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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.

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