Vincente Ybor: A Cigar Legacy

Vincente Ybor: A Cigar Legacy

Ybor Square (1901 N 13th St.) and the “El Pasaje” building (1320 E 9th Ave.) are oft overlooked fixtures of Ybor City but at the height of Tampa’s cigar industry, these buildings represented the beating heart of Vicente Ybor’s industrial town. Vicente Ybor was a Valencian industrialist who worked extensively with the cigar industry in Cuba before coming to America and starting factories in New York, and later, Tampa.

He bore witness to and, in some instances, affected every major change in the 19th Century cigar industry. Because of his success as a captain of industry and the magnanimity he extended to his employees, Ybor is fondly remembered as the founder of Ybor City

A Young Prince:

 

Vicente Martinez-Ibor was born in Valencia, Spain on September 9, 1818 to aristocratic parents. Seeking to protect their son from military service in the Carlist Wars or Spanish expeditions to North Africa in the 1830’s, the Ibors sent him to Cuba to be a storeroom clerk. By the time he was 20, Ibor had become a successful tobacco dealer in Cuba. He entered the trade right as the international cigar golden age began with importers, such as the Upmanns, hawking Cuban tobacco to every major cigar manufacturer in Europe. Ibor started his first cigar factory in Havana in the 1840’s and was an award-winning cigar manufacturer at Paris Tobacco Expositions within a decade. His flagship brand, “El Principe De Gales,” was known for its quality and craftsmanship.

As a result of the costly colonial wars in the 1850’s and 1860’s, Spain instituted a 6% tax on industrial properties in Cuba. This outraged men like Ibor who were generally loyal to Spain. When the Ten Years’ War (1868-1878) for Cuban independence tore Cuba apart, Ibor financially supported the Cuban separatists in the hopes he would have more economic freedom for his factories. An infuriated mob of Spanish loyalists found out and sacked Ibor’s house, forcing him to flee to America. To avoid pronunciation issues with Anglo-Americans, Ibor changed his surname to “Ybor.”

Tampa or Bust:

 

Hoping to avoid Spanish authorities and labor troubles with his factories in Key West, Ybor sought a far-flung locale where he could totally structure every aspect of his workers’ lives. Ybor was attracted to Tampa by the ample land, temperate climate, and monetary bonuses offered by the Tampa Board of Trade. He began planning a company town with his business partner Eduardo Manrara and architect Gavino Gutierrez, whose namesake 7th Avenue building is the current home of Nicahabana and Tabanero cigars.

 

Ybor City provided its inhabitants better public utilities than most other places in the American South. “La Iguala” was an Ybor city medical service which provided cigar workers with clinic visits for ten cents a week. Ybor’s other business ventures, such as the Ybor City Land and Improvement Company and the Florida Brewing Company, created hundreds of jobs outside of his cigar factory. Ybor made Tampa the cigar city.

Father of the City:

Ybor was a very paternalistic industrialist. He threw lavish parties and picnics for his cigar workers. He even invited his entire payroll over to his mansion to spend Christmas Eve with him in 1887. This allowed him to soothe disgruntled workers and prevent most labor disputes.

Ybor passed away in 1896 from an infected liver. He lived just long enough to secure his legacy. Besides turning Tampa into an economic powerhouse, he was a necessary catalyst to move the cigar industry to its next stage of evolution. Ybor’s funeral was the largest funeral Tampa has ever seen, with a procession that stretched for almost two miles. Ybor was highly respected by both the Anglo-American community of Tampa and the Latin communities of Ybor City and West Tampa.

Legacy

At one point, Ybor was called the most intelligent man in the cigar industry. His foresight in coming to Tampa attests to that claim. Ybor’s business vision and personability would certainly benefit the cigar industry today, but his semblance can be seen in the business ethics of the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. The dedication the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. shows towards the quality of its products as well as the deliberate efforts taken to treat its employees fairly and give back to the public mark it as the legal issue of Ybor. The renovated J.C. Newman Cigar Co. “El Reloj” factory store and museum pays homage to the legacy of Ybor and the cigar industry in Tampa.

About Holden Rasmussen

 

Holden Rasmussen is a Museum Associate at the “El Reloj” Factory Museum. His duties include conservation, collection management, gift shop sales, and docent work. He is a new college graduate who has worked and volunteered at museums and archival facilities in different parts of the country. Holden enjoys the American outdoors, French electronic music, Yugoslav militaria, Japanese comics, and Cameroon tobacco.

