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Ybor City pioneers honored

Published Oct. 10, 2005

A family of immigrants _ mother, father and two young children _ stand on a cobblestone street in Ybor City at the turn of the century. They look haggard after a long trip from their homeland. Their suitcases sit on the ground behind them.

Cast in bronze, this rendition of the immigrant family is the one the Ybor City Roundtable has chosen to honor the Cubans, Spaniards, Italians and other Europeans who came to Ybor City in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The 6-foot statue will be placed atop a pedestal in Centennial Park during a ceremony in June. The groundbreaking will be held at 11:30 a.m. today in the park at Ninth Avenue between 18th and 19th streets.

Patrons can pay $300 to have their family name engraved in marble on the pedestal. A star will signify families who are descendants of immigrants and arrived in Ybor City before 1920.

Money raised is being used to pay for the $46,200 statue, pedestal and the costs associated with its placement. Excess money will be saved for future projects.

The idea to commemorate the immigrants came from the Ybor City Roundtable almost six years ago. The group, made up of the presidents and members of local clubs and organizations, wanted to show appreciation to the descendants of the immigrants, many who remain in the area.

"At that time we came up with the idea of doing something big for Ybor City," said Sam Leto, who came up with the idea for a statue. "One of the members noted that there wasn't anything that signified our ancestors had been here."

Once the group decided it wanted a statue, it began to search for a sculptor. It talked to an artist in Italy and one in Georgia, but finally awarded the contract to Steve Dickey of Brandon.

"My wife is Spanish and her family has been here for generations so I have been able to get a sense of the feeling that needed to go into the piece," Dickey said.

Anthony Cardoso, recently retired supervisor of arts for the Hillsborough schools, drew several different sketches for the immigrant statue and the committee chose the family of four.

"One set of my grandparents came from Spain through Cuba and the other from Italy through Ellis Island so I had the benefit of their storytelling," Cardoso said. "The people here are so proud of what their parents did by coming over here."

Dickey, a 42-year-old graduate of the Ringling School of Art, began work on the statue in the summer of 1990 and will complete the piece this week. He currently is working on a bronze statue of Al Lopez to be placed in Horizon Park across from Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg in June.

For those who want their name immortalized on the pedestal of the immigrant statue, call Sam Leto at 968-3413. The deadline is March 17.