TAMPA — Based on size alone, the red brick Y. Pendas y Alvarez Cigar Factory at 2301 N. Albany Ave. was a spectacle when it was built in 1909.
But it was the clock tower people marveled at the most.
At 120 feet high, it was the tallest in the state, played music in a syncopated gong, and lit up the night.
A century later, the clock doesn’t work any more but it its four faces remain intact and, mounted in an unusual octagonal tower, it still draws plenty of attention from those traveling West Tampa.
Historians consider the three-story Pendes factory one of the city’s iconic buildings.
And now it’s up sale, at an asking price of $3.6 million.
"We’re not supposed to play favorite child," said Rodney Kite-Powell, curator of the Tampa Bay History Center. "But from a historical standpoint, that Pendes building really does stand out."
"The exterior is in really good shape," said real estate agent Michael Braccia, representing Pendes factory owner Jeff Freeman. "The interior has its original bead board ceiling and brick walls. It was made with open floor space and that is pretty much still the same."
Freeman’s Tampa Tarp company occupies the building now and makes items such as cushions, umbrellas and tarps there.
But the factory is more room than Tampa Tarp needs and "market conditions are good," Braccia said.
Braccia has sold two other West Tampa cigar factories this year.
The 33,000-square-foot Bustillo & Brothers & Diaz at 2111 N. Albany was purchased for $1.95 million in January, according to the Hillsborough County property appraiser’s website. Owners Active Environmental Training plans to build an indoor farm there, Braccia said.
And the 60,000-square-foot Santaella Cigar Factory Building at 1906 N Armenia Ave. was bought for $3.2 million in March, the website says. Owner Mike Hettrich is keeping the artist studios that have long occupied the second and third floors while adding retail on the first floor and in the basement.
Of the 200 or so factories that operated during Tampa’s cigar-making heyday, from the late 1800s-through mid-1900s, only about 25 survive.
Fans of cigar factories place the Pendes factory at or near the top of their list of favorites, Braccia said.
"It’s that clock tower. It’s special."
Y. Pendas & Alvarez Co. built the factory from a design by architect Fred J. James, who later created El Centro Espańol of West Tampa.
It cost around $70,000, the Weekly Tribune reported in announcing the building’s opening.
"With this new building in West Tampa, Pendas & Alvarez will then easily be the most cosmopolitan company in the city," the newspaper said. "At a distance, enhanced by a large tower, it appears as a church."
The "church effect," the Tribune said, was made more pronounced by the clock.
The United States Tobacco Journal wrote that residents of West Tampa "may feel safe discarding" their "time pieces" when the Pendas factory is complete, wrote
West Tampa laborers probably couldn’t have afforded a pocket watch anyway, Kite-Powell said, so the history center provided a true community service.
The only other clock tower in the area was probably the one on the Hillsborough County Courthouse, which stood where the Tampa Police Department is today.
A year after the Pendes factory was finished, El Regensburg Cigar Factory was built in Ybor City featuring another clock tower.
Then, in 1915, another clock tower went up with the construction of Tampa City Hall.
"Those were the city time keepers," Kite-Powell said. "Each remains an important part of Tampa history."
The Regensburg company bought the Pendes factory in 1920 and produced cigars at both plants until moving operations to Pennsylvania in the early 1950s.
Today, the Regensburg factory in Ybor City is owned by J.C. Newman Cigar Co. It is the last factory in Tampa still producing cigars.
In 2002, the Newman family restored the Regensburg clock.
Real estate agent Braccia said the Pendes clock is ripe for restiration, too.
"The original clock mechanism is there," he said. "I am sure somebody, some place, can make it work. It just needs to be shined up again."
Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] Follow @PGuzzoTimes.