Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

West Tampa library collecting memories, keepsakes for centennial celebration

The West Tampa Free Public Library opened New Year's Day 1914. It was Hillsborough County's first, and until 1917, only free public library.

That's why a countywide centennial celebration will span three years, explains Margaret Rials, principal librarian at John F. Germany Library. The festivities will begin Jan. 1, 2014, and continue into 2017.

But first officials want to collect memorabilia from library users to make the centennial more comprehensive. They've started doing so with a Library History Roadshow launched at the historic West Tampa Library on Howard Avenue in April.

A return visit June 4 drew about 60 patrons, armed with photographs and news clippings to be archived. Library and Tampa Bay History Center staff served Cuban sandwiches, displayed vintage photographs and recorded visitors' memorable experiences on video and audio tape.

"We'll eventually hit all 25 current branches,'' said Rials, although future stops on the road show have not been announced.

But it was guest speaker E.J. Salcines' vivid recollections that held the crowd's attention, including several descendents of the first immigrants to frequent the library.

"I used to shine shoes across the street, then come in and learn anatomy from National Geographic magazines,'' said Salcines, with a wide grin. The retired judge described the sounds and smells streaming through the open library windows: bread from Alessi Bakery, coffee from the 4th of July Cafe, empanadas from street vendors.

West Tampa was an independent city at the time, founded by Hugo Campbell Macfarlane, "the Scottish godfather,'' said Salcines. He tapped a grant from industrialist Andrew Carnegie to build the library for $17,500, one of 11 libraries he paid for in Florida.

Salcines took the audience back to the era when cigar factory lectors read to the workers every day — newspapers in the mornings and novellas in the afternoon. That introduction to books such as Les Miserables and the Count of Monte Cristo sent them to the library hungry for more.

In his depiction of the Jan. 1, 1914, inauguration, "the same day Tony Jannus made the first solo flight from St. Petersburg to Tampa," Salcines quoted newspaper reports of 500 people filling the library, stairwells and street. Guest speakers and musicians welcomed the crowd in English, Italian and Spanish beneath flags representing the United States, Spain, Italy and Cuba.

Clutching the front page of the Oct. 4, 1901, Tampa Morning Tribune, Ybor City native S.D. Ficarrotta recounted his debt to the West Tampa librarians.

"Thank God this library was here,'' said the retired educator. "They not only exposed you to books, but their interest in you raised your self-esteem.

"Although I was intimidated by this amazing structure,'' Ficarrotta continued, "ascending the steps, I thought I was ascending to heaven. A library card was a passport to education."

Ficarrotta, now living in Palm Harbor, won tickets to the history center for bringing in the oldest artifact.

Martha Bacon brought a more current perspective, having worked at the West Tampa branch from 1960 to 2001. "This was like a family," said the Tampa Heights resident. "We raised three generations of neighborhood children." Bacon collected clothes and toys for the kids at Christmas, celebrated birthdays and "had permission to whip them if had to."

Which she didn't.

"They were very well-behaved, not like kids now. Back then, if they used a word I thought was inappropriate, I put them out," Bacon said.

Amy Scherzer can be reached at or (813) 226-3332.

West Tampa library collecting memories, keepsakes for centennial celebration 06/09/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 9, 2011 4:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Editorial: Turn the heat up on AC problem in Hillsborough schools


    Hillsborough County School District students do not want to hear that their buildings are decrepit. They do not want to hear that Florida's legislators are complicit. All they want to hear is the sweet sound of a classroom air conditioner kicking in at full power. Anything less creates uncomfortably hot classrooms and …

    Superintendent Jeff Eakins and the current Hillsborough County School Board did not create this air conditioning mess, but they own it now.
  2. Man in bunny mask part of trio that breaks into Odessa McDonald's to haul away ATM


    ODESSA — A man in a bunny mask and two also-masked accomplices broke into a McDonald's early Wednesday, hoisted an automatic teller machine into a stolen minivan, then dumped the ATM and the van into a pond, deputies say.

    Three masked men, including one in a bunny mask, broke into an Odessa McDonald's early Wednesday and stole the ATM.
 [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  3. Plan your weekend Aug. 25-27: Craig Morgan, Wearable Art 13, SNL's Pete Davidson, Rodeo Fest


    Plan your weekend


    Pete Davidson: Saturday Night Live star Pete Davidson will headline this year's University of South Florida Round-Up Comedy Show, a back-to-school tradition at USF. Expect to hear about his recent trip to rehab, since he's known for his confessional …

    The 12th annual Wearable art Fashion Show was held at the Dunedin Fine Art Center on Saturday evening, August 27, 2016.
DAVID W DOONAN | Special To The Times
  4. Richard Corcoran takes aim at public financing of campaigns

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, may not be running for governor — not yet anyway — but his latest idea will get the attention of those who are.

    House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R- Land O' Lakes, is proposing an end to public financing of campaigns. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
  5. Jeb Bush on the 'most ridiculous example of political correctness in history'


    Jeb Bush on ESPN's decision to pull commentator Robert Lee from a football broadcast at the University of Virginia.