Sanchez y Haya Cigar Factories

Sanchez y Haya Cigar Factories

First Puffs

Ybor City may bear the name of Vicente Ybor, but his friend and business rival Ignacio Haya will forever be enshrined as the man who started the cigar industry in Tampa. Ignacio Haya was born in Escalante, Spain on December 8, 1842 to landed gentry parents who had ties to Spanish aristocracy. Because he was not the firstborn son, Haya sought his fortune in the new world and, at the age of twenty-five, founded the Sanchez y Haya Cigar Co. in New York. It was in New York that Haya met his business partner, an Asturian immigrant and businessman named Serafin Sanchez.

Haya was one of the first cigar manufacturers to use the “Havana Clear” or “Pure Havana” process in his factories. Similar to other importers, such as the Upmanns, purchasing the raw tobacco allowed him to avoid duties on imported cigars. The Havana Clear method allowed Tampa to become the cigar capital of the world. Haya was also an advertising whiz regarding cigar box lithographic prints or “vistas.” Haya featured popular celebrities or historical figures on his box art, such as playwright William Shakespeare or actress Fannie Davenport. This propelled him into larger and larger shares of the market.

New Horizons

In 1900, as many as seven out of ten American men were smoking cigars. From 1870 to 1900, there was exponential growth for the cigar market. Increased production demands in the 1880’s led to unethical labor practices and, consequently, powerful unions. Seeking to avoid the long arm of the (labor) law, cigar manufacturers in New York and Key West began looking for alternative manufacturing centers. Another concern for cigar manufacturers in Key West was finding cigar factories that would not burn down. The wooden factories of Key West were extremely vulnerable to conflagrations. The fires of collective bargaining were dangerous, but not as dangerous as the literal fires from the careless ember of a cigar roller’s culebra.

When the Tampa Board of Trade offered incentives like no-rent leasing, affordable land, monetary bonuses, and sturdy building materials, cigar manufacturers flocked to the fishing village in great droves. Ignacio Haya and Serafin Sanchez joined Vicente Ybor and Eduardo Manrara, Ybor’s business partner, in the race to become the first cigar manufacturer with an operational factory. While Ybor constructed his massive brick factory on 40 acres, Haya built a two-story wooden factory on 7th Avenue and 15th Street. Despite throwing them a celebratory feast and taking the time to build them luxurious living quarters, Ybor’s workers went on strike over increased wages in early 1886. This delay allowed Haya to steal the glory of producing the first cigar in Ybor city on April 13, 1886. Forevermore, the Sanchez and Haya factory will be known as “Factory No. 1.”

Golden Dream

Haya’s first Tampa brand, “La Flor de Sanchez y Haya,” enjoyed immense success, in part due to Haya’s quality control in his stripping department. Haya encouraged his strippers to fully remove the central stem of the wrapper tobacco leaves, a revolutionary process for the Tampa cigar industry. The profits from Sanchez and Haya cigars were so immense that the company relocated to a three-story wood building on 17th Street in 1906. At its zenith, the 17th Street Sanchez and Haya factory produced 500,000 cigars a day! In 1922, the original “Factory No. 1” was demolished to make way for a new post office. The 17th Street Sanchez and Haya factory was also demolished in the 1950’s to make way for I-4. The final incarnation of “Factory No. 1” was the iconic three-story brick building on 13th Avenue.

Sanchez and Haya occupied the 13th Avenue building throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s, until the company was dissolved in 1950. Originally, the 13th Avenue building was constructed for Gonzalez-Mora & Co. in 1908 but became the rented home to dozens of cigar companies as smaller manufacturing firms were bought out and consolidated in the mid-20th Century. The factory today is used as a U-Haul storage facility and rests prominently off I-4. Haya’s fortune came not from cigars, but from real estate. The Sanchez & Haya Real Estate Co. was incredibly influential in North Ybor. In fact, the concrete storefront across the street from the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. was, at one time, owned by the Sanchez & Haya Real Estate Company. This is similar to how Ybor’s fortunes came from the Tampa Bay Brewing Co. and his cigar factories.

Legacy

Serafin Sanchez passed in early 1894 and Ignacio Haya followed soon after in May of 1906. The rest of Ybor City’s fathers died contemporaneously, passing the destiny of the city onto the next generation of businessmen and cigar manufacturers. Although they did not live to see the cigar golden age of the early 1900’s or the cigar boom of 1990’s, the entrepreneurship and vision of men like Ignacio Haya made all future events in the cigar industry possible. The J.C. Newman Cigar Co. would never have come to Tampa in the first place if not for the sacrifices of men like Sanchez and Haya. Now, the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. honors their legacy by perpetuating Tampa’s identity as the cigar city.

