L’Unione Italiana, or The Italian Club, was founded in 1894 as a mutual-aid society for its Italian members. Its first president, Bartolo Filogamo, was the first Italian cigar manufacturer. When it started, the club had only 107 members. By November 1935, the amount of members reached 3000. The first Italian Club building, built in 1911, burned down in 1914. In 1918, a new building was completed for the club, and still stands today at 1731 East 7th Avenue.
According to Tampa historian Tony Pizzo, the Italian Club “…is considered the fore-runner of the more than fourteen hundred mutual aid societies that flourished in Italian neighborhood throughout America.” The Club included a health insurance program, as well as death and sick benefits, for their members. The Club’s members have played a part in electing political figures such as Mayors, School Board Members, State Attorneys, and County Commissioners. A number of social events have been sponsored by the Italian Club, such as parades, family picnics, and theatrical performances. In addition, revenue was gained through the hosting of concerts by famous performers, as well as bands. According to Italian Club President Paul Longo, L’Unione Italiana “…is a mutual and civic organization. The principles on which it is based are the appeals of our great ideals and the carrying out of the most humanitarian accomplishments.”
Not very far away from the Club is the L’Unione Italiana Cemetery. The land which it stands on was purchased and dedicated by the Club in 1894, the same year as the Club’s founding. This cemetery stands at 26th street and 24th avenue, and is known to be ornate. One newspaper article describes walking through the cemetery as “…like taking a stroll through an ornate memorial garden in Sicily.” There are mausoleums which are “…as large as small town chapels.”
It appears that the first family to be buried there was a family known as the Armwoods. Since then, a number of people have been buried there, some of them infamous. Gangsters are known to have been buried there, including Augustine “Primo” Lazzara, Santo Trafficante, and Jimmy Lumia. Lazzara is known for operating the Yellow House Bar, which was a site of illegal gambling. After Lumia was killed in 1950, nearly one-thousand people attended funeral. He was buried in a casket made of solid bronze, which was placed in a mausoleum made of marble. Santo Trafficante was also a member of organized crime whose body lies in the cemetery. An interesting happening occurred at the cemetery in 2016, when two coffins were stolen from the Spicola Family Mausoleum.
Existing for nearly one hundred and twenty-five years, the Italian Club is an organization which has provided benefits and unity to a number of members. The Club is a place where people of a similar ethnicity can come together and celebrate their culture, as well as share it with others. Let us hope that L’Unione Italiana, while it still exists, will continue to follow the principles described by President Longo, principles of “…our great ideals and the carrying out of the most humanitarian accomplishments.”