Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Ybor City's landmark clock turns 100

El reloj, Spanish for “the clock,” was once considered a neighborhood beacon.


El reloj, Spanish for “the clock,” was once considered a neighborhood beacon.

YBOR CITY — The clock tower was the neighborhood timepiece.

Some called it the heart and soul of what was known as "cigar city."

"People kept their time by it," said Arnold Martinez, 78, who grew up nearby in an era when many didn't own a watch or alarm clock. "You could pretty well depend on it."

El reloj, Spanish for "the clock," has stood atop a brick factory over Ybor City for 100 years.

It was February 1910 when Edward Regensburg built the brick factory named for him with its distinctive four-sided timepiece that kept watch over the area. The factory had seats for 1,000 cigar rollers.

Children heard the chimes and knew when to go to school. Concessionaires strolled the halls selling cafe con leche to workers, and lectors read aloud. Employees came in as bells chimed.

They streamed out like ants when el reloj tolled the end of the workday, said Ruben Sierra, 87, who grew up half a block from the factory and remembers watching workers.

All the factories had nicknames, Sierra said. The Regensburg factory came to be known as El Reloj. His mother earned $7 a week stripping the stalks from tobacco in one of them.

The cigar industry boomed in the late 1920s. Tampa produced more cigars than any other city in the world, said Anthony Carreño, a board member of the Ybor City Museum Society.

There were about 250 cigar factories here, including many small operations, called buckeyes. The cigar industry generated 75 percent of the wages for Tampa workers, said Carreño.

The Regensburg was one of the larger factories, said Carreño, and the clock became a landmark.

"A beacon." Carreño said. "You could tell people, I live near the clock."

In the years that followed, business waned. Machines replaced workers and smoking became an unaffordable luxury for many during the Great Depression.

In 1951, the factory closed its doors.

Then, three years later, a new owner moved from Cleveland and reopened it in 1954. He didn't use the cigar roller, but relied on machines instead. He hired untrained labor to run them. He paid them well and banished unions, concessionaires selling coffee and bolita tickets.

But Stanford Newman didn't know the neighborhood relied on the clock, said Shanda Lee, marketing director for J.C. Newman Cigar Co., the factory's name today.

So when a mother nearby complained that her baby couldn't sleep through the chiming, he wanted to be a good neighbor. Soon after he took over, he sent a worker up to cut off the bell.


"Back in the day when el reloj chimed, the townspeople basically lived and slept by the clock. That was their clock," Lee said.

Some believed it had magical powers and called it the "wishing clock."

"The idea was you held your arms out to the 9 and the 3 like the hands of the clock as it was chiming and your wish would come true," Lee said.

Dozens asked Newman to restore the bell. Some didn't own a watch, they said. But he didn't restore the bell.

The clock stood quiet for nearly 50 years. Hurricanes and neglect destroyed the faces, except for one.

Then in 2002, Eric Newman, now president of J.C. Newman Cigar Co., built a small museum featuring the cigar industry, with photos and the remaining original clock face. He moved the rusted inner mechanisms, originally on the third floor under the bell, to the first floor museum and reattached the 1,500-pound bell in the tower.

Today, the factory once called El Reloj is the last working cigar factory in Tampa, sending out 40,000 cigars a day.

Inside, the air is thick with the aroma of cured tobacco. In a storage room, known as a barn, a pile of tobacco reaches the ceiling. Nearby, workers operate antique machines that cut tobacco leaves, roll them into cigars and package them.

Drivers along Interstate 4 can see the factory with its four-sided clock, just as the people of Ybor City could a century ago.

Each morning at 5:30, a security guard winds the gears that lift the 50-pound weights and the clock chimes the hours until 5 p.m.

Elisabeth Parker can be reached at (813)226-3431 or

fast facts

Take the tour

The J.C. Newman Cigar Co. Museum is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the factory at 2701 16th St.

The two-room, self-guided tour brings to life more than 100 years of cigarmaking, with the clock mechanism as the centerpiece. Hanging exhibits represent periods in family and company history. Photos, documents, samples of Newman cigars, packaging, equipment and inventions are on display.

Entrance is free. For more information, call (813) 248-2124.

Ybor City's landmark clock turns 100 02/25/10 [Last modified: Thursday, February 25, 2010 3:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Editorial: Super Bowl yardsticks for bay area


    From the moment they arrive, Super Bowl fans returning to Tampa for the NFL title game in 2021 will see and experience an entirely new Tampa Bay region. Whether it's the expanded airport, the growing universities and thriving downtowns or the new entertainment destinations and incubators for business, visitors will feel …

    From the moment they arrive, Super Bowl fans returning to Tampa for the NFL title game in 2021 will see and experience an entirely new Tampa Bay region.
  2. Convicted murderer whose release Pam Bondi fears will stay behind bars

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — A former Tampa police officer convicted in 1980 of murdering a security guard will not be released from prison after a parole hearing that Attorney General Pam Bondi said could have put her at risk.

    Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi arrives for an injunction hearing at the Hillsborough County Courthouse, Wednesday, May 17, 2017, in Tampa, regarding William Norman Wilkes, the man she alleges has been stalking her. On Wednesday, the Florida Commission on Offender Review is set to consider whether to let Charles Norman, a former Tampa police officer convicted of murder, will seek his possible release. Bondi says Norman has sent her threats. "He is a menace to society and needs to remain behind bars," Bondi said.   [Loren Elliott | Tampa Bay Times]
  3. Romano: On this education bill, you decide who is evil


    The political ramifications are not lost on Kristine Benson.

    Six-year-old Chase Benson was born with down syndrome and autism. He attends a private school in Palm Harbor through a Gardiner Scholarship. [Photo courtesy of Kris Benson]
  4. St. Petersburg police team with federal agencies to crack down on gun and drug offenders (w/video)


    ST. PETERSBURG — Police say Raymond Adams, 29, jumped a fence to break into a home in the 800 block of 51st Street Avenue S.

    Some of the guns confiscated during an eight month firearms, drug trafficking, and violent crime operation dubbed the St. Petersburg Violent Crime Reduction Initiative were on display Wednesday, 5/24/17 at the St. Petersburg Police Department.  Federal charges have been filed against 35 individuals and state charges have been filled against 9 individuals in St. Petersburg. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times

  5. Graco recalls car seats; webbing may not hold child in crash

    Public Safety

    Graco Children's Products is recalling more than 25,000 car seats because the harness webbing can break in a crash and may not keep children restrained.

    Graco has recalled eight different car seat models.