Tampa cigar company plans to restore old hotel near Ybor City

Founded in 1885, JC Newman Cigar Co. in Ybor City is the last operating cigar factory in the United States.

Although factories in the area numbered 200 at its peak more than a century ago, when the community was known as Cigar City, much of the industry left Ybor when the industry declined. Behind this, in the 1940s and 1950s, there was a legacy of poverty and crime.

Nowadays, Ybor is no longer a corporate town, where cigar rollers have taken up residence in shotgun houses provided by their employers. The remaining employees commute throughout the Tampa Bay area.

With the exception of JC Newman Cigar Co., which still employs 150 people, the industry has transitioned, with local cigar makers rolling cigars and selling them in small shops and retail stores.

Today, the JC Newman Cigar Co. plans to restore the two-story guesthouse where its employees once lived: the Sanchez y Haya Hotel at 1601 E. Columbus Dr.

“We’re kind of on a timeline here. … We have to save the building now. It’s not the most architecturally sound, ”says Holden Rasmussen, the historian for the Ybor City-based company, noting that the building might not survive five to 10 years without restoration. “We will do everything in our power to not only save it, but preserve it.”

The building named in honor of Serafin Sanchez and Ignacio Haya, who helped start the cigar industry, was originally built in 1910. One of the first in the area to use concrete and rods steel reinforced, it contained 24 rooms with shared bathrooms, inn style.

It has served various functions over the years: as Maximo Gonzalez’s restaurant and bar with hand-carved wooden counters and filigree tile ceilings, the Avance Hotel, a coffee grinder, and a store of automobiles. It was the hotbed of contraband during Prohibition and the gathering place for the criminal underworld.

The only tenants since the late 1990s have been bats, thousands of bats. Different species have nested in the crawl space between the ceiling and the roof.

“We want to save these bats because we love bats,” he says, pointing out that they are a form of mosquito control.

The company’s goal is to seal the building when the bats go out at night to hunt, so they can’t come back. As an alternative, they provide a tower or bat house where bats can roost and nest.

Dining plans call for a bed and breakfast with a dozen rooms, each with its own bathroom, as well as a restaurant and cigar lounge. Rowe Architects of Tampa was chosen for the project, which is expected to cost several million dollars.

Before proceeding, the company must successfully bring together the historic preservation and architectural advisory groups – a process that could take a year or more. He must also secure the foundation.

The company’s goal is to support its El Reloj cigar factory, maintain the legacy and revitalize the community’s identity as Cigar City.

He has already renovated the factory and opened a cigar museum and an interactive theater showing cigar films. They offer guided tours of the factory and plan to open a manual rolling course this summer.

Going forward, Attorney General Drew Newman, the great-grandson of his founder and anticipated successor to his father (Eric) and uncle (Bobby), would like to create an El Reloj neighborhood to include the Bald Tower. mouse, tobacco field and chicken. cooperatives.

“It’s one thing to put cigars in people’s hands, and it’s another to put cigars in people’s minds,” says Rasmussen.

Learn more about JC Newman Cigar Factory and The history of the cigar in Ybor City. See also the related story in Smithsonian magazine.

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