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Centro Espanol started mutual aid society movement

A 1927 Burgert Bros. photo shows the facade of Centro Espanol on the right at E Seventh Avenue and 16th Street. 
Published May 28, 2015

The club that started the mutual aid society movement is now a group of about 60 whose two clubhouses were sold to other entities.

Spanish immigrants led by Ignacio Haya — whose factory beat Vicente Martinez Ybor's in turning out Tampa's first hand-rolled cigar — formed Centro Espanol in 1891. It grew to nearly 3,000 people in its heyday. In 1912, the club built the large brick structure that still bears its name at 1536 E Seventh Ave. in Ybor City. Designed by Francis J. Kennard in a mix of Spanish, Moorish and French Renaissance styles, the building has been designated a U.S. national historic landmark. It's now occupied by the Carne ChopHouse restaurant.

A second red brick building, designed by Fred J. James in the Mediterranean Revival style, went up the same year in West Tampa. The Hillsborough County Education Foundation offices are now in the building at 2306 N Howard Ave.

John Ranon, president of Centro Espanol, said the club plans to set up a digital repository "so that we can preserve and celebrate the club's history and legacy.''

A Founder's Day celebration last November drew more than 240 people, which Ranon said exceeded their expectations. The club plans to do that annually and put on more cultural events.

Centro Espanol sold another of its properties, the West Tampa Convention Center, in 2013 and used part of the proceeds to establish an endowment for perpetual care of the two cemeteries it still maintains.

Philip Morgan, Times staff writer

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