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Ybor City's Seventh Avenue — La Séptima — will always be La Sétima for one Ybor historian

YBOR CITY — During last week's Tampa City Council debate over the authentic and appropriate Spanish spelling for Seventh Avenue, one voice was conspicuously missing.

Not a word was heard from Frank Lastra, the historian and Ybor City native who pushed the council to add the controversial "La Sétima" to Seventh Avenue street signs 16 years ago. On Thursday, the council voted to amend the signs to the more common Spanish spelling, La Séptima.

Lastra would have protested the change if he could, his son Frank Lastra Jr. said Tuesday. But the elder Lastra, now 89, remains at home in Carrollwood, recovering from a November 2010 stroke.

"He wasn't able to bring the passion and his lifetime of knowledge of events to bear so whatever was said was in abbreviated form," Lastra Jr. said. "Taking down the name Sétima was one more step in the progress of time to help erase the past."

The elder Lastra was born in Ybor City to immigrants from Spain and Sicily. He served as president of the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce and on the board of the Ybor City Museum Society. He helped make the neighborhood one of only two National Historic Landmark Districts in Florida. With a background in engineering, he worked meticulously for 12 years on the book, Ybor City: The Making of a Landmark Town.

It was on the basis of his research that he lobbied Ybor and city officials in 1996 to add "La Sétima" to Seventh Avenue street signs. That's how he said the cigar workers pronounced Ybor's main strip for more than a century.

In 1998, the City Council did so, and the spelling stood unchallenged for a decade. In 2008, some Ybor natives and business owners asked the City Council to change the signs to "La Séptima," saying the spelling made Tampa look uneducated to Spanish speakers. But Lastra and others successfully fought them off.

With 50,000 visitors headed to Tampa for the Republican National Convention in August, a different slate of council members has now chosen the more common spelling of La Séptima over the colloquial pronunciation.

Lastra Jr., 59, said he only learned about the change after the fact. "La Sétima," he said, is something to be proud of. If visitors think it's misspelled, it's an opportunity to teach them about Ybor's culture, history and characters, he said.

Council members are required to approve the change at least once more, but a date for the issue hasn't been scheduled.

Although Frank Lastra Sr. has improved in the last few months, his son said he plans to stand in for his father the next time the City Council votes on the street signs.

"Since pop can't speak," he said, "I feel it's a duty to be there."

Justin George can be reached at jgeorge@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3368.

Ybor City's Seventh Avenue — La Séptima — will always be La Sétima for one Ybor historian 05/15/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 16, 2012 3:52pm]
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