Friday, September 09, 2005

Tampa, Ybor, St. Petersburg

September 7, 2005
Tampa, Florida
9:47 p.m.

I’m leaving Tampa early tomorrow morning. Let me tell you more about the city from what I learned from the reading materials in my hotel room and the brochures I collected from around the city.

Tampa Bay has been luring visitors since 1521 when Spaniard Ponce de Leon arrived in search for the Fountain of Youth. Hernando de Soto, another Spaniard, followed in 1539 looking for gold. They never found what they were looking for.

The Spaniards stayed and named the Mullet Key area punta pinal or the port of pines, a name that eventually became Pinellas County. For the next 200 years, the region attracted little interest or growth until the United States bought Florida from Spain in 1821.

Tampa grew after Henry B. Plant came and brought his Atlantic Coast railroad. Plant also started a steamship line from Tampa to Key West to Havana, Cuba, and built the area’s first hotel – the Tampa Bay Hotel. Tampa became a resort and the hotel became part of the University of Tampa and now houses the Henry B. Plant Museum.

Ybor City, where I had my dinner tonight at Columbia Restaurant (circa 1905), is a neighboring city and is known as the “Cigar Capital of the World.” I bought two cigars there today. Don Vicente Martinez Ybor, a Cuban exile, started “the road to glory” in 1886 with his Ybor City Cigar Factory – the largest in the world at the time. Ybor had 100 cigar factories then and employed 12,000 people and produced more than 400 million cigars a year.

The first permanent residents of Tampa area, however, were the Timucuan tribe that came to be known as the “mound builders” because of the mounds of debris and artifacts they left behind. The Timucuans called the bay near their fishing village “Tanpa,” which means “sticks of fire.” A mapmaker made an error and changed the name to Tampa.

Clearwater, another place near Tampa, was called by the tribe Popcotopaug, meaning “clear water.”

In 1857, John C. Williams, a Civil War general from Detroit, bought 1,600 acres of land in what is now known as St. Petersburg. After failing as a farmer, Williams decided to build a city with Peter Demens, a Russian immigrant. Legend says the two flipped coins to determine who would get to name the new city. Demens won and named the city after his Russian hometown.

I had dinner in Ybor this evening at the 100-year old Columbia Restaurant, which is supposedly known worldwide for its old-world charm and consistently outstanding Spanish cuisine. It was an expensive dinner but I could not just let the experience pass.

I went back to St. Petersburg today and visited its museum and visited The Pier where I watched pelicans and tasted my first American ice cream. It’s a pier.

I had lunch at the cafeteria of The St. Petersburg Times, home to award-winning narrative journalist, supposedly including Rick Bragg during his early years as a journalist. For more than an hour I discussed online journalism, press freedom and the business of news with Jim Booth, managing editor of the Times.

In the afternoon, I met with Prof. Robert Dardenne of the University of South Florida and we talked about the state of Philippine media and journalism in the Philippines with his students. At least two of his students were Filipino-Americans. Prof. Dardenne promised to send me materials on narrative journalism. He said he had been to the Philippines in the late 1960s and even saw a cockfight somewhere in Manila.

Tomorrow (Thursday) morning, Alan and I will be flying to Phoenix, Arizona, via Milwaukee to visit the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Then on Friday afternoon we will drive to the Grand Canyon for a weekend rest at the Yavapai Lodge before flying to Los Angeles on Sunday evening.

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