TAMPA (FOX 13) - The city of Tampa will turn 130 years old this Friday and the tale of Tampa has many twists, ranging from its famous cigar industry to its less well-known early healthcare system.
We talked to folks about Tampa's history as the Ybor City Development Corporation installed a new, permanent dominoes table at Centennial Park.
The table was Leo Alvarez's idea. The Tampa native says it brings back memories.
"Stories my grandparents and great-grandparents shared with me growing up," he explained. "They migrated to Tampa and there was open arms. They had opportunities with hard work."
Tampa immigrants built social clubs like Centro Asturiano, Centro Espanol, the Cuban Club, and the Italian Club. But they weren't just social clubs. They had healthcare for members. They were called Mutual Aid Societies. They paid 25, and later, 50 cents a week for coverage. It was the first system of its kind in the country.
"These immigrants never asked for one penny from the government. They were proud. They were hardworking people," offered Judge E.J. Salcines, a historian and Tampa native who talked with us about it for a previous story on the Mutual Aid Societies.
Well-heeled tourists came to Henry Plant's Tampa Bay Hotel, but as business leaders and socialites held Gasparilla events, the grittier side of the Cigar City produced some of the most well-connected Mafia figures south of New York.
"We had Bolita and the mob, the good people and the bad people. We had it all," laughed seven-term City Council member Charlie Miranda.
It's all mixed together like one of Tampa's signature dishes -- paella. At age 130, people who love Tampa hope it ages like a fine wine at Bern's as new chapters in the tale of Tampa unfold.