Advertisement
  1. News

Gonzmart installs giant bronze bust of princess Ulele outside his Tampa Riverwalk restaurant

An Arizona sculptor created this 1,800-pound bronze bust of Native American princess Ulele for restaurant owner Richard Gonzmart. The sculpture measures 8-by-8-by-6 feet. [Columbia Restaurant Group]
An Arizona sculptor created this 1,800-pound bronze bust of Native American princess Ulele for restaurant owner Richard Gonzmart. The sculpture measures 8-by-8-by-6 feet. [Columbia Restaurant Group]
Published Dec. 22, 2017

TAMPA — Outside the restaurant that bears her name, a giant bronze bust of Native American princess Ulele now overlooks downtown, the Tampa Riverwalk, and a feature she might actually have seen when she is said to have walked the Tampa Bay area in the 16th Century — a bend in the Hillsborough River.

The 1,800 pound, 8-by-8-by-6-foot bust stands atop a three-foot steel base, providing education and maybe a little inspiration to people passing by, said Richard Gonzmart, owner of the Ulele Restaurant and the man who had the bust installed.

"Whether walking or on a water taxi, you can't miss this," Gonzmart said. "You'll see it and ask her story. This is our history."

WHO WAS ULELE?: Native American princess joins Jose Gaspar in local legend pantheon

But, for Gonzmart, the sculpture has a more personal meaning.

"Lele" is the name his daughter Andrea Gonzmart Williams used to call his late mother Adela Hernandez Gonzmart.

"My mother was a compassionate, loving and caring person," Gonzmart said, "like Ulele."

The date of the sculpture's installation also carries significance: Dec. 22 is the 16th anniversary of the death of his mother, an owner of the family's Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City.

Still, Gonzmart said, more practical concerns dictated the statue's debut: The installation comes the day after Tampa's Rustic Steel Creations finished the base.

It was also the week when sculptor Vala Ola of Cave Creek, Ariz., could make it to Tampa.

Ola's work carries bronze pearl and shell necklaces around its neck and stands atop a base featuring five sculpted arrows.

It wasn't Gonzmart's personal connections to "Ulele" that inspired the restaurant's name, but an adjacent natural spring that already bore the title. He stuck with the theme out of a love for the history.

And it wasn't until he pondered using Ulele that he realized it sounded like Lele, the word for grandma that his daughter used as a toddler because she couldn't yet pronounce the Spanish word abuela.

Still, Gonzmart said, "I don't believe in coincidences. Things happen for a reason."

Take, for instance, how he met the sculptor.

It was five years ago. Ulele restaurant was in the planning phases and Gonzmart knew he wanted a statue of the Native American princess.

While on a cruise with his wife Melanie Gonzmart, she randomly struck up a conversation with Ola, who in passing mentioned she was a sculptor specializing in images of Native Americans.

"Can you believe that?" Gonzmart asked. "But it happened."

So for the opening of the restaurant in 2014, he commissioned Ola to create the seven-foot tall, 500-pound bronze statue of Ulele that stands amid a ring of flames in the outdoor dining area.

The statue depicts Ulele with her right art stretched in front of her, as though yelling "Stop."

In a legend similar to the story of Virginia's Pocohantas, Ulele saved Spanish explorer Juan Ortiz after his capture by the Tocobaga tribe of Tampa Bay. Just as Ortiz was set to be roasted to death, Ulele threw herself onto him and her father, chief Hirrihigua, agreed to spare Ortiz' life.

The new bust, Gonzmart said, is a temporary installation but he couldn't say how long it will remain or where it will end up.

Ola named it "Lost Tribes" to honor Native Americans who were wiped out after European settlement of the Americas.

"Ulele represents all the tribes," Ola said. "She was one of the first Native Americans to meet the Europeans and she greeted them with love."

Gonzmart also sees a parallel here with the welcoming nature for which his parents were known. He also placed busts of Cesar and Adela Gonzmart outside the family's original Columbia Restaurant but moved them inside when his mother's bust was stolen twice.

The first time, it was found next to the home where she grew up, and the second time, across from her alma mater Hillsborough High School

"I told her she had to stop gallivanting," Gonzmart said with a chuckle.

He trusts that the 1,800-pound Ulele bust won't be going anywhere.

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Staci Plonsky holds art from son A.J., who has autism, that depicts his memory of being taken by the school resource officer to a mental health facility under Florida's Baker Act law. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  2. Pasco County letters to the editor
  3. St. Lucie Mets outfielder Tim Tebow warms up before the beginning of the Mets at Threshers game at Spectrum Field Aug. 17, 2017. Clearwater is seeking a $79.7 million renovation of Spectrum Field and the Carpenter training complex used by the Philadelphia Phillies and Clearwater Threshers. [DOUGLAS CLIFFORD  |  Times]
    The city faces a number of landmines.
  4. Tampa City Council member Orlando Gudes has faced criticism for a trip to Chicago arranged by a bidder on a city-related project. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    Orlando Gudes says he did nothing wrong by initially accepting a trip arranged by a bidder on a city project.
  5. Hitch, Diana, Juju and Samantha are looking for their forever homes. [Times]
    Tampa Bay shelter offerings
  6. Jan Knowles is the tour guide of a new walking Murals Tour in downtown Brooksville. The one-hour tour is sponsored by the Hernando County Fine Arts Council and features eight murals, including this one painted on the Historic Woman's Club on Main Street. [MICHELE MILLER  |  Times]
    Projects coordinator Jan Knowles is bringing attention to the downtown mural scene
  7. Hernando County community news [Tara McCarty]
    Hernando County letters to the editor
  8. Victor Becerra kisses his wife, Maria Martinez Rivera, at Tampa International Airport. She recently returned after being gone since April 2018. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |  Times]
    Congressman’s office got involved in helping security a visa and bringing mother back to her American family.
  9. The Bucs are on a 3-0 winning streak after defeating the Colts at home.
  10. AP file photo of then Gov. and now U.S. Sen. Rick Scott
    DeSantis, Rick Scott and other Republicans have taken a strong stance on Saudi Arabia in recent days. President Donald Trump?
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement