YBOR CITY, Fla. — Cuban immigrants came to Ybor for jobs in the cigar factories. Back then, Ybor was thriving off the cigar industry.
A group of Cuban immigrants created El Circulo Cubano or "Circle of Cubans," a mutual aid society to help fellow immigrants. The Cuban Club was used as not just a place for people to gather and make friends but also as a place for help.
"Well, the Cuban Club was founded by the Circulo Cubano de Tampa, which was at first an organization that was formed from a bunch of patriotic groups that tried to send arms and money down to Cuba during the Spanish War. During the war with Spain, and later on, it became Circulo Cubano, which was a mutual aid society. And so the reason for the club in the building was to support people of Cuban descent who were here and to try and take care of their lives outside of work," explained Patrick Manteiga, President of the Cuban Club Foundation.
He continued, "So we provided everything from athletics to a place to gather to drink beer, play dominoes, a place to have dances, theater, we would have community theater and bring in operas and other theater groups from outside. And so like I said, we took care of just basically everything outside of work."
If you've traveled through Ybor over the past few months you've noticed construction all around the Cuban Club.
"So we do everything from weddings to concerts, we have our back patio, we'll hold 4,000 people for a concert," explained Manteiga. "But all that rental money goes to help us match grants from the federal, state and local levels, to help put roofs on, fix doors, windows, and the rest of it, currently, we have about $1.5 million in grants and some private money that we're doing some restoration with right now."
Manteiga has family history tied to the Cuban Club. His grandfather was part of the club when he arrived in Florida in 1913. He also founded the Foundation in the 1990s. To him, and many others, the Cuban Club and Ybor City are incredibly special.
"As Ybor grows, we have an issue with the new people really not knowing what we're about. And we really need people to get involved. We have a lot of clubs, a lot of activities down here and what makes Ybor unique. It's not just the bricks and mortar. It's the people that are involved with it. The people have passion with it. And so we hope that as new people move in, they will pick up that passion," said Manteiga.
You can read more about the Cuban Club, its history and how to get involved byclicking here.