icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

A Day as a Tourist

My sister in Arkansas called late on Wednesday and asked about my plans for the weekend. She and an Oklahoma friend had found a cheap flight on Allegiant, which specializes in smaller cities, and were thinking about flying between Tulsa and Sanford late on Friday. She has lots of hotel honors points from her work in the food vending business, and they would spend Friday night in Sanford and come here on Saturday. As it happened, the local chapter of the American Association of Women planned to give me (and two others) their Ribbon of Honor on Saturday morning, but I thought they would squeeze in two extra guests. They did.

So after the luncheon, Margaret wanted to go to the Riverwalk. Like all of my family, she is interested in history and serves on the board of the Potts Inn in Pottsville, Arkansas, which dates to 1858. I’ve told her about my volunteerism on the committee that chooses the historic statues for Tampa’s Riverwalk, and she wanted to see what I talking about. But as you know, it’s still hot and humid, and I was a bit reluctant to undertake the hike of more than two miles, most of it in the sun. They stayed in the downtown Embassy Suites – which she chose for its location near the river -- so we began by walking over to the convention center and checked out the statues near there.

Then we spotted the numerous boats available to see the Riverwalk by water. Such a deal! The one called Water Taxi has thirteen stops up and down the river, and for a mere $5, you can buy a wristband that lasts all day, allowing you to get on and off where you wish. After exploring the channel between Davis and Harbour Islands, where I showed them the HCC headquarters where I was a trustee back in the 1990s, the taxi turned north. Its excellent guide told a lot of things that were interesting even to me, a person who knows a fair amount of history. He was especially good at detailing the dates of the many bridges we passed under.

I, of course, was pointing out “my” statues. We went past the one of Kate Jackson at the playgrounds for children and dogs near the Museum of Art, which was placed there because (among many other things) Kate Jackson championed parks and playgrounds. Then I pointed out the statue of Eleanor Chamberlain near the Straz Center; she led Florida’s movement for women’s right to vote in the 1890s. Clara Frye is north of that; she ran the West Coast’s only hospital for blacks until integration in the 1960s.

Although Ulele’s statue is not officially part of the Riverwalk, we know from Spanish records in the 1500s that she was a real person, and the imagined image of her in front of the restaurant that bears her name is beautiful. The restoration of Ulele Spring, which furnished Tampa’s early water supply, is one of our most important environmental successes, and the newish Waterworks Park is attracting many visitors. Work continues north of there on restoration of other historic buildings. If I had money to invest, it would go there in Tampa Heights.

In Other Directions

We stopped at the taxi’s northernmost point and enjoyed a drink at Rick’s on the River. When it came back about an hour later, we focused on the west bank and saw the construction that will renovate Julian Lane Park. It was called Riverfront Park when our daughter and her friends enjoyed it thirty years ago, but it never was as popular as it deserved to be and it’s time for an update. Ditto the update for the boathouse at the University of Tampa, which brings hundreds of young rowers every winter from colleges Up North where crewing teams have to end their training when rivers freeze. This is a real opportunity for us, as these young people stay at the University of Tampa, spend money, and become acquainted with our increasingly beautiful city.

After turning east on Garrison Channel, I explained that “the garrison” was the local term for Fort Brooke, which was founded where the river meets the bay in 1824. (Tallahassee also was founded in 1824, and both are examples of planned growth greatly subsidized by the federal government.) Unlike Fort Myers, Fort Pierce, Fort Lauderdale, and any number of other Florida towns named for army forts that fought the Seminoles, Tampa retained its prehistoric name. It means “Sticks of Fire,” probably resulting from the flint around Lake Thonotosassa, which natives used to light fires. Fort Brooke, named for its first commander, was intended to prevent Seminoles from going back to their original homelands north of Lake Thonotosassa. And I pointed out the Sticks of Fire statue in Plant Park, another beautiful work of art, especially at night.

We got off the Water Taxi at the History Center, had a glass of Sangria at its branch of the Columbia Restaurant, and then took the streetcar to Ybor City. This was another revelation for someone who lives here, but rarely uses public transportation. The streetcar, which goes a comparatively short distance between downtown and Ybor, cost the same as the water taxi that covers several miles. Worse, it was a giant pain to get on it.

With the water trip, we dealt with a pleasant young woman and made a quick transaction. At the streetcar station, we devoted a good five minutes trying to get the machine to work. Sister and her friend spend their lives dealing with vending equipment – even machines that recognize the thumbprint of employees in factory break rooms – and they found this machine to be the low point of their visit. Please look into it, Mayor Bob. But it was true that others also eventually figured it out, as there were young families on our streetcar who appeared to be from the Middle East.

So we went past the Lightning’s home (I do wish they would go back to calling it the “Ice Palace”) and the Channelside attractions. (We already had determined that we couldn’t take the dinner cruise on the Star Ship; it appeared to be closed for a private function.) Sister and friend were impressed by the cruise ship docks and the Aquarium, and especially by the bit of dry dock that we saw before the streetcar went north to Ybor. I was impressed, too, given that the ship under repair revealed its very bottom fins and tails. The Port Authority should consider tours, including dry docks. My dad would have been the first person there.

The Rest of the Story

We got off the streetcar sooner than needed because it does not go down 7th Avenue, and I wanted them to see most of its length. By then, the enchanting overhead lights were on, and they were charmed by the variety of businesses, especially LaFrance, the Everything-for-$5 store, and the hookah lounges. The only negative was a motorcyclist who made the most severe noise I’ve ever encountered. My ear hurt for an hour afterwards, and I’d like to ban noisy vehicles from 7th Avenue.

I showed them the statues of founder Vicente Martinez-Ybor and dear departed LaGaceta owner Roland Manteiga, as well as the Tampa Historical Society’s marker for civic activist Molly Ferrara. With my toe, I pointed out the stone in front of the Italian Club that Hubby and I bought when that street walk project began. Later, I tried unsuccessfully to find the one we gave our daughter and son-in-law; it’s somewhere in front of the Columbia, where they had their wedding reception. It’s sweet to be able to study the pavers in Ybor and remember old friends who had their names and sentiments carved in concrete. I’m sure you still can do this: check it out and preserve a memory for posterity.

Earlier Margaret tried to get a reservation at Bern’s, where she had eaten before, but couldn’t on our short notice -- and in the end, I think both visitors were glad we went to the Columbia, where Hubby joined us. We didn’t have a reservation there, either, but somehow Margaret’s magic procured us a table right next to the stage for the flamenco show. There’s a new guy in the troupe since I was last there, and he is spectacular in both dancing and singing. The 1905 atmosphere and the authentic Spanish food greatly impressed the Tulsa woman, and she said for about the twentieth time that she was ready to move to Tampa. We are so fortunate to be here – and to have (Democratic) mayors and council members who envisioned a better future.

Next week, I’ll say more about the American Association of University Women, its future, and its admirable history.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
Make a comment to the author