part of their membership. This was one of the ways this club helped the people it sought out to provide aid for. The clubhouse also housed classrooms where English classes were taught to help the immigrants assimilate better to life in America. A theater and dance hall provided members with entertainment on nights and weekends. In less than twenty years the club gained 2,600 members.
While having a sophisticated administrative body, the Centro Espanol de Tampa always kept a lighthearted and family atmosphere, always generating a spirit of cooperation and friendship. The meetings did not have a set structure and the topic of each meeting would vary, depending on what was happening within the community. If someone had a birthday on the day of the meeting, then the meeting could be about that person and singing them happy birthday. If someone within the club had passed away recently, then the meeting could be about commemorating the life of that individual. The point of this type of structure was to fulfill what they set out to do, create an environment where Spanish immigrants feel safe and provide relief.
The Centro Espanol de Tampa was a mutual aid society in Ybor City that provided the Spanish immigrants of Ybor a place to call home. The club provided a place for camaraderie and family. On the second story balcony, the railing reads “Centro Espanol,” a reminder of the important past that this brick building on 7th Avenue holds within its walls. The use of the building may change, but the history inside will remain.