Cuscaden Park, Ybor City

Cuscaden Park in Ybor City is bounded by Columbus Drive on the south (upper left corner of photo), E. 21st Ave. on the north, N. 14th St. and N. 15th St. on the East and West. 

 

From this park hail some of baseball's greats, among them Al Lopez, Tony La Russa, Lou Piniella and Tony Saladino. Tennis champ Judy Alvarez also played at Cuscaden as a youth.

 

Aerial view of Cuscaden Park
July, 1939

 

 

 

 

Arthur Weston Cuscaden was born in 1859 in Ohio to parents Thomas W. Cuscaden and Marietta Mastick.  Thomas was a highly-esteemed physician in Warren County, Ohio and was well-known for being the first resident homoeopathist in the county. 


The 1860 Census of Lebanon, Warren Co., Ohio shows T.W. Cuscaden age 30, Physician, born in Virginia.  Wife Mary E. (Mary Etta or Marietta) was age 25, born in Ohio, Teacher.  Arthur W. was 1 year old.

Arthur moved to Tampa in 1878 and by 1880 was already in the business of planting orange groves.  In 1890, he married Frances Robles, daughter of Tampa pioneers Joseph and Mary Ann Robles. 


The 1880 Census of Tampa shows Arthur Cuscaden age 20, single, occupation "Planting orange grove"  His 55-year-old neighbor, J. M. Fields, was in the same business and was also from Ohio.  It's possible they came to Tampa together to start a business in producing oranges.


The 1900 Census of Tampa shows Arthur living at 2507 Oak Street.  His occupation is "Foreman" and now his father's birthplace is listed as "Ireland".  It's possible his wife gave the census info.  Fannie A. is his wife, Frances "Fannie" Alatha Robles, daughter of Joseph Robles and Mary Garrison.  Note Fannie lists her father was from Spain.  Children are Arthur W. age 8, Ernest age 5, and Walter age 10 mos.

Arthur's mother, Marietta Mastick Cuscaden, was the principal of the first Hillsborough County High School in Tampa, 1882.  Read more about her here at "The Eight Homes of Hillsborough High School."

Arthur Cuscaden planted some of Tampa's first orange trees in the area and later donated his grove for the park that was named for him.   As a businessman, he was active in the cattle and citrus industries.  He was also active in politics, serving as mayor pro tem during the James McKay administration, and serving on the City Council and School Board for several terms. 


Cuscaden groves in Ybor City, 1889

 

THE BALLPARK  

 
 

WPA workers clearing land at Cuscaden Park, April 15, 1935

In the 1930s, Tampa began to climb out of the Great Depression with several WPA projects that provided much-needed jobs to Tampans.  There were hundreds of projects, large and small; for women as well as for men, for skilled professional people as well as unskilled day laborers.  The first WPA project was Peter O. Knight airport on Davis Islands.  Among some of the other larger projects was the improvement of Bayshore Blvd. and the seawall, repairs and improvements to the Tampa Bay Hotel, grandstands and bleachers at Plant Park, a new armory (which was renamed Ft. Homer Hesterly in the 1940s), new buildings and improvements at the state fairgrounds, and construction of Cuscaden Park.  Construction on the park was provided by workers of the WPA and took place in April of 1935. 
 

THE PLAYERS AT CUSCADEN

For years, Cuban, Spanish and Italian cigar workers flocked to Cuscaden Park to play baseball and meet friends.  Inter-Social, West Tampa, Cigar Factory, Tampa Smokers and Negro leagues all played ball on the fields with Sunday double-headers pulling in large crowds.

In 1938, the Inter-Social League began play at Cuscaden Park.  It was made up primarily of Latin players living in both Ybor City and West Tampa.  The League was comprised of about four to six teams such as the Latin Club, Centro Asturiano, Cuban Club, Loyal Knights and the Italian Club, and were sponsored by well known mutual aid societies and social clubs of the same name.  The Italian Club team dominated the early years by winning three of the first four championships.

 
Louis Piniella Sr. and wife Margaret Magadan Piniella, with sons Lou, Jr. (left) and Joe, 1955.  The Piniellas lived at 2723 Cordelia St. in West Tampa, across the street from the softball field at Capaz Park that now bears his name.  

