Ybor City has a little known mate — V.M. Ybor, a neighborhood not even a half-mile square — directly to its north on the other side of Interstate 4. • The initials stand for Vicente Martinez, the given names of the Spaniard named Ybor who founded the cigarmaking city more than 120 years ago.
To the 1,700 people who live there, it's a gem worth discovering.
Chrissy Gesmundo, a 37-year-old adjunct professor with bright red hair, was renting an apartment in Seminole Heights before she bought her V.M. Ybor house in 2004.
"I wanted to live in a National Landmark District in a historical house where I could walk to downtown Tampa," she said.
She found exactly what she was looking for: a 900-square-foot concrete block home with a huge back yard within walking distance of Hillsborough Community College's Ybor campus, where she teaches communication studies.
The neighborhood began being developed when, as Ybor City prospered after World War I, higher-level cigar factory workers, such as managers and accountants, began moving north, according to vmybor.org.
The beautifully painted and landscaped homes they built were larger and an improvement over the standard shotgun-style and other tiny houses where cigar workers lived in central Ybor. They put in curbs, paved streets, common alleys and sidewalks.
And Gesmundo, who couldn't be happier to be living there, bought with the intention of staying. Something, she said, she has in common with other young professionals and young families who are drawn to the area.
"People are vested in maintaining the architecture and the historic value of the neighborhood. It's a really active community; there are a lot of successes going on," she said.
The properties on last month's annual home tour were as eclectic as the residents. It included eight homes, a former brick grocery store being converted to an architectural design studio and the last operating cigar factory in Tampa. The tour started at Academy Prep, a privately funded middle school that used to be V.M. Ybor Grammar School where many immigrant children first learned English.
This diverse community, which always has been intricately tied to Ybor City, seems to be returning to the desirable, safe neighborhood it was when it was developed.
The perception the area's a party place because it's so close to Ybor City isn't true, she said. The city's crime statistics back her up.
Year to date, the zone in which most of V.M. Ybor's population lies has had the largest drop in crime of anywhere in the city, according to Tampa police Assistant Chief John Bennett.
"People buy here with the intention of staying. They are committed and want to make it a better place to live," Gesmundo said.
Patti Ewald can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8746.