El Círculo Cubano de Tampa

By Katrina the Good

El Círculo Cubano de Tampa

(The Cuban Club of Tampa)

There is a small yet lively historical district of Tampa, Florida known as Ybor City. Ybor was established by industrious Cuban immigrants in 1885. The city was named after Mr. Vincente Martinez-Ybor; leader of a large group of cigar manufacturers. The fine, hand rolled cigars would eventually become one of the largest staples in the Ybor City economy and earning it the nickname Cigar City. The independent town would be annexed by the city of Tampa in 1887. 

The Cuban’s that created Ybor City were a proud, hard working and lovers of the arts. They also looked out for their community. Initially the El Circulo Cubano de Tampa location was to be used as a mutual aid society. It quickly expanded into a sort of club house used to commence business, socializing, and for pursuing painting, music, literature, and theater. When the building was completed in 1902 it quickly became a prominent place for the entire community; even the Cuban government itself recognized its importance to the Cuban people in America and the Cuban island. That was until 1916 when the building burned to the ground. I was not able to determine if any deaths occurred in the fire or on the estate prior to the fire. However, a documented assassination attempt does  exist. 

In 1893 a Cuban revolutionary, writer, and poet Jose Marti went to the area to gain support for the revolutionary party and movement in Cuba; demonstrating Ybor City’s importance to the island of Cuba. There is a plaque at the current Cuban Club building describing the event. Mr. Arti was approached by two Spanish men and was given a glass spiked with poison. Mr. Marti survived this assassination attempt due to his intuition alerting him as to the two men’s intent. During this time meetings and other community events often took place at 14th Street and 9th Avenue; where the Don Vicente de Ybor stands. 

In my research I was not able to find any newspaper accounts on this event from the time period. However, I was able to find two articles about a Mr. Jose Marti visiting Tampa regarding the Cuban revolutionary movement. The first article is from The Pensacola News on March 10, 1893. The article describes a General Jose Marti arriving in Key West, Florida after spending the prior week in Tampa. While in Key West, General Marti attempted to raise the spirits of concerned Cubans about their homeland. He also raised thousands of dollars that was said to go to the expenses of the expedition and to buy arms for the insurgent army. General Jose Marti is most likely not the one who the assassination attempt was made on. It is certain to expect that if two Spanish men tried to kill a General, it would have been more widely spread news.

 

It is most likely that this potential victim of poisoning was written about in The Weekly Tribune on November 17, 1893. In that article Mr. Jose Marti is described as leader of the American Revolutionary Party and its most trusted adviser to Cuba. It was also noted that Mr. Marti is the editor of, La Prairie. This Mr. Marti was in the area to gain support and share information about the Revolutionary Party cause and political climate on the Cuban island at that time. There is no mention of an assassination attempt on Mr. Jose Marti. Though it has been said that Jose Marti forgave the two Spanish men for trying to poison him; so that could be why there was no news write up about the event. 

After the fire in 1916, it did not take long for the members of El Circulo Cubano de Tampa to clean up the ashes and rubble and start rebuilding a new, grander building of yellow brick to be completed in 1917; the current building standing today. It was designed by M. Leo Elliot, a local architect from Tampa. This fine building has a theater, and over the years added a bowling alley, spa, pharmacy, ballroom, library, cantina, and pool. Above the main entrance is a stained glass window depicting the Coat of Arms of Cuba. No expense was spared on the decor of imported tile, scraffite spandrels, and murals. The Cuban Club continues to have active members that carry on the founder’s legacy to support and keep the Cuban immigrant’s history in the area alive. The Cuban Club was added to the National Register of Historic Places on April 15, 1972. In as much as the innovation in art and economics that occurred inside the walls of The Cuban Club, just as much turmoil and backstabbing happened as well. With over 100 years of chaotic history, The Cuban Club one of the most haunted locations in the Tampa Bay Area. 

