El Círculo Cubano

The Cuban Club

The story of El Círculo Cubano de Tampa, or Tampa’s Cuban Club, begins in 1885 when railroad tycoon Henry B. Plant built a railroad track that connected New York to Jacksonville to Tampa and beyond. The completion of this line was one of the factors that caused Vincente Martínez Ybor and other cigar industrialists to move from Key West to Tampa. Ybor and other cigar manufacturers originally relocated their factories from Cuba to Key West after the Cuban War of Independence erupted in 1868, but soon found Key West to be unideal.

Tampa’s proximity to Cuba gave cigar workers the opportunity to make frequent returns to support their countrymen and the increasing revolt against Spain. On May 7, 1885, The Tampa Board of Trade was created to attract businessmen to the city. It managed to catch the attention of Vincente Martínez Ybor, and he along with Ignacio Haya, a cigar magnate from New York, purchased over 111 acres of land northeast of downtown Tampa and established a town.

By 1891, Tampa’s population exceeded 5000 and the cigar factories of Ybor City and West Tampa boosted the economic development. Cuban workers who followed Ybor to Tampa brought a strong commitment to labor unions and Cuban independence.

Cubans settled in Tampa considered themselves political exiles who dreamed of liberating their country from the oppressive Spanish colonial rule. In 1891 the Cubans of Ybor City and West Tampa assembled two political organizations to promote “Cuba Libre!” (Free Cuba!), the political credo of José Martí. By 1895, there were 42 patriotic clubs affiliated with the Cuban Revolutionary Party.

Having fought for Cuban independence, the Cubans of Ybor City and West Tampa wanted to preserve the unity that José Martí helped them achieve and founded El Club Nacional Cubano in 1899. The Cuban National Club held its meetings in a building at the Southeast corner of 14th Street and 9th Avenue, where the Don Vicente de Ybor Historic Inn now stands.

The association originally consisted of black and white Cubans as its members, but Afro-Cubans soon had to leave the Cuban National Club due to the enforcement of Jim Crow racial segregation laws in October 1900. The Afro-Cubans proceeded to form Sociedad La Unión Martí-Maceo (The Marti-Maceo Society).

On May 20, 1902, the over three-year occupation of Cuba by U.S. military forces ended. That year, the leaders of El Club Nacional Cubano (The Cuban National Club) changed the organization to a mutual aid society and renamed it El Círculo Cubano de Tampa (The Cuban Circle of Tampa), in honor of the new republic of Cuba.

El Círculo Cubano erected its first clubhouse in 1907 at 14th Street and 10th Avenue, later renamed Palm Avenue. This structure was destroyed by a fire in April 1916 and reconstructed in 1918 to the new, elegant, yellow-brick “palace” that stands today. It featured a spacious theatre, cantina, pharmacy, library and dance floor decorated by Cuban painters, as well as elaborate imported tile, stained glass windows and marble.

The clubhouse was a significant step toward presenting Cubans who contemplated whether they should stay in Ybor or go back to Cuba with unity and purpose. The sheer existence of the building and the services it provided contributed to the increase of Cuban contentment with Ybor City.

As a mutual aid society, El Círculo Cubano's bylaws prohibited the discussion of labor, politics, and religion within the association. Members, mostly working-class Cuban immigrants, were granted health care, recreational activities, library services and English classes: benefits unavailable at the cigar factories. At its height, club membership reached nearly 8000.

El Círculo Cubano held great social and economic importance. It functioned as a meeting hall, theater, gymnasium, library and classroom, and the lifelong coverage it offered members made it possible for the Cuban immigrants to settle and raise their families in Tampa.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, El Círculo Cubano still has an active membership dedicated to preserving Florida’s Cuban heritage and culture, making it the oldest Cuban-American association in the nation.

Images

Front Entrance of The Cuban Club

Front Entrance of The Cuban Club

Cuban immigrant workers founded “El Circulo Cubano” (Circle of Cubans) in 1902. It was a mutual aid society to unite the Cuban community in Tampa and offer aid to the sick. The club provided a gathering place for members. | Source: Private Collection of Alixandra Waitman | Creator: Alixandra Waitman View File Details Page

Palm Ave side view of The Cuban Club

Palm Ave side view of The Cuban Club

The first clubhouse was destroyed by a fire in 1916 and replaced with the present 4-story, yellow brick building. It was rebuilt in 1917 with a Neoclassical design and decorated with imported tile, stained glass windows, murals and scraffito spandrells. It contained a theater, pharmacy, library, ballroom, Cantina, gymnasium, swimming pool and bowling lanes. The Grand Ballroom is now used for wedding receptions, New Year™s Eve parties and dances. The building is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. | Source: Private Collection of Alixandra Waitman | Creator: Alixandra Waitman View File Details Page

Bust of Jose Marti, dedicated ca. 1954<br /><br />

Bust of Jose Marti, dedicated ca. 1954

Tampa has a historic connection to Cuba's revered freedom fighter, Jose Marti. In 2016, The University of Tampa and the University of South Florida gathered at the the Cuban Club with academics from across the U.S. and Cuba to discuss Marti and Tampa™s role in the Cuban Independence Movement. | Source: Private Collection of Alixandra Waitman | Creator: Alixandra Waitman View File Details Page

El Circulo Cubano Brief

El Circulo Cubano Brief

The history of El Circulo Cubano (the Cuban Club), the building and its transformations over the past century as well as its current functions. Back in the early 20th Century it was the major hangout, but today this building is said to be the hangout for spirits. The Cuban Club is ranked among the top ten most haunted buildings in the country by the Travel Channel. | Source: Private Collection of Alixandra Waitman | Creator: Alixandra Waitman View File Details Page

