One of the long-standing communities of Tampa, the neighborhood of Old West Tampa is the area just west of downtown. The neighborhood’s boundaries are St. Joseph Street to the north, Interstate 275 to the south, Rome Avenue to the east, and Armenia Avenue to the west.
Originally a city unto itself, West Tampa’s lines eventually became blurred with the larger Tampa’s, and in 1925, it was annexed to Tampa. Its early Cuban heritage can still be seen in the ethnic restaurants and markets that line Armenia, Columbus, and Howard Avenues. Although its importance as a center for cigar production has faded, some smaller cigar factories still exist.
One important neighborhood structure dating to the era of cigar factories is the historic El Centro Espanol of West Tampa, located on Howard Street. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this center was created by dues collected from cigar workers, and in its heyday was used as a community center for fitness, recreation, and even stage performances. The building was constructed in 1912 and has a Mediterranean-Revival style with Moorish accents.
Today, Old West Tampa has a strong neighborhood association and active crime watch program. With nearly 900 historic buildings in the greater West Tampa area, historic preservation and renovation are important elements in neighborhood revitalization.
One example of re-purposing is the West Tampa Center for the Arts, located on Armenia Avenue in what was once the Santaella Cigar Factory. Today, this historic building houses not only the arts center but Gallery 209, as well, which showcases the work of Tampa Bay area artists.
Recreationally, the Old West Tampa neighborhood is served by the Rey Park Community Center, which offers not only playground and picnic areas, but after-school programs and a computer lab, as well.