Late 19th and 20th century Cuban immigration to the United States was impressive for the craft talents brought to the country. Along with their Spanish counterparts, skilled Cuban cigar makers made Tampa’s hand rolled cigars world-famous.
As early as 1899 Cuban immigrants formed recreational societies with varying degrees of success, and in 1902 Cuban workers founded “El Circulo Cubano” which means “Circle of Cubans.” It was a mutual aid society to “bind all Cuban residents to Tampa into a fraternal group, to offer assistance and help to the sick.” The club provided a gathering place for members and served as a unifying force in the Cuban community.
Fire destroyed the first clubhouse in 1916, and soon afterward members initiated plans for its replacement. The present 4-story, yellow brick building with Neoclassical design elements sits on the original site. Constructed in 1917, the building contained a 2-story theater, pharmacy, library, ballroom and cantina. Imported tile, stained glass windows and elaborately carved scraffito spandrells decorated the structure and the ballroom ceiling displayed elaborate murals. It once housed a gymnasium, complete with lockers, a swimming pool, and two bowling lanes.
The patio which is located west of the building has hosted boxing matches, famous Cuban entertainers such as Benny More’ and Celia Cruz as well as the big band sounds of Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey. On the top floor, The Grand Ballroom continues to be the scene of many lavish wedding receptions, New Year’s Eve parties and dances.
The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Cuban Club Foundation
The fortunes of the Cuban Club began to wane in the 1960’s. Membership dropped and the building fell into disrepair. To save the club and prevent its sale to private interests, a group of civic-minded individuals formed the Cuban Club Foundation in 1992 to raise funds necessary to save and renovate the building. It is now a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving this very special building and restoring it to its “original” luster.. To date, many projects have been completed but many more are needed. By hosting your next event at The Cuban Club you are helping support the building and keep it alive for generations to come.