Portrait of General Jose Antonio Maceo in Cuban Club's Office<br /><br />

Portrait of General Jose Antonio Maceo in Cuban Club's Office

General Antonio Maceo Grajales was the son of a Venezuelan mulatto and Afro-Cuban woman in 1848. He fought for Cuban liberation starting in 1868 when the Ten Years War began and he was promoted to general after five years because of his military skills. He later fought in the war against Spain began and is famous for his 92-day invasion of western Cuba when his troops where his army (mostly Afro-Cubans) covered more than 1000 miles and battled Spain in 27 times. Maceo was eventually captured and killed on December 7, 1896. He is remembered as guerrilla leaders in nineteenth century and often called "the Titan of Bronze." | Source: Private Collection of Alixandra Waitman | Creator: Alixandra Waitman View File Details Page

Portrait of Tomas Estrada Palma in the Cuban Club's Office

Portrait of Tomas Estrada Palma in the Cuban Club's Office

Tomas Estrada Palma was Cuba's first president from 1902 to 1906. He served as a general in the revolutionary army during the Ten Years™ War (1868–78) against Spain and became president of the provisional government in 1875. Later he helped gather assistance from the United States and fought in the Spanish-American War. After the war the U. S. handed Cuba to the Cubans and Estrada Palma was elected president. His administration was known for its economic and progressive educational policies. | Source: Private Collection of Alixandra Waitman | Creator: Alixandra Waitman View File Details Page

Members of The Cuban Club

Members of The Cuban Club

The Cuban Club appealed to young Cuban men, especially because it promoted athletics more than any of the other Latin societies. Members built a gymnasium and boxing arena, and leaders constructed a school to host various cultural activities. “I remember as a boy going to the free art classes summer evenings at the Circulo Cubano,” reported Jose Yglesias (1919-1995), noted Cuban-American writer from Ybor City. | Source: La Gaceta Collections | Creator: Alixandra Waitman View File Details Page

Cuban Club Dance

Cuban Club Dance

The social hub for Ybor City's youth was the Cuban Club. The young Cuban Americans pictured are dressed symbolically as Mambi and Liberty, terms referring to the guerrilla Cuban independence soldiers who fought against Spain in the Ten Years' War (1868–78) and Cuban War of Independence (1895–98), for a Cuban Club dance. | Source: https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/10832 | Creator: Florida Photographic Collection View File Details Page

Cuban Club Boxing Arena

Cuban Club Boxing Arena

Men constructed a boxing ring in the back of the Cuban Club before it was converted into a formal courtyard. | Source: https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/32812 | Creator: Florida Photographic Collection View File Details Page

Gavilla Children's Clinic in Ybor City

Gavilla Children's Clinic in Ybor City

A photo taken of staff members of Dr. Julio L. Gavilla's Clinic in Ybor City. Dr. Gavilla served as one of the clinic doctors at El Circulo Cubano. His office was located at on 7th Avenue next to the Ritz Theatre. | Source: https://fcit.usf.edu/florida/photos/gov/health/0729.htm | Creator: University of South Florida Special Collections View File Details Page

El Circulo Cubano Basketball <br /><br />

El Circulo Cubano Basketball

El Circulo Cubano de Tampa men's basketball champions of Ybor City Cage League. | Source: https://www.cubanclub101.com/pastzlightbox=dataItem-iv7bc5or | Creator: El Circulo Cubano Collections View File Details Page

El Patio (The Courtyard)

El Patio (The Courtyard)

El Patio filled for an evening of music and dance. | Source: https://www.cubanclub101.com/pastzlightbox=dataItem-iqa0ombn | Creator: El Circulo Cubano Collections View File Details Page

The Caballeros De La Luz at the Cuban Club

The Caballeros De La Luz at the Cuban Club

Audiences attending a show in El Teatro (the theatre) of the Cuban Club. | Source: http://digital.lib.usf.edu/SFS0029000/00001zsearch=Cuban+=Club | Creator: USF Digital Collections View File Details Page

A Circulo Cubano Club Banquet

A Circulo Cubano Club Banquet

A banquet hosted in the Cuban Club ballroom. | Source: http://digital.lib.usf.edu/SFS0028672/00001/1xzsearch=Cuban+%3dClub | Creator: USF Digital Collections View File Details Page

Cuban Club Baseball Team

Cuban Club Baseball Team

Source: https://www.cubanclub101.com/pastzlightbox=dataItem-iwjea9u2 | Creator: El Circulo Cubano Collections View File Details Page

Theatre at the Cuban Club

Theatre at the Cuban Club

Spanish play performed on the el Teatro stage in 1962. The Cuban Club's historic traditional proscenium theater was and is still used for concerts, recitals, plays, movies, dance performances, comedy shows, church services, educational seminars and weddings. | Source: La Gaceta Collections | Creator: Alixandra Waitman View File Details Page

Access Information:

Across the street from Hillsborough Community College, Ybor City campus.
On the corner of Palm Ave and 14th Street.

Street Address:

2010 Republica de Cuba (14th Ave), Ybor City, FL 33605 [map]

Official Website:

http://cubanclubybor.com/

Cite this Page:

Alixandra Waitman , “El Círculo Cubano,” Tampa Historical, accessed April 20, 2019, http://tampahistorical.org/items/show/42.
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