About Holden Rasmussen

Holden Rasmussen is a Museum Associate at the “El Reloj” Factory Museum. His duties include conservation, collection management, gift shop sales, and docent work. He is a new college graduate who has worked and volunteered at museums and archival facilities in different parts of the country. Holden enjoys the American outdoors, French electronic music, Yugoslav militaria, Japanese comics, and Cameroon tobacco.

Perfecto Garcia Bros. Factory

Perfecto Garcia Bros. Factory

The Perfecto Garcia Bros. factory is a massive brick structure at 2808 N. 16th Street, Ybor City. The factory’s fire-preventative water tower looms like a time-worn megalith for I-4 interstate travelers and beckons to them, “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

Nothing beside remains. The factory is a relic of Ybor city’s cigar-rolling heyday. The Cuban tobacco embargo in 1960 spelled its slow decline and it was fully abandoned in 1982. Still, the factory is the closest neighbor to the J.C. Newman Cigar Co.’s “El Reloj” factory. Thus, the Perfecto Garcia Bros. factory is the closest to Cigar City’s rebirth.

Perfecto Garcia Bros. Factory Beginnings

The story of the Garcia brothers who founded the Perfecto Garcia Bros. factory mirrors the stories of Ybor city’s other great tobacco tycoons, such as Vicente Ybor, Ignacio Haya, Angel Cuesta, Arturo Fuente, and J.C. Newman.

Perfecto Garcia & Brothers was established in 1905 by Asturias – Oviedo. Spain. Born Perfecto Garcia, (1870-1930). He arrived in Chicago from Cuba in 1895. He sent for his brothers Angel, Jose, and Manuel also from Spain to run the various cigar ventures in Chicago and Tampa along with him.

Once the Garcia brothers established a cigar empire in the Windy City, they sought a supply of Tampan cigars rolled from the finest Cuban tobaccos.

Life in Tampa

Another parallel to the great Tobacconists of Ybor, their first Tampa factory venture burned down sometime between 1905 and 1908. After temporarily using the Sanchez & Haya Co.’s Factory #1 (“La Flor de Sanchez y Haya”), the Garcia brothers built the 16th Street Perfecto Garcia Bros. factory in 1914. The factory opened its doors in 1917 and employed 1,200 people. 

The tobacco used in the Perfecto Garcia Bros. factory’s hand-rolled cigars was a mélange of Garcia family farm tobacco from Florida and Oliva Tobacco Co. tobacco imported from Cuba. Their three best-selling brands were Perfecto Garcia, La Amita, and Perla Del Mar.

Changes to the Factory

Sadly, the Perfecto Garcia Bros. were not immune to the depredations of the cigar industry during the 20th Century. The Cuban embargo of 1960, mechanization, increased wages, cigar/tobacco taxes, low demand, and collectivization forced the Garcia brothers to sell their factory to the Havano Cigar Co. The new owners brought in American Machine and Foundry (AMF) hand-assisted rolling machines to remain competitive with a daily production rate of 60,000 cigars, but even this proved insufficient. The factory was sold again to United States Tobacco who abandoned it in 1982, relocating operations to modern factories in Pennsylvania.

Rebirth on the Horizon for Perfecto Factory

Although dormant, the Perfecto Garcia Bros. factory is a Romanesque Revival brick wonder and a beautiful reminder of Ybor City’s heritage. The factory is three stories high and built east to west, a common ergonomic feature before the mass use of electrical lighting and air conditioning. The property has changed hands many times but the newest owners aspire to make the factory into a co-op space, such as the Oxford Exchange or the Tampa Armature Works. The J.C. Newman Cigar Co.’s factory renovations and new cigar history experience tour working in conjunction with the newest incarnation of the Perfecto Garcia Bros. factory would be a welcome Renaissance for North Ybor.

 

About Holden Rasmussen

Holden Rasmussen is a Museum Associate at the “El Reloj” Factory Museum. His duties include conservation, collection management, gift shop sales, and docent work. He is a new college graduate who has worked and volunteered at museums and archival facilities in different parts of the country. Holden enjoys the American outdoors, French electronic music, Yugoslav militaria, Japanese comics, and Cameroon tobacco.