When you think of Tampa, you often think of beautiful beaches, historical bungalow style homes, and Ybor City which is often tied to Tampa’s cigar industry.
This tends to leave West Tampa out in the dust, dismissed as simply, the “other” Hispanic district.
West Tampa’s citizens were once mostly Cuban despite the city being founded by a Scotsman!
Hugh Campbell Macfarlane arrived in Tampa in 1884 and made his money as a city and state attorney. Through loans and land grants, Macfarlane and his partners convinced cigar factory owners to relocate from around the United States to West Tampa.
West Tampa’s first generation of cigar manufacturers include the likes of, Cuesta, Rey, and Co., Ellinger Bro’s , and the Armena Cigar Company (Fun Fact, The spelling of Armenia around Tampa’s street signs has led some to speculate that there were Armenian immigrants among the Spaniards and Cubans at that time).
As the saying goes, behind every great man there is an even greater woman, Macfarlane depended greatly on his wife, Frances Pettingil Macfarlane. Not much is known about Mrs. Macfarlane other than she was a successful business woman and owned Pettingil and Co., a stationary and bookstore.
Tampa’s economy was directly tied to the cigar industry and as such West Tampa’s growth was rapid. By 1912 it was Florida’s 5th largest city, larger than Miami and Orlando.
Ravaged by the strikes of the 20s and 30s and finally pummeled by the Great Depression, the cigar industry was never able to make a full recovery. Post World War II, returning military used their GI Bill money to build houses in newer neighborhoods.
In the 1970s new uses were found for the former cigar factory buildings, from office spaces to loft apartments, including the Santaella building, which is home to local artists. It is currently undergoing restoration.
West Tampa continues to live on as a legacy with a proud and independent past.