The Tampa area is known for its optimal weather and ideal geographical position. It’s booming economy and wide range of attractions just add to its appeal. Throughout the history of Florida, it’s been the hotspot of change and transformation in the state. One of those historical events was the birth of the state’s first brewery.
The Florida Brewery Company stands tall on East 5th Street with the American flag proudly standing atop it blowing in the humid southern breeze. As part of the interesting and diverse landscape of Ybor City, the building is both impressive in its size and its history. It’s a stunning reminder of the past of the beautiful and historic area.
However, the old brewery, now converted to offices, has a story that’s much more complicated than what meets the eye. Its rich past and history lend it to interesting and intriguing events. A chance to check out this unique building can even put you face to face with one of its famous patrons.
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Northeast of the sprawling downtown Tampa area sits the historic neighborhood of Ybor City. The district has seen many events since its founding in 1885. Centered around the cigar industry, many Cuban, Spanish, and Italian immigrants flocked to the area making it extremely popular and culturally diverse.
The city was officially founded by Vicente Martinez Ybor, an entrepreneur that moved from Spain to Cuba before settling in Florida. He brought his successful cigar business to the Tampa area in the 1880s. He found the room for expansion as well as easy access to the port appealing. Other cigar manufacturers followed suit and Ybor City was born.
During the turn of the century, the area grew and prospered. Immigrants moved to the area from all over the world to build a cultural community. The experienced cigar workers quickly filled the town, creating a population consisting almost entirely of immigrants. With this large labor force, the cigar factories of Ybor cranked out 500 million cigars before The Great Depression hit.
The sharp economic downturn hit Ybor City hard. The cigar industry was forced to lay off many of the area workers as economic decline slowed sales. The streets of Ybor began to deteriorate as many fled the area. By the seventies, the once-booming area was nearly desolate.
New eateries and bars moved into the district’s old buildings by the 1990s and brought new life to the area. Stores and residential areas were restored and the district added attractions like movie theaters and hotels. Vincente Martinez Ybor’s city once again became a popular part of the Tampa area.
Today, Ybor City is registered as a National Historic Landmark District. The museums and landmarks scattered about the streets can give you a glimpse into the area’s past. Though much of the architecture and infrastructure has been updated, the many years of history still peek through in the form of the remaining brick streets and original buildings.
The History of the Florida Brewery Company Building
Towering about the shorter buildings in Ybor City is the six-story tall Florida Brewery Company building. It remains the neighborhood’s tallest building to this day. The historic building has served many purposes during its interesting lifetime.
Vicente Martinez Ybor, along with his partner Edward Manrara, built the structure to house the state’s first brewery in 1896. The brewery was built over the Government Spring which was believed by many Native Americans to have supernatural powers. Many of Florida’s indigenous people believed that the spring was sacred.
The brewery launched its La Tropica line of beers in 1897. Thanks to their business sense and experience selling cigars, the partners were able to grow the brewery into a successful venture. It quickly gained popularity and became the leading exporter of beer to Cuba. During its peak, it produced 80,000 barrels of beer each year.
Throughout its operation, the brewery saw many significant events. Teddy Roosevelt and his crew had a beer at the taproom in 1898. Then, two fires swept through the space in 1906 and 1913. Ybor himself was even arrested for distributing alcohol during prohibition. Nevertheless, the brewery persisted and changed ownership to continue selling their popular beer after prohibition was lifted.
The brewery ceased operations in 1961 due to an increase in competition, thanks largely to the opening of Anheisure-Busch. Also, the embargo on Cuba had caused a sharp decrease in sales. The Florida Brewery Company was no more, but the building remained.
The structure was then used to house a cigar company and the windows were sealed shut to preserve the fresh tobacco. The building was then repurposed into a bomb shelter in later years. Eventually, the space became vacant and quickly deteriorated. The old building fell into such a bad state that the roof even caved in. Finally, in 1999, the old Florida Brewery Company building was repurposed one last time.
Hauntings at the Brewery in Tampa
In such a historic neighborhood, there are bound to be some supernatural phenomena. The old Florida Brewery Company building is no exception. The building has had some mysterious happenings over the years.
To celebrate the grand opening of the brewery and draw traffic to their new establishment, Ybor and Manrara decided to offer complimentary beer to their eager customers. Patrons flocked to the new gathering place and guzzled the delicious new beer. Of course, many of these new customers drank extremely heavily.
In all of the drunken excitement, a violent fight broke out. An extremely inebriated Cuban man severely injured his head during the intense brawl. He died in the brewery on that fateful opening night.
People have still seen and heard the man, stuck inside the old brewery building. At night, he’s been seen stumbling about, looking for his half-empty beer. His Cuban accented voice has been heard, slurring and rambling about the fight that took his life. The spirit of the man seems to be unwilling to leave the scene of that unfortunate brawl that happened so many years ago.
The Florida Brewery Company Revamp
Dale Swope, a lawyer, rescued the old Florida Brewery Company building in 1999. With his contractor, Joseph Kokolakis, he set forth on an expansive and painstaking remodeling and restoration of the huge space. The huge project even received a Builders’ Choice award for the unique way the space was repurposed.
Today, the old building serves as the offices for Swope’s law firm. Other tenants also occupy the office space for various purposes. However, it’s imposing stature still towers over East 5th Street and is known as one of the most haunted buildings in all of Tampa.
Haunted and Historic Tampa
Tampa is a stunning city that is situated near the Gulf of Mexico. Its history and sheer size make it one of the most fun cities to explore in Florida. It also has its fair share of supernatural happenings.
Ybor City’s own Don Vicente Hotel building is one of the most haunted places in the country. Thanks to an evil doctor using the basement as his lab and the many that lost their lives at the medical clinic, the spirits that roam the old building are plentiful. No longer an operating hotel, those that have stayed there just don’t seem to be willing to leave.
A museum that’s now part of The University of Tampa has also seen an abundance of mysterious activity. The building, formerly a hotel, hosted many notorious and famous guests. Visitors to the building report an eerie feeling of being watched or hearing voices trail down empty hallways.
A visit to Tampa can provide you with plenty of opportunities to witness a supernatural event. The city is the perfect place to explore looking for eerie happenings and mystery. The rich history and aging architecture provide the perfect setting to search for your own paranormal encounter.