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. Trigaux: No more VinikVille as Water Street Tampa finally arrives


    Adios, VinikVille! Hello Water Street Tampa.

    An aerial rendering of the $3 billion redevelopment project that Jeff Vinik and Strategic Property Partners plan on 50-plus acres around Amalie Arena.
[Rendering courtesy of Strategic Property Partners]

  2. Finally, Jeff Vinik's vision has a name: Water Street Tampa


    TAMPA — For years, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and the real estate executives he employs have been dreaming how to transform 53 acres of downtown Tampa into a major hub of living, working and entertaining in the city's core.

    Strategic Property Partners announced the name of its new development: Water Street Tampa. This rendering shows the Tampa skyline with SPP's future buildings in place. [Photos courtesy of SPP]
  3. Future, Ruff Ryders reunion tour coming to the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa


    Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre is in the midst of a killer summer of rock (Green Day, Muse, Linkin Park) and country (Sam Hunt, Lady Antebelleum, Dierks Bentley).

  4. Rubio remains noncommital on Obamacare replacement but a likely yes vote


    Sen. Marco Rubio has been bombarded with phone calls, emails and on Monday, protests took place outside his offices in Doral and Palm Beach Gardens. But while the effort is most unlikely to dissuade the Florida Republican from voting for the Obamacare replacement -- if it even comes up for a vote this week -- he remains …

    Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. speaks at an event in Miami, Friday, June 16, 2017, where President Donald Trump announced a revised Cuba policy aimed at stopping the flow of U.S. cash to the country's military and security services while maintaining diplomatic relations.
  5. James Wilder Jr. back at running Canada


    Remember when former Plant High star and Florida State running back James Wilder Jr. announced he was switching to linebacker?

    That was short-lived, apparently.