Of the dozens of rooms and hallways of The Cuban Club, the theater appears to be the most active in paranormal activity. A story of tragedy about a young, aspiring actor and playwright that dreamed of making a name for himself in Ybor City and beyond. His starting point was to be the theater of The Cuban Club. This young man wrote an original play; a true labor of love. When opening night came, this actor believed he was ready for the world to see his work. When the curtain raised and the spotlight landed on his person, he opened his mouth and his mind went blank. He had forgotten his own words to the play that he himself poured out from his heart and mind. As he looked over the crowded theater, he had no words. The disaster of that night lead this poor man to feel as though his life and future was over. So, after the crowds left the building and the lights were turned off; this young man walked to center stage and hung himself. His spirit is one of the most reported sightings of all the specters that refuse to leave The Cuban Club. Mediums and psychics have tried to connect with him but he seems to want nothing to do with them. Even so much as to refuse to believe he is dead. 

This real life drama did not end with the actor hanging himself. The Cuban Club members were devoted to the mission statement of the organization, but they were all human. Full of high tempers, greed, and self interest. While digging through historical archives, I was able to find a documented brawl and shooting that occurred in the theater on April 12, 1934. The president of The Cuban Club, at the time, Edward Valdez was standing on stage addressing a group of people as to why he dismissed the club’s physician. It is not known what started the brawl but it was chaotic. Edward Valdez was badly beaten and board member Balarmino Vallejo was shot backstage and died two days later. Even though Mr. Vallejo did not die within the walls of the club, his energy was imprinted within the very fibers of the structure itself. Mr. Vallejo’s killer was never found and no one was a solid suspect. Mr. Vallejo was a prominent member of The Cuban Club and his name was listed in the public records as a board member of The Circulo Cubano de Tampa in 1908. Perhaps he was a target and the brawl was a distraction as this was not the only time a notable Club member was shot and killed.

The local newspapers that covered Mr. Belarmino Vallejo death, report that Chief of Police Logan speculated that the shooting was related to a drive by shooting of two Cuban Club members shortly after the killing of Mr. Vallejo. A Mr. Ramon Permuy was shot and killed on May 09, 1934 at 9:29 PM. The location of the shooting was at 9th Avenue and 15th Street. At this time, Mr. Permuy was accompanied by a Mr. Jose Acosta, who was injured in the shooting but made a full recovery. It is also notable that Mr. Acosta was shot by Joe Pape Canella, on August 13, 1933. Mr. Joe Pape Canella was not charged with the shooting and Mr. Permuy refused to press charges against him. Could Joe Pape Canella be involved in other violent attacks on Club members?

The most infamous of all active spirits at The Cuban Club is the specter of Albert J. Kolby (aka El Fumador, “The Smoker”) In 1917 it was believed that El Fumador was using his position as The Cuban Club president to embezzle money from The Club. A very physical altercation occurred in one of the upstairs conference rooms. As angry words and curses were thrown at Mr. Kolby by other members of the board; one lone member pulled out a pistol in the heat of the moment and shot Mr. Kolby in the face at point blank range. The spirit of Albert Kolby appears as a man in period dress and has a tendency to harass women. Sometimes by touching, grabbing, or whispering in their ear. Unfortunately, I was not able to find any archival news reports regarding the murder of Albert Kolby, perhaps a cover up?  Another spirit that is frequently seen is that of a woman in a white dress and red high-heeled shoes; she is often seen floating down the stairway. Her tale of sorrow is not known nor has it been revealed as to why she continues to haunt the stairway of this beautiful, yellow brick building.

In the beginning of this write up, it was mentioned that at one point in time The Cuban Club had a fully functioning pool in the lower level of the building. There, it is said that a young boy drowned in the pool. The mischievous boy spirit still haunts the now empty pool area. Another urban legend said to have occurred in The Cuban Club was that a woman was shot to death during a heated political debate. I was not able to verify the validity of this event. However, there is probably a lot of events that have been kept secret inside those century old brick walls.

 

I was able to go on The Ybor City Ghost Tour twice. The tour guides are knowledgeable and passionate about the dark history of this fascinating district. Apart from the tour is investigating The Cuban Club with EMF 

detectors. The haunting’s of The Cuban Club are true and the spirits are not shy. I was able to get high readings on my EMF detector and capture large flying orbs on video. EVP’ s, full body apparitions, disembodied voices, guests being touched/pushed, and objects moving on their own are reported often and by people whom have never spoken to each other before. The Cuban Club is open to the public for events and for private paranormal investigations. Whatever the reason for your visit to The Cuban Club, for an event or to study the paranormal, one will not be disappointed.

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