1. Archive

The little elevator that could

His club membership card shows Fernando Fernandez has been a loyal member of El Centro Asturiano since July 17, 1917. For decades he has climbed the steep steps of the three-story building, but at 92-years-old that has become increasingly difficult.

In a few days, Fernandez will no longer have to climb those steps.

The club has an elevator, and even though the state didn't show up Friday to inspect and approve it in time for the dedication Sunday, a crowded room of Ybor City old-timers celebrated the event.

"When I've had to go up the steps, it's been hard, but I can go," said Fernandez, who goes to the club several times a week to visit with friends. "All the old people that come here for weddings and things, it's very hard for them to go up, until now."

Six years ago, the elevator was a dream in the hearts of Las Damas del Centro Asturiano, a group of about 70 women who have made it their goal to put an elevator in the historic building at 1913 Nebraska Ave.

Over the years, there have been fashion shows, bake sales, a roast of La Gaceta editor Roland Manteiga, a dinner honoring Cesar and Adela Gonzmart and the Taste of Ybor, with Hispanic food and entertainment _ all fund-raisers for the elevator.

Every year, it seemed the elevator would never see reality, but every year Las Damas persevered.

"People said it was impossible and it was too costly and would never materialize," said Adela Gonzmart, who spoke at the dedication. "But the impossible has materialized and Las Damas are true heroines for their great effort."

Many hope that the $150,000 project will help revitalize the club. Built in 1909, El Centro Asturiano was the center for the arts in the Hispanic community.

More than 30,000 members would go there to have a drink in the cantina, dance in the ballroom, read books in the library or bowl in the bowling alley.

Since then, the books have been donated to the University of South Florida Special Collections, the bowling alley is long gone and membership has dwindled.

"The elevator is going to make a big difference for the older folks," said Phil LoCicero. "The younger people don't like to climb either."

This week, 36 people who paid $100 apiece to become among the first three groups to ride the elevator will reach the top floor ballroom minus the marble steps.

"We have waited many years for this day," said an emotional Eva Ciaccio, who spawned the elevator idea. "Our dream has finally come true."