YBOR CITY — It seemed as if the don had been disrespected.
Since 2001, the little bald man made of bronze has stood outside the Centro Ybor shopping complex greeting visitors to his place, his Seventh Avenue, his Ybor City — the swampy scrubland he bought in 1885 and transformed into world-famous Cigar City.
With his hat in one hand and round cheery, wire-rimmed spectacles affixed to his face, a statue of Vicente Martinez-Ybor has looked out over the historic district with solemn pride and ownership for a decade.
But lately, the neighborhood founder's gaze has become quite blurred. Look closely, and you'll see that his glasses are missing.
"I'll be darned," said Carl Dalcerro, director of operations for Centro Ybor. "Why would anyone mess around with his glasses?"
Martinez-Ybor, who was born in Spain and emigrated to Tampa from Cuba, was a cigar factory owner who led a group of businessmen who founded Ybor City. Martinez-Ybor died in 1896 with so many holdings that his accountant said there wasn't enough money in all of Tampa at that time to buy up all his properties.
The statue, dedicated in 2001, is one of a few in Ybor that honors past Tampa greats such as former Mayor Nick Nuccio, historian Tony Pizzo, local newspaper founder Roland Manteiga and Cuban national hero Jose Marti.
After talking to a couple of neighborhood leaders, City Times was able to reach the Tampa sculptor. As it turns out, he took the glasses.
Steve Dickey had removed them for repair without telling anyone.
Martinez-Ybor's great grandson, Rafael Martinez-Ybor, who had raised $30,000 for the statue, contacted Dickey and asked him to fix the glasses about three weeks ago. They had been damaged a few years ago, possibly during a Gasparilla parade.
"It looked like someone had jumped up and grabbed the glasses and crushed them," Dickey said, "so I had gone up there and straightened them out but they were not what they should have been."
Steel wire used to fix the glasses had been rusting, and Rafael Martinez-Ybor wanted his great grandfather's likeness restored to the condition he deserved. Dickey removed everything but the hinges and arms for the glasses. He said it will take another few weeks to remake a pair of spectacles for Vicente Martinez-Ybor.
Until then, the don will be blind to the goings-on of Ybor City — which at times may be a good thing.
Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or firstname.lastname@example.org.