Intern Issue 2016: Artful History: The Adamo Drive Mural

You don't have to go to a museum for a history lesson.

The most unexpected places have the richest history.

A perfect example? The mural on Adamo Drive.

Emblazoned on the side of a fabricated steel warehouse between 17th and 19th steets in industrial Ybor City, the Adamo Drive Mural is the biggest outdoor mural in the state, covering 12,000 square feet, according to artist Michael Parker. The mural celebrates Ybor's history, liveliness and diversity.

In this gritty area, the roads have potholes and sounds of steel manufacturing machines fill the air. David Scott, chair of the Ybor City Development Corporation, selected the warehouse for the mural because the building was an eyesore. Scott wanted to eliminate some of Ybor’s less attractive elements, and a mural on Adamo would deliver a much more attractive welcome.

Parker taught a public art class in HCC Ybor while working on the piece; his students worked with him on the mural.

The mural is rich in Ybor landmarks, like “El Reloj,” the 4-sided clock atop the JC Newman Cigar Factory (which was moved there from the Regensburg factory). The story goes that factory workers used the clock to keep track of how long they’d been working. Children also used the clock to know when to go to school every morning.

Next to “El Reloj,” a small downtown Tampa skyline appears, reflecting the connection between Ybor and the larger city of which it is a part. 

To the right of the skyline is a statue of an immigrant family — the immigrant statue in Centennial Park on 8th Street. According to history professor Gary Mormino, a version of that statue was originally erected in St. Louis as a dedication to a church, and to the Italian immigrants that formed the congregation's core.

The statue caused issues with Cuban and Spaniard immigrants; they felt it was too Italian, and should show a cigar worker instead. In the 1800s, the Spaniards and Cubans, the dominant immigrant groups, were seen as the elite and Italians as the immigrant poor.

Mormino spoke to some immigrants about their experiences.

“Ybor was really their version of the American Dream. The Italians especially were fascinated that public schooling was free here,” he says. “The Spaniards and Italians talked about how things in their countries were so grim. They left because they wanted a better life for their children.

“To be a Latin at this time was to have a target on your back,” Mormino says. Although things were better here, it wasn’t perfect for the immigrants. They were subject to segregation, and a clear lack of respect. Parker wanted to portray all of these different feelings and felt the statue was the perfect way to do that.

Parker says a ship positioned next to the immigrant statue in the mural was placed there because “it is supposed to symbolize the immigrants coming off the ship and going towards the skyline,” which explains the skyline’s relatively small size.

“The equalizer represents the different cultures and the night, the celebratory nature and [the immigrants] all brought together and it represents the diverse music culture in Ybor,” he says, referring to the bars patterned after the readout of a stereo’s equalizer to the right of the ship.

“The way that Ybor evolves or the way it embraces people and nurtures — anyone who shows up — to me, is very feminine, so that’s why I chose to put two females front and center,” Parker says. You see one of the women’s faces between Dr. Adamo and Pizzo.

Toward the middle of the mural, Parker added hexagonal stones, bricks and, in between, a word cloud from visitors about their opinions of Ybor, tying the past to the present. Parker purposely made the pictures transparent to make them seem less prominent than others on the mural, but still important. 

The coin features the silhouette of Paulina Pedroso, who sheltered Jose Martì when he came to Ybor to urge cigar factory workers to help free Cuba. According to the book Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia: Caribbean Radicalism in Early Twentieth-Century America, Martì was speaking to the workers about helping free Cuba when Pedroso climbed on a table and said, “Gentlemen, if any of you is afraid to give his money or go to the savannas to fight, let him give me his pants and I’ll give him my petticoats,” and then threw her petticoats at the men.

Another face on the mural is lectore Victoriano Manteiga, founder of La Gaceta, the only trilingual newspaper in the nation, according to the publication’s website.

“I found that, in contemporary society here and across Tampa, there is sort of a lack of male role models in children’s lives and I found that to be a repeating theme, so I decided to make that endpoint like, you see all these people and they were dedicated not only to the community but to their family, their children, and that is what builds Ybor City as a place,” Parker says. “We have to remember that if we start a new sort of phenomenon and culture where the male becomes absent, I feel that’s detrimental to society.” The artist wanted this to be the prominent theme at the end of the mural, so he added a simple beach scene with a father and daughter walking away together, toward their community’s future.

Elisa Santana is a junior at USF Tampa where she's majoring in mass communications and minoring in English. 

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