Many of the players were Italians who went to military service by 1943.  As a result, the teams changed as did coaching and management.  Marcelo Maseda played for Centro Asturiano but took the manager role with the Knights, but not for long. A new man named Louis Piniella became leader. His brother-in-law, Joe Magadan, joined him. If those names sound familiar, it’s because their sons became two of Tampa’s most popular major league players— Lou Piniella and Dave Magadan. It is probable that more professional baseball players came from the Inter-social League than any league anywhere. A reasonable list would be Al Lopez, Lou Piniella, Bucky De La Torre, Benny Fernandez, Bitsy Mott, Faustino Casares, Manuel Seone, Joe Benito, Joe Moran, Lou Garcia, Monty Lopez, Jesus Corrales, Roland Acosta, Fermin Montes de Oca, Joe Tomlinson, Bob Dowling, Bob Lavendera, Lenny Pecou, Jack Henry, Eloy Fernandez, Sam Sinardi, Mike Dominguez, Ernest Rubio, Chelo Castillo, Sindo Valle, Raymond Rodriguez, Robert Guerra, Chip Clemente, Indio Jiminez, Bobby Cline, Indio Prieto, Peaches Hernandez, and Manuel Onis.  

Their games were played on Sunday afternoons and, after lights were put in some years later, on Thursday nights.  The games were  extremely competitive and would draw as many as two thousand during regular season and up to four thousand in the playoffs.  Spectators would take tin buckets to make noise with, bang on the tin—old tin cans, old wash bowls and such, and had lots of fun doing so.   While the quality of play in this league and others like it was never assumed or presented as being that of major league, it nevertheless provided good baseball and served the purpose of detouring the minds of the local citizenry away from the larger events at hand. The relaxation provided by the game made the effort of returning to the job not quite as taxing. This in itself, was a purpose well served.

Lou Piniella Was Born into Baseball   History of Baseball in Tampa     In Memory of Joe Magadan

 

In those days, kids up to around fourteen or fifteen years old were allowed to go in free, but the older folks had to pay a quarter.  Even during tough times, they always had a good crowd because all these clubs were playing ball to see who would be the champion.  On any given Sunday, about 1,000 to 2,000 people showed up.  Cuscaden Park was a center of attention for all the kids in Ybor City, because at that time it was the only park around, for a good two to three miles, so everybody used to come to Ybor City to play ball, basketball, volleyball, football, baseball, softball and basically any game with a ball.

Roofing construction on bleachers
at Cuscaden Park, Aug. 1941

 
1951 - Joe Benito, left, and Charlie Cuellar, right, were two integral players for the Tampa Smokers baseball team in the 1940s and 1950s. Benito, an Ybor City native and a veteran of the Inter-Social League in Tampa, had numerous stints with the Smokers. A fan-favorite and the ultimate utility player, Benito was usually signed when a player of any position suffered an injury. He also put in time with several teams in the Florida State and Florida International Leagues. Cuellar, also a native of Ybor City, won 253 games as a minor league pitcher, appearing on 15 minor league teams from 1935-1950. The hurler made his mark with the Smokers by throwing a no-hitter on July 23, 1947, at Plant Field against the Havana Cubans. Cuellar finally reached the major leagues in 1950, throwing 1 1/3 innings for the Chicago White Sox in what would be his only two games at that level.  

 

 

The softball and baseball diamonds had bleachers, with a roof being added to the baseball diamond bleachers in 1941, due to the popularity of the games and the large crowds.  It is believed that Tony Provenzano was the park's first director.


                Standard Oil Co. softball team, Cuscaden Park, 1949

 

Sgt. McGaughin hands the first baseball of the Intersocial League season to league president Antonio Castro.  Castro served as league president for 5 years in the 1940s.

Far left is Mickey Hernandez of the Italian Club team.  In the background are members of the Centro Asturiano team, including brothers Manuel and Benny Fernandez who went on to play professionally with the Tampa Smokers.

