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Ybor City

Uncovering history

Business owner Robert Cadrecha is taking an Ybor City eyesore and restoring it to its original state.

By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 14, 2003


Robert Cadrecha admits it: His building on Seventh Avenue is one of the ugliest in Ybor.

It's splotched red and black and . . . aquamarine.

Plywood and particle board are slapped over the windows. Bricks near the roof are chipped and mangled.

When demolition crews tore off the old mansard roof a few weeks ago, revealing the damage beneath it, "I was sick for a week," Cadrecha said.

But he's not dwelling on how it looks today. He sees what used to be -- and what will be again.

Cadrecha, 63, expects to spend $200,000 in the coming months to fully renovate the building, which has been in his family for six decades.

His motivation: pride.

"I grew up in Ybor City," he said. "I remember when it was something else."

The two-story brick building sits in the 2200 block of Seventh Avenue. It's half a block from the Columbia Restaurant but in a section of Ybor that remains largely untouched by urban renewal.

Part of the building was built in 1910, another part in 1926.

Cadrecha's father, Belarmino, bought it in 1942 to sell furniture. The family has been doing it ever since.

Bob and his brother, Bill, own Tampa Design Interiors, which sells high-end furniture to interior designers all over the state.

Cadrecha remembers when Ybor spooked his guests.

"Customers used to ask, 'Is it safe?' " Cadrecha said. "Now they shop and do lunch. It's a whole new synergy."

There are hundreds of historic buildings in Ybor. About 40 of them are undergoing restoration in some form, said Del Acosta, who oversees historic districts for the city.

"Bob's is one of the most ambitious ones," Acosta said. "He's doing it on his own. He's bettering an area of Ybor that was pretty much forgotten."

Often, one property owner's project inspires neighbors to do the same. In Ybor, restoration projects are rippling in every direction.

Work on the Cadrecha building should begin within a month and take two to three months to complete.

Cadrecha is anxious to see more than dump trucks carting away debris.

Demolition crews tackled the building a few weeks ago, ripping down the enormous mansard roof and a layer of stucco that was smothering old bricks.

Cadrecha's father had the roof built in the 1970s. It was stylish for the time.

But it slanted down over the front of the building, concealing its historic nature. Worse, workers destroyed part of the original roof line to install it and clipped hundreds of bricks.

"Cannibalized" is the word Cadrecha used to describe the damage.

But back then, "people thanked us for doing it," he said. "Ybor was in bad shape. Any money invested in Ybor was considered a good thing."

"We didn't appreciate the history that was there," he added. "Now we have to take the blame for it."

History literally oozes from the walls. Demolition crews stumbled on it when they removed the roof, revealing brightly-colored, hand-painted letters on the front and sides.

Acosta calls them "ghost signs."

They say: "Furniture City. World's greatest values."

Furniture City is what the business used to be called under Cadrecha's father. Acosta loves the signs.

"It provides a continuum of the history of the building," he said.

Cadrecha likes them, too, but their future is uncertain.

The signs might confuse current customers. And they say the showrooms are open to the public, which is not the case anymore.

Cadrecha is sure something can be worked out. After all, it's part of history.

"There's a responsibility among those of us who own the buildings out here, to maintain them and bring them back to the standard that they were," he said.

"More than the credit," he continued, "I want to get it right."

-- Staff Writer Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or matus@sptimes.com .

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