TAMPA — Now that The Krewe of the Knights of Sant’ Yago is celebrating its 50th full year, the social and civic organization wants to clear up a few things.
Their signature event is not called The Night Parade.
“It’s Knight with a K,” parade chairman Joe Parrino said.
Nor does it have anything to do with Gasparilla.
“That bothers us,” krewe president Gene Cabrera said. “We get it. It’s Gasparilla season. But it is not the Gasparilla Knight Parade.”
The title is The Krewe of the Knights of Sant’ Yago Illuminated Knight Parade, and it returns at 7 p.m. on Feb. 11 in Ybor City.
The annual home for the signature nighttime parade featuring more than 100 illuminated floats is part of another misconception that the krewe wants to clear up. Yes, the krewe was formed when Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla denied membership to Sant’ Yago’s founding members. But they had a more important reason for creating it.
“To promote Ybor City,” said Ray Favata, a third-generation member and this year’s king, the krewe’s 50th.
That’s still their mission. The krewe’s headquarters is inside Ybor’s Centro Asturiano social club, which celebrates the city’s Spanish culture.
“Whenever we have socials or get-togethers, they’re somewhere in Ybor,” Cabrera said. “We have 250 members who live everywhere — from Madeira Beach to Wesley Chapel — but we still gather in Ybor. It’s our home.”
As the story goes, in the late 1960s, Columbia Restaurant owner Cesar Gonzmart and others wanted to join Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla but were denied. It’s been said over the years that their Latin heritage was the sole reason.
Favata said that was part of it. “They were Latin and not from south of Kennedy.”
But that’s in the past now, the krewe members said. Gasparilla, like all the krewes, has been diverse for years.
Still, back then, Ybor was looked down upon and avoided by many city residents.
“It was a place that was in a major transition,” the Tampa Bay History Center’s Rodney Kite Powell said. “Because of Urban Renewal, there was a lot of demolition. There were only a few cigar factories left, and most of its original residents had left. There wasn’t much there except for a few restaurants, with the Columbia Restaurant being its main attraction.”
So Gonzmart, Favata’s grandfather Joe Granda, Henry Fernandez, Joseph Lopez and Daniel Martinez met in 1970 to hatch a plan to save the Latin District: They would form a krewe to host social gatherings throughout the year in Ybor.
Gonzmart came up with their name.
During a trip to Spain, he learned of the Royal Order of St. James, which was founded in 1175 to protect the country against invaders and escort travelers to a shrine honoring Sant’ Yago, the European nation’s patron saint. In the 1800s, the religious order was reinvented as a social organization.
The krewe’s five founding members spent two years establishing an official link with the group in Spain. Then in late 1972, the 100 charter members held their first black tie event, doing so at the Columbia Restaurant.
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The krewe crowned their first king and queen in 1973, their first full year.
They next added a signature social event to bring people to Ybor City. For decades, Ybor had hosted a Night Parade. Sant’ Yago became its sponsor in 1974.
Soon after, they started a scholarship to help underprivileged Latin residents attend Hillsborough Community College, the University of South Florida and the University of Tampa.
“This year, we will go over the 1,000-scholarship mark and about $4.2 million in scholarships,” Parrino said.
In 1999, the krewe added the K to their parade’s name and it’s been the Knight Parade, and not the Night Parade, ever since.
Today, Ybor remains their parade’s selling point, Cabrera said. “We go down Seventh Avenue, where there is not a lot of room between the sidewalk and the street. So, it’s more personal.”
Parrino’s affinity for Ybor is showcased through his daughter, this year’s krewe queen.
“I met my wife in Demmi’s Market in 1996,” he said. “My daughter was born in 1998. So, we named her Demmi.”
If you go
The Krewe of the Knights of Sant’ Yago Illuminated Knight Parade begins at 7 p.m. on Feb. 11 in Ybor City.