El Centro Español de Tampa is a historic building in Ybor City. In 1912 it was built as an ethnic and cultural clubhouse and is one of the few surviving structures specific to Spanish immigration to the U.S. during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For this reason, the building is registered as a U.S. National Historic Landmark. It earned its status on June 3, 1988.
The historic and cultural significance of El Centro Español de Tampa was noted well before it was designated as a landmark. As early as 1974, the building was included by the National Register of Historic Places as one of the Contributing Properties within the Ybor City Historic District. The building remains an important component of the district, which on December 4, 1990, gained more distinct recognition as a National Historic Landmark District.
In 1891, Ybor City was still a bustling factory town known for cigar production. Immigrants from Spain in the neighborhood established El Centro Español as the first of several ethnic social clubs. Later, El Centro Asturiano, El Circulo Cubano, L'Unione Italiana would follow. Members of El Centro Español received social, cultural, and recreational opportunities as well as health care and educational programs. In 1904 the group opened its own hospital, Sanatorio del Centro Español, which is still one of the top medical facilities in Florida. The organization's first clubhouse, an ornately constructed frame structure flanked by two towers, was built in 1892 on the site of the present Centro Español building and featured a theater, dance hall, canteen, soda fountain, and classrooms, where English courses were offered. Membership quickly outgrew the original building, so the club constructed the building you see today in 1912. In the same year, a second clubhouse, El Centro Español de West Tampa was also opened. Learn more about the Centro's history in the special presentation video below.
By World War II, much of the organization's roles in terms of health care and social welfare were absorbed by the government and private interests. The membership base declined further as the now second and third generation Spanish-Americans more freely interacted with the rest of the population and more closely identified with American culture. In 1983, the organization consolidated its remaining membership to the West Tampa clubhouse, and the Centro Español de Tampa building was sold. The building was restored in 2010 and now houses Jason Fernandez's Carne Chophouse restaurant.
Cover image by Allen Forrest on Flickr is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.