TAMPA — When Liana Fuente saw the handwriting on the wall, she knew that the building had to stay with the family.
The two-story wood and concrete block building at 2708 N 18th St. was used as a factory for Arturo Fuente Cigar Co. in the 1950s and 1960s. After her cousins put it up for sale in October, Liana Fuente decided to take a tour of the factory where her grandfather once lived.
Names of Fuente cigar lines are still scribbled on the wall in the room where tobacco bales were once stored.
“I think that is my grandfather’s handwriting,” said Liana Fuente, 43. “It’s amazing.”
She bought the building in February from her cousins, the Blanco family, who had owned it since 1976. The Blancos used the first floor for cabinet making and remodeled the second into a six-bedroom, 2½-bath residence.
Liana Fuente doesn’t yet have plans for the building.
“I wanted to make sure that it remains in the family,” said Liana Fuente, formerly the Fuente company’s vice president of brand development. She left that job last year to pursue other endeavors, including real estate. She remains on the company board. “I was worried someone else might buy it and knock it down. At least now I know it’s safe.”
Her great-grandfather, Arturo Fuente Sr., founded the family cigar business in West Tampa in 1912. In 1924, all was lost in a fire.
Arturo Fuente Sr. remained in the cigar industry but worked with other factories for 22 years until he reestablished his business on the back porch of the family’s Ybor home.
In 1956, Carlos Fuente Sr. took over the company and expanded by purchasing the building at 2708 N 18th St. The first floor was used to roll cigars. Arturo Fuente Sr. lived on the second.
The company outgrew that building and, in 1965, purchased the cigar factory at 1310 N 22nd Street. In the 1980s, the Fuentes opened factories and established a tobacco farm in the Dominican Republic.
Their 22nd Street building is now the corporate headquarters.
The company, now run by Liana Fuente’s father and aunt, Carlos Fuente Jr. and Cynthia Fuente Suarez, distributes cigars in the United States through Ybor’s J.C. Newman Cigar Co.
Liana Fuente said the old factory has always been a part of her life through family stories.
“When I look at the window, I can picture my grandfather,” she said. “I see him looking out and staring at Ybor City.”