Former wooden cigar factories opening as Ybor City apartments

Arturo fuentes cigar factory, Ybor city

PHOTO COURTESY OF PINTEREST

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) – Interior walls are still being painted, scaffolding surrounds the exterior, and some amenities await installation, but restoration of Tampa’s oldest wooden cigar factory and its conversion into an apartment building is nearly complete. “Just the finishing touches now,” said Ariel Quintela, who along with business partner Darryl Shaw is the developer.

On May 1, after over three years of construction, the 32,000-square-foot, threestory structure built in the late-1800s at what is now Palm Avenue and 19th Street will open as the Angel Oliva Sr. Apartments. The finished apartment complex will be as historically accurate as possible, Quintela said. “We wanted to use as much as the actual material of the building as we could. When we couldn’t, we made it look real.” Here are some examples: Moldings and shutters on all 167 windows are original, as are 40 percent of the exterior sidings.

The original front door, once tossed in the trash as unsalvageable by a construction crew, was retrieved and restored. The first floor’s interior stairway balusters date to the factory’s opening and the rest are exact replicas. The entire structure has hardwood floors, but not enough of the original boards remained intact. So the developers used what remained and purchased wooden flooring that’s just as old, from a torn-down, 130-year-old building in Tennessee.

Even the new baseboards were designed to replicate the originals. “Why not go the extra mile?” Quintela said. The once wide-open factory floors are now sectioned into 38 apartments, each from 600 square feet to 1,200 square feet.

Renters will be sought in the coming weeks. Hillsborough County Appraiser Property records list the 2014 sales price for the factory at $780,000. Quintela wouldn’t reveal how much the partners have invested in the restoration, saying only, “It was worth it. We’re preserving history.”

Property appraiser’s records say the factory was built in 1885, but that’s wrong, said Tampa Bay History Center curator Rodney Kite-Powell. The first Ybor City cigar factory was built of brick, in 1886, Kite-Powell said. The first mention he found of the wooden factory is an 1899 Sandborn map _ part of a series of street plans dating to the mid-1800s.

Most cigar factories from that era were wooden, not brick, Kite-Powell said, but they didn’t survive like the brick ones did. Aside from the Oliva factory, only one other made of timber still stands _ the Salvador Rodriguez Co. at 402 22nd St. S. in Palmetto Beach. The building is a headquarters for Pilgrim Permocoat, manufacturers and distributors of adhesives.

“Those are the only glimpses we have left of that time,” Kite-Powell said. The Oliva building was first inhabited by the R. Monne & Bro. cigar company and developer. Quintela said Cuban freedom fighter José Martí spoke there during his seventh of some 20 trips to Ybor City in the late 1800s to raise money for the island nation’s war of independence against Spain.

“Living here means you will live among history,” Quintela said. Over the years, the factory was used by other tobacco companies, including Lopez, Alvarez & Co. Some of them rolled their own line of cigars as well as cigars for others, including the Swann family _ namesake of the avenue that connects Bayshore and West Shore boulevards.

A “Home of Swann Cigars” sign was discovered under exterior siding on the Oliva building in 2015, though it was covered up again. Quintela said the developers soon will create a replica of it. The apartments are named after Oliva Tobacco Co. because Oliva used it most recently and for the longest period. Founded in 1934, the Oliva Co. was a major tobacco supplier but didn’t make cigars and last stored its product in the building from the 1980s through late 1990s.

The Angel Oliva Sr. Building is one of a number of residential and commercial ments in the Ybor City area spearheaded by Quintela and his partner Shaw. Most prominent is the Martí building, with 100 apartments and 8,000 square feet of retail space at East Seventh Avenue and Nick Nuccio Parkway.

Quintela said they chose the names Oliva and Martí to help keep history alive. “Our biggest quest is not building sticks and bricks. We live in one of the most historic cities in the country. We want to remind people of that while teaching stories.”

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