Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ybor City Wall Art: Cigar Rollers and a Mercedes CLS Coupe

What does the hand painted mural on this nightclub wall in Ybor City have to do with the Mercedes-Benz? Nothing really. A great juxtaposition. But if you want to know what the mural represents, the story is more valuable than the cost of all the luxury cars rolled into one. At its pinnacle as a bustling city of industry, Ybor City was an eclectic mix of immigrants who spoke many languages, proudly celebrated their ethnic foods, music and cultures, and through their hard work made their city into the cigar manufacturing capital of the world. So, what about the Benz? Owners of the cigar factories could easily have driven any automobile made in any country. At any price. But a Cadillac or Duesenberg, with a very-y-y long hood, convertible top, 12-cylinder engine and lots of leather was probably their odds-on favorites during the cigar industry's heyday.They proudly drove American back then, the epitome of their hard-earned fortunes and sophistication. A Mercedes? Just some truly oddball import from Germany - a nice car indeed - that would probably break down on one of Florida's dusty, rutted cracker roads. Get it repaired at the local garage? Good luck. Ship it back for repairs? Oh sure. Although the owners of the major cigar companies could afford such luxury, I doubt many were so extravagant. (One of the most breathtaking automobiles made in the 1920s and 30s, the Hispano-Suiza from Spain, was being driven over the brick streets of Tampa and Ybor City by a man of considerable class and means. Now he had real taste in cars!) Parking your new Mercedes CLS Coupe today at the cigar-rollers' table isn't the same statement that would have made back in the years between the two world wars. The mural draws more attention today than does the car. The entire wall represents different scenes from Ybor City's rich history. If you look closely, cigar workers are shown handrolling cigars which were then bundled and shipped to every corner of the globe. The Cigar Capital of the World produced millions of cigars, handrolled and later machine made. The Mercedes? Hand fashioned but mostly machine-made. In this economy, both the cigar and the import luxury automobile may represent extravagances and spending of another era, the booming turn of the 21st century. Looking ahead, the car will certainly last a good many years. The mural? Sadly, it's fading fast.


B Squared said...

Your story reminds me of something I read about Key West. At one time, it was the wealthiest city in the country.

Frank said...

And then all of the cigar factory owners and workers left for Ybor City..which became much bigger and wealthier than Tampa because of the cigar industry. Key West lost out and became just another beautiful place on earth.

Harry Swift said...

Really,cities build the nation.And to become a wealthier is a different image in itself.

Frank said...

@ Harry Swift - Thanks for visitng and leaving a comment. Tampa has such a long history of cigar making and cigars are still one of my passions and delightful vices.

See my post below on the Cienfuego…a decent and inexpensive smoke. A gift from my son after his visit to Honduras.

Are you in Tampa? Your website looks great and the cigars must be good!!