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Rough Riders come to the rescue of Port Tampa landmark

The gazebo at the Spanish-American War Memorial Park in Port Tampa was recently renovated.

CAROLINA HIDALGO | Times

The gazebo at the Spanish-American War Memorial Park in Port Tampa was recently renovated.

TAMPA — From the day they shoved past other American troops to take San Juan Hill, the original Rough Riders were never known to wait around for, well, anything.

So after a beloved old gazebo collapsed at the Spanish-American War Memorial Park in Port Tampa — the place from which Teddy Roosevelt's famed 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry sailed to Cuba in 1898 — the modern version of the Rough Riders didn't count on anyone else coming along to take on the project.

That's a good thing for Port Tampa, which used the gazebo for weddings, an annual Christmas tree lighting and other community events. It also was good for Tampa City Hall, which didn't have the repairs in its budget.

"Something we couldn't have possibly touched for a couple of years" is how Tampa parks and recreation director Greg Bayor puts it.

"It fell down unexpectedly, so we didn't have any money to replace it," Bayor said. "We met with the civic association down there, and they enthusiastically said, 'Well, how about if we take this on ourselves?' We said sure, because putting money in the capital budget would probably be two years."

A couple of haunted houses brought in several hundred dollars, but the effort got a big boost when the 550-member Rough Riders embraced the project.

The gazebo was believed to be 70 or more years old when it collapsed in 2012.

"Everyone was heart-broken," said Nancy Larcom, past president and park committee chairwoman for the Port Tampa City Woman's Club. "We don't have many landmarks left in Port Tampa, and that was a tough one to lose."

The Rough Riders donated $15,000, plus labor and the volunteer services of general contractor Steven Carter, said Max Garcia, who is on the board of the Rough Riders.

From the permit application to the last coat of paint, the project took six to eight weeks to complete.

Given Port Tampa's role as the jumping-off point for troops during the Spanish-American War, the importance of the project resonated for both the neighborhood and the Rough Riders. Near downtown Tampa, Roose­velt's men commandeered an empty coal train to take them the 8 or 9 miles to Port Tampa. Once at the docks, according to one historian, they blustered, bluffed and maybe even punched their way onto another unit's transport ship to Cuba.

"The Rough Riders left from the port right there," Garcia said. "They rode the train tracks that go right by the park to get on the ship. The location is very historical."

Richard Danielson can be reached at (813) 226-3403, danielson@tampabay.com or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.

Rough Riders come to the rescue of Port Tampa landmark 12/26/13 [Last modified: Thursday, December 26, 2013 10:02pm]
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