El Centro Español

LOCATION: 1605 E. 7th Avenue, Tampa, FL 33605

ARCHITECT: Francis J. Kennard


ORIGINAL FUNCTION: Ballroom, Theater, Library, Gym, & Cantina

COST: $52 million (stabilization and rehabilitation cost)


When Ybor City’s first immigrants moved here in the 1880s, they did not find a very a hospitable environment.  The tropical climate, dense vegetation, and numerous mosquitoes and alligators created a very unsafe place to live, and poor sanitation made disease commonplace.  Ybor City, being a new city, had no amenities such as charities or churches that typically help provide a sense of community to a city’s new immigrants.   Many of these early immigrants realized that if they wanted a support system to provide basic services they would have to establish it for themselves, and that is just what they did.  Each ethnic immigrant group opened their own club that served as the hub of their community.  As you stroll through Ybor City you will encounter a number of these clubs, but the one in front of you was the first.  Established in 1891, El Centro Español de Tampa became the club for those who immigrated to Ybor City from Spain, and is recognized as the first such club to be founded in the Southern United States. 

This building, which was completed in 1912, boasted a lavish ballroom, a huge theater, libraries, a gym, and a cantina.  Club members gathered here to play cards and dominoes, to read and take classes, to play sports, and to attend various social functions.   The club even opened a number of hospitals and clinics to provide medical services to club members.  Though the club had as many as 3,000 members at one time, membership dropped in the 1960s and the building fell into disrepair.  However, the building was purchased the state in 1990 and some much-needed renovations began.  The state spent nearly $12 million to stabilize the building, and then a $40 million preservation and redevelopment project started in 1998 that created the Centro Ybor Complex you now see before you.  Now, the Centro Español building houses a shopping area, a restaurant, and a comedy club.  Feel free to stroll into the building, where you can still see the original ceilings and staircases from the days when this building served as a hub for the Spanish community in Ybor City.  Due to the uniqueness of the club and its building, this clubhouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and named a National Historic Landmark in 1988. 

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