The first informal clubhouse in 1886 was a vacant cigar factory warehouse donated by Vincent Martinez Ybor for his Cuban workers. They used it as a meeting place and safe haven for numerous Cuban political associations. This original clubhouse was located in Ybor City. (Dr. Wallace Reyes, Once Upon A Time In Tampa) During the informal beginnings of the club, it was named El Liceo Cubanos. During the revolution, Jose Martí met with the club and said he needed a “circle of Cubans” to work with him in the revolution. So they then decided to form a new organization and named it “El Círculo Cubano” of Tampa. In 1902 Eladio Paula became its’ first president.
The second (but first formal) clubhouse was constructed and completed in 1907 at a cost of $18,000 and stood at 14th Street and 10th Avenue. The building consisted of a theatre, a library, classrooms, billiard room and a cantina. Fire destroyed the second club house just 9 years later, on April 30, 1916. Soon afterwards members initiated plans for its replacement.
On the morning of February, 25, 1917, Dr. Alfredo Kohly, president of the Cuban Club, celebrated the laying of the cornerstone for a new building at a festive occasion, attended by Mayor McKay and many other dignitaries. Insurance covered only part of the cost to rebuild after the 1916 fire, so the 2,600 members quickly began to raise funds for construction. Eladio Paula and Rafael Martinez Ybor, with the Cuban Consul at that time, helped with fundraising in Cuba. Upon completion in 1918 the building cost over $60,000.
The present 4-story, yellow brick building with Neoclassical design elements sits on the same site as the original building that burned down in 1916. Constructed in 1917, the building contained a 2-story theater, dressing rooms, clinic, pharmacy, library, boardroom, offices, grand ballroom, balconies, cantina, gymnasium complete with lockers, a swimming pool, two bowling lanes and a large patio located west of the building that hosted boxing matches. After two houses were purchased in 1938, the patio was enlarged and in walled with a bandshell where famous Cuban entertainers such as Benny Moré, Celia Cruz performed. It also was where the big band sounds of Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey preformed. It was witness and shared with me by my Primo Raul Lavin, that people would be dancing in the streets outside the walls. The Grand Ballroom continues to be the scene of many lavish wedding receptions, New Year’s Eve parties and dances. In 2017 we celebrated the 100th Centennial Anniversary of our club house.
Imported tile, stained glass windows and elaborately carved scraffito spandrells decorated the structure and the ballroom ceiling displayed elaborate murals. (click here to see and read about the saved mural of “La Diosa” which is in the process of being restored).
“El Liceo Cubano 1886” reads the sign above the doors. The man standing at the top of the stairs is believed to be first President Gonzalo Pérez de Guzman