Once Upon a Time in Tampa

Rescuing the historic Deutscher-Americaner Club

I have some German heritage on my mother’s side, so I decided to rescue the Deutscher-Americaner Club. It was then a derelict building located in Ybor City on Nebraska Avenue, a block north of Palm Avenue and El Centro Asturiano, the Spanish social club.

The campaign started many years ago on the day I drove past the boarded-up building. My concern was that it could be set on fire someday by the homeless people who, from time to time, broke in and lived inside the building.

I enjoy telling this story about Tampa, because of the interesting how-to takeaways.

My first action item was to do the research. Why were the other Ybor City Historic Social clubs–L’Unione Italiana, Circulo Cubano, El Centro Asturiano, La Union Martí-Maceo, and El Centro Español–doing well while the German American Club was a delict building?  I learned that the history was one that the City and the five historic clubs wanted to forget.  It was a story with fragments in the Tampa Bay Times newspaper, the Tampa Bay History Center, the Florida State Parks Ybor History museum, the Ybor City story tellers and the history books. The core of that legacy was that the Germans had started two World Wars, and that was a good enough reason to shut down the club during those years.  Fast forward to the present, and Germany is now one of our best allies against the growing neofascism in our country and in others around the world.

I decided that my mission was to rescue the building. The next step was to join the consortium of the five clubs. I started to attend their meetings, introducing myself as a Tampa citizen of German and Italian heritage who was interested in the restoration of the German-American Club. It was interesting month-after-month to listen to them sharing their interests and plans. One of the main reasons they formed the consortium was to be able to go to Tallahassee as a group to obtain funds to maintain their historic buildings. It was smart move, because instead of competing with each other as they had in the past, they now went to Tallahassee with one voice and large skillets of steaming, delicious paella.

I understood their coolness to my presence.  If there were another historic club, they would have to cut the pie into six pieces instead of five. I made contact with the publisher of a Tampa based German American newspaper We met a number of times to discuss plans and get an article about the club in her newspaper.

I then contacted the City of Tampa real estate department and asked them to do an inspection, telling them that we were interested in purchasing the building. The next move was for us to meet their staff at the German American Club building. They arranged to have plywood removed, so we could enter and inspect the building. It was interesting to see the high ceiling, and we noted that pigeons were entering the building through what appeared to be a hole in the northwest corner of the roof. There was charcoal and wood on the floor, left there by vagrants, and rain water on the floor from the hole in the roof, making the interior a perfect condo for pigeons, droppings and all.

The hole in the roof troubled me. I circled the building on my next flight out of Peter O. Knight airport. I did an aerial inspection of the hole in the roof and noticed that it was not really a hole; it was a roof entrance hatch that had been left off to the side, probably by vagrants.

I contacted the Tampa City Fire Chief’s staff and suggested that when fire trucks next practiced using their Hook and Ladder units, would they please consider using the three-story City owned building. And–while training–to close the roof hatch since we, the German American newspaper editor and I, had an interest in purchasing the building. The game plan was to get the mayor’s attention, guessing that there was a good chance the fire chief might mention this to the mayor at one of his staff meetings.

The next move was to meet the local administrator of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. I asked him how much money HUD would loan us to place the German American Club back on the tax rolls, sharing our plan that after the restoration we would rent space to pay off the low interest loan. He suggested up one million dollars.

I now had the card, the bait I needed, and at the next meeting of the clubs, at the last item on the monthly agenda, I spoke up and mentioned that HUD would loan us one million dollars. I noticed that the City representative immediately got up and must have contacted the mayor’s office, because within days the City contacted HUD and committed to funding the restoration and purchasing an adjacent business for a needed parking lot.

The Vision and Mission were accomplished but not the Goal.  They decided instead of a restoration, that GOAL Properties would make it a Tampa Ybor City Visitors Welcome Center and a German American Florida Bauhaus Arts and Creative Cultures Center. The city created offices on the upper floors (in the 1990’s) and moved the water department from City Hall to the basement.

Recently that the building was sold again, and this time the owners will restore the interior to the original historic Deutscher-Americaner Social Club meeting place. I look forward to that opening after COVID-19.

NOTES: The original building had four large flag poles – one on each corner. I hope this restoration will include them and that someday in the future it will be the home of the Florida Bauhaus, the original Goal.


For another look at the history of the German American Club and some amplification of the details in Neil’s story, visit this web page.  –Editor


Cornelius “Neil” Cosentino became a US Air Force pilot in 1960, and went on to log over 6,000 hours in military, commercial and private flying. He flew the B-47, KC-135, F-4CDE, including three tours in Vietnam. He was awarded 9 Air Medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Neil joined OLLI-USF in 2018. He has taken classes in writing, music, teaching, activism and online searches. Neil has a wide variety of interests and has contributed several articles to OLLI Connects.


 

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