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Exploring 7th Avenue in Ybor City and the corridor of US Route 541

The Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa, Florida is located in the eastern extent of the City.  Ybor City is officially bounded by; Interstate 4 to the north, 22nd Street to the east, Adamo Drive to the south and Nebraska Avenue to the west.  7th Avenue is considered the main east/west street of Ybor City and is presently part of Hillsborough County Road 574 east of 21st Street.   Florida State Road 585 is aligned southbound through Ybor City on 21st Street and northbound via 22nd Street.  Ybor City has seen several notable historic highways pass through the neighborhood such as US Route 541. 

 

Part 1; the history of the Ybor City highway transportation corridor 

Ybor City traces it's origins back to the early history of Tampa and the interests of Spanish cigar magnate Vicente Martinez Ybor.  Ybor's cigar manufacturing business was originally located in Cuba.  Ybor relocated to Florida and the City of Key West in 1869 due to the unstable political climate of Cuba.  Ybor's operations in Key West were hampered by a lack of room to grow and ongoing labor disputes.  

Ybor sought numerous locales on mainland Florida to move his cigar manufacturing operations before eventually settling on the lands northeast of downtown Tampa.  A deal was arranged in 1885 by the Tampa Board of Trade for Ybor to purchase an initial 40 acre plot of land which would form the basis of Ybor City.  Ybor would move his cigar manufacturing operations to the newly created company town of Ybor City which created a local boom.  By 1887 Ybor City was annexed as part of the City of Tampa.  An early township and range map of Ybor City can be seen below.  


Cigar production in Ybor City peaked in 1929 when 500 million were rolled at facilities located in the neighborhood.  The historic extent of the Ybor City neighborhood would expand to the boundaries of; Buffalo Avenue (now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard) to the north, Nebraska Avenue to the west, 40th Avenue to the east and Sparkman Channel to the south.  The historic extent of Ybor City compared to the rest of the City of Tampa can be seen below on 1922 Automobile Blue Book Map.  Notably 7th Avenue is shown as the main street through Ybor City on the 1922 Automobile Blue Book Map. 


The Great Depression impacted the cigar industry in Ybor City heavily as tobacco users generally switched to more affordable products like cigarettes.  Tobacco producers in Ybor City also began to switch to mechanized production methods during the 1930s which saw large scale layoffs and the beginning of a population decline.  Despite the population and industry in Ybor City declining it remained part of the main corridor of highway travel through the City of Tampa.    

The 1936 Florida State Road Department Map of Hillsborough County shows the US Route 541 being carried through Ybor City via pre-1945 Florida State Road 5 on 13th Street (now Channel Side Drive) and 4th Avenue to pre-1945 Florida State Road 23.  US Route 541 appeared to jog from 4th Avenue via 34th Street to 7th Avenue. 


US Route 541 had been initially approved by the AASHO Executive Committee on June 19th, 1931 between Tampa and Bradenton following pre-1945 Florida State Road 23 (also known as the Bayshore Road).  The June 19th, 1931 approval of US Route 541 omits any reference how the highway would traverse Tampa and Ybor City.  US Route 541 appears to have always been intended to serve as something as a business spur of US Route 41 through downtown Tampa and Ybor City.  


Interestingly US Route 541 is shown to be aligned onto the 22nd Street Causeway from 4th Street on the 1936 Florida State Road Department Map.  The 22nd Street Causeway had opened in 1926 and provided direct access from Ybor City southeast over McKay Bay.  Later highway maps of Florida suggest that US Route 541 always a dual alignment which split into spurs from Ybor City around McKay Bay.  


The Florida State Road System was renumbered to a grid format in 1945.  Florida State Road 60 was aligned on 7th Street through Ybor City west from Broadway to 22nd Street which can be seen on the 1948 Rand McNally Map of Florida.  US Route 541 can be seen passing through Ybor City via a split alignment.  The first alignment of US Route 541 followed; 13th Street, Adamo Drive and the 22nd Street Causeway whereas the second spur followed  22nd Street and 7th Avenue to Florida State Road 45 at 50th Street.  Florida State Road 585 can be seen following 22nd Street north of Florida State Road 60 at 7th Avenue. 


An AASHO memo dated to December 1951 noted the Florida State Road Department had sought the elimination of US Route 541, relocation to US Route 41, creation of US Route 41 Alternate in Tampa and an extension of US Route 301.  US Route 301 was to assume the previous alignment of US Route 41 from Tampa to Palmetto whereas US Route 41 would be rerouted onto what had been US Route 541 on Florida State Road 45.  US Route 41 Alternate would assume the alignment of US Route 541 through Ybor City via Florida State Road 60 on 13th Street, 4th Avenue and 22nd Street.  





