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In Tampa, original home of The Hub to be razed

Next door was Morrison’s Cafeteria on N Florida Avenue. The whole block will be gone.
The 700 block of N Florida Avenue in 1935.
The 700 block of N Florida Avenue in 1935. [ Courtesy of Hillsborough County Public Library ]
Published Jan. 20

TAMPA — The 700 block of N Florida Avenue was once a destination for downtown diners and drinkers.

By day, Southern food was served at Morrison’s Cafeteria at 711 N Florida Ave., and, by night, alcoholic beverages were slung at the adjoining The Hub bar at 701 N Florida Ave.

Morrison’s shuttered in 1969 and The Hub moved a few blocks away to N Franklin Street in 2002.

The buildings that housed those businesses are now vacant and in disrepair.

By the end of this year, they, along with neighboring 719 N Florida Ave., could be razed to make room for a 28-story, 432-unit apartment complex, according to a building permit filed with the city of Tampa.

The buildings are not historic landmarks.

But, because each is more than a century old, the city of Tampa’s Architectural Review & Historic Preservation Division had to approve the demolition permits. They did so in August.

“After evaluation and visiting the building, it was determined that the deteriorated conditions and extensive modifications to the buildings made their preservation infeasible,” division manager Dennis Fernandez said.

A demolition date is pending.

Chicago-based developer X Co. will save and incorporate into their development the nearby 412 E Zack St., which was home of the First Presbyterian Church from 1922 until 2019.

The Tampa Bay Times left two voicemails and sent an email to X Co. asking how it will be incorporated. They did not respond. An image on their website depicts the former church building as a space for gatherings.

This makes five century-old buildings that could be razed in downtown Tampa. The owner of two on N Tampa Street is expected to request a demolition permit to make room for condos.

The earliest business that news archives list at 719 N Florida Ave. is Buell’s Market in 1908. It later housed a typewriter repair company, a jewelry shop, a corner store and then office space, according to news archives.

The Hub bar at its former location at 701 N Florida Ave. in 2002.
The Hub bar at its former location at 701 N Florida Ave. in 2002. [ Times (2002) ]

The Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s website says that 701 N Florida Ave. was erected in 1910.

The Hub opened there in 1949.

The 1950s was a vibrant time for downtown Tampa. It boasted a thriving shopping district and several hotels.

The Hub was right in the middle of the action with a clientele that included a who’s who of judges, attorneys, bankers, professional athletes and mafiosos, all dressed in their finest eveningwear.

As downtown shifted from swank to quaint in the 1980s, The Hub transitioned into a beloved dive bar and remains one at its current location. Its old spot has been vacant since the move.

J.C. Vinson, a urologist and World War I veteran, erected his Vinson Building at 711 N Florida Ave. in 1917, according to Chip Weiner, whose book Burgert Brothers: Another Look contrasts old and modern Tampa through photographs. That building is not in his book, but will be featured in the follow-up, he said.

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“The first two major tenants that year were The Tampa Furniture Co. and the Starr Piano Co.,” Weiner said. “As with many early-century multipurpose structures, this building had many business tenants and many purposes over its 100-year history,” with its most famous being Morrison’s Cafeteria.

The Vinson Building at 711 N Florida Ave. in 1930.
The Vinson Building at 711 N Florida Ave. in 1930. [ Courtesy of Hillsborough County Public Library ]

“Morrison’s is widely recognized as the most successful Southern cafeteria,” historian Gary Mormino once wrote in a column for the Times. “Begun in 1920 by J.A. Morrison in Mobile, Ala., the franchise spread across the South, with restaurants in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Sarasota.”

Its first Tampa location was 608 N Florida.

In 1949, the cafeteria moved into the Vinson Building, where it “fed the masses, in part because the old federal courthouse and post office were nearby,” Mormino wrote. But “downtown Tampa lost its Morrison’s in 1969, while a new cafeteria opened on Dale Mabry Boulevard.”

Weiner said that one of the last tenants at 711 N Florida Ave. was Kenneth Jennings, “a London’s Savile Row trained Bespoke tailor who made custom suits priced from $1,200 - $2,600. The remnants of his gold leaf sign are still on the window.”


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