Tampa’s German Club, once a symbol of exclusion, now symbolizes inclusion

Last month, Metro Inclusive Health and CAN Community Health purchased the 110-year-old structure. It will become their Tampa headquarters.
Published April 11

Once a symbol of Tampa’s discrimination, the German American Club Building is now a symbol of inclusion.

It was a century ago that the German American social club shuttered operations and sold its headquarters in response to citywide hatred for Germany's lead role in World War I.

The three-story, 16,400-square-foot building at 2105 N Nebraska Ave. in Ybor City then passed through several owners, most recently the Sunshine State Economic Development Corporation.

But last month, Metro Inclusive Health and CAN Community Health purchased the 110-year-old structure. It will become their Tampa headquarters.

The nonprofits, currently working out of a 12,000-square-foot space at 1315 E. Seventh Ave., partner to provide what they call "inclusive" full-service healthcare, with a focus on HIV, the LGBTQ community, the under-insured and the uninsured.

"We pride ourselves on being able to serve all of the Tampa Bay community," Brian Bailey, Metro's chief marketing officer, said. So much so, that "we have outgrown our current Tampa space 10 times over."

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Besides renovating the interior of the historic structure, a nearly 15,000-square-foot, three-story addition will be built.

Through the current Tampa space, plus a 47,000-square-foot clinic in St. Petersburg and a satellite in both Clearwater and New Port Richey, Bailey said that in 2018 they provided direct healthcare services to 18,204 area residents and indirectly impacted another 8,874 via outreach programs offered throughout the community.

According to the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's website, Metro and CAN purchased the German Club building for $1.7 million. A partner in the endeavor is the Capitano family, Metro and CAN’s current landlord and prominent Ybor developers and financial contributors to the district's Italian Club.

The Capitanos “love what we do in the community," Bailey said. "They played an important role in us being able to move forward."

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To offset construction costs, the nonprofits will launch a $2.5 million capital campaign. Construction will begin in the next few months and be complete by mid-2020.

"When we were founded in 1992, we started in case management for HIV," Bailey said. "From the very beginning we prided ourselves on including everyone."

The same can be said for the former German American Club.

It opened its building in 1909 as a social club for German immigrants.

Founding members included the Maas family, who owned the popular Maas Brothers department store, and four-term Tampa mayor Herman Glogowski, according to Andrew Huse, a librarian with the University of South Florida Special Collections Department.

Still, while Germans were the base of the club's ranks, membership was open to those of all ethnicities.

"That is what set them apart," Huse said. "If someone wasn't Spanish or Cuban or Italian, they'd have a harder time getting into the other social clubs. That was not the case with the German American Club."

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It was a happening spot on weekends, hosting live music and dancing and pouring plenty of alcohol, Huse said.

But attitudes towards Germans changed in April 1917, when the United States entered World War I.

Club leaders, realizing they would be distrusted, tried to stay in the city's good graces by allowing the Red Cross to share their building for the duration of the war, Huse said. But the anti-German sentiment sweeping the nation took hold in Tampa anyway.

"All over the nation, German men and women had to register with the government so the government could keep track of all Germans," Huse said. Membership at the German American Club "declined almost overnight."

In Tampa, unofficial tribunals were held, sometimes in the Hillsborough County Courthouse, that forced local Germans to denounce their native country and pledge allegiance to the United States.

"People believed that there were German spies running amok," Huse said.

Near the end of 1918, vandals broke in and trashed the German American Club, Huse said. The club then ceased operations and sold its building the following year to Tampa's Labor Temple Association.

Subsequent owners included the Young Men's Hebrew Association and an insurance company.

The City of Tampa moved into the building in the 1990s and converted it into office space.

Dave Robinson, project manager on the redevelopment of the building, said the construction will turn back time on much of the structure.

Just as when it housed the German Club, the large first floor ballroom will again be an open space to host events with the second floor that overlooks it as a place to hang out during such occasions.

The clinic will be housed in the basement and the addition.

"It is wild to think there was once racism against Germans," Robinson said. "It feels good to re-purpose this building in a way that will make it beneficial to the community once again and be inclusive."

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com or follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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