During the early 1950s Florida State Road 60 in Ybor City were removed from 7th Avenue to an extension of Adamo Drive.  What had been Florida State Road 60 on 7th Avenue was added to an extension of Florida State Road 574 whereas Florida State Road 585 had been extended south via 22nd Street Adamo Drive.  Florida State Road 60 on Adamo Drive can be seen on the 1956 Shell Oil Company Map of Florida.  


Ybor City was ultimately bisected by the construction of Interstate 4 between 12th Street and 15th Street.  Interstate 4 can be seen completed to Nebraska Avenue on the 1964 Florida State Road Department Map.   The construction of Interstate 4 largely isolated Ybor City from rest of Tampa which created the present boundaries and led to a further decline of the neighborhood during the mid-20th Century.  


In 1974 the 7th Avenue Business District in Ybor City was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  Ybor City began to recover during the 1980s when most of the businesses along 7th Avenue were converted nightlife attractions.  The Ybor City Historic District was later created during December of 1990.  



Part 2; exploring 7th Avenue and Ybor City

Ybor City is accessible from Interstate 4 via Exit 1 onto Florida State Road 585 on 21st Street/22nd Street.  






Heading south on Florida State Road 585 on 21st Street there is signage alerting traffic that they have arrived in the Ybor City Historic District.  


Ybor City has unique street blades such as this one found at the corner of 7th Avenue and 19th Street. 


A look east on 7th Avenue from 19th Street.


The reverse view facing west down 7th Avenue.


7th Avenue in Ybor City has numerous painted murals adorning the brick buildings.


A look east on 7th Avenue from 20th Street. 


The reverse view facing west down 7th Avenue. 


An eastward view of 7th Avenue approaching 21st Street. 



A view west from 21st Street down 7th Avenue. 



The Columbia Restaurant is located on 7th Avenue between 21st Street and 22nd Street.  The Columbia opened in 1905 and is touted as Florida's oldest continually operating restaurant.  The Columbia is best known for serving authentic Cuban coffee and sandwiches.  Numerous historic plaques can be found on the sidewalk on 7th Avenue in front of The Columbia.  





7th Avenue facing east in front of The Columbia Restaurant towards 22nd Street. 


A historic plaque pertaining to the early influx of Italian settlement in Ybor City as seen on 7th Avenue just west of 21st Street.  



Various scenes on 7th Avenue from 21st Street west to 19th Street.  









Scenes on 7th Avenue heading westward to 18th Street.




7th Avenue headed westward to 17th Street.  



A hollowed out brick building on 7th Avenue west of 17th Street. 


7th Avenue facing west at 16th Street and the Molly Ferrara historic plaque. 


An unobstructed view of 7th Avenue facing west at 16th Street. 


The Centro Espanol de Tampa historic plaque at the corner of 7th Avenue and 16th Street. 


An eastward view on 7th Avenue from 16th Street.


The neon Arturo Fuente Cigar sign west of 16th Street on 7th Avenue.  



7th Avenue facing westward from 15th Street and the Sweet Taste of Ybor City historic plaque. 



7th Avenue facing west from 14th Street. 


The Tampa's First Cigar Factory plaque can be found at the southwest corner of 7th Avenue and 15th Street. 


Another neon sign at the northwest corner of 7th Avenue and 15th Street. 


Facing east from 7th Avenue and 15th Street. 


7th Avenue facing east approaching 16th Street.


7th Avenue facing east from 16th Street.


7th Avenue facing east from 17th Street.


The Lunione Italiana and Italian Club Life In Tampa historic plaques at the southwest corner of 7th Avenue and 18th Street.



7th Avenue facing westward from 18th Street. 


Scenes from Centennial Park between 8th Avenue and 9th Avenue.  The TECO street car line can be found running in front of Centennial Park along 8th Avenue.  Historic plaques for Centennial Park and Fire Station Number 4 can be found between 8th Avenue and 9th Avenue.  













Ybor City Museum State Park can be found at the intersection of 9th Avenue and 19th Street.  The Ybor City Museum occupies the former site of Ferlita Bakery which operated from 1896 to 1973. 




















TECO Station #1 at the corner of 8th Avenue and 20th Street. 



A northbound drive on Florida State Road 585 on 22nd Street towards Interstate 4 reveals why the freeway now serves a cut-off structure to the rest of what was the Ybor City neighborhood. 






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