 

 

BOXING AT CUSCADEN ARENA

In the 1940s, the park was home to Cuscaden Park Arena, where boxing enjoyed its biggest revival in years on Florida's west coast.    In July of 1942, for example, a featherweight match featured Sixto Morales defeating Joe Ackerman on points at Cuscaden Arena.  On July 17, 1942, Matt Perfetti, a New York lightweight with the Army at MacDill Airfield, outpointed the lesser experienced but promising Al Fern, a Tampa southpaw featherweight, at the Cuscaden Park Arena.  After the match, Bill "Pop" Stoufer, manager for Red Hutchins, St. Pete's claimant to the Southern Featherweight Championship, announced a challenge by Hutchins to meet Perfetti in the ring.  Hutchins was quoted in a local paper as saying, "I'll take that guy in short order.  He looks fat around the middle and too slow and that is just my dish."

Matt Perfitti, 1940

 

July 24, 1942 promo in Drew Army Airfield's weekly newspaper, "Drew Echoes"

Other matches held at the Cuscaden Arena drew some 2,500 spectators, and were promoted by Jim Downing.  Soldier Roger Goss, a welterweight punched out a decision over Red Bryan, Plant City lightweight, in a semi-final.  Buster Carroll, bald veteran, played with Max Pixley, Drew Field welter, for eight rounds and though it seemed he had a clear-cut edge, judges called it a draw.  Soldier Al Stinson, another Army welter, outpointed Al Jimenez.  In the same week, the Army put a crimp in Jim Downing's plans to feature armed services boxers on regular weekend cards at Cuscaden when it ruled against servicemen fighting for pay.
 

POLITICS AT CUSCADEN PARK

On October 2, 1950, Senator Eduardo R. Chibas, candidate for the presidency of Cuba under the Partido Ortodoxas appeared at a meeting of Ybor City cigar workers held at Cuscaden Baseball Park. The podium was decorated with Cuban and American flags. Chibas opened his speech in memory of José Martí, extolling his efforts in Tampa on behalf of Cuba Libre.  

The Ortodoxas party he started was the "party of the common people, who were being robbed by the corrupt political pirates." His friends called him "Escobita" (Little Broom), which was also the emblem of his party and reflected his obsession to sweep corruption from public life. In his Ybor City speech he declared that he stood for a "better nation, without thieves and without traitors to the ideals of José Martí." Chibas related that Mrs. Soriano, a member of the O'Halloran family of Tampa, had loaned him Jose Marti's gold ring to wear that memorable evening. She also owned the chaveta, a knife used to make the cigar that carried the order to start the revolution of 1895, and the pistol that General Maximo Gomez had given to Martí for his own protection. Chibas informed the public, "I have gold in my hand but it's not the gold of the people of Cuba, it's the gold ring that belonged to José Martí, the apostle who found hearts and minds in Tampa which blended with his." Mrs. Soriano promised that if Chibas lived up to his promise to implement into practice the ideals of José Martí when he became president she would give him the precious ring to keep. Chibas responded, "If I falter in my duties as president, if I fail to reconstruct the political morals of Cuba, then I expect the noble lady who owns the precious memento of Martí to send me the pistol to punish myself for not keeping a sacred promise to the people of Cuba."

On Sunday, August 5, 1951, Chibas addressed the Cuban nation over CMQ radio network. This would be his last verbal broadside aimed at the corrupt administration of President Carlos Prio Socarras. His last words to the people of Cuba were for them to "forge ahead for independent, economic freedom, political liberty and social justice! Sweep the robbers out of government! People of Cuba, awaken and arise! This is the last time I will knock at your door!" He punctuated his last statement with a pistol bullet to his body. He died a few days later. Thousands upon thousands followed the funeral cortege to Colon Cemetery in Havana. The August 26 issue of Bohemia magazine was dedicated to the life of Eduardo Chibas. A full-page photograph standing before the statue of José Martí in Ybor City was placed in his coffin. The cutlines under the photograph stated that Chibas had made sensational declarations before the Martí statute and that he was disposed to end his life if he failed to rid the government of corruption.

Eduardo Chibas' funeral procession in Havana, Aug. 17, 1951

    Sarasota Herald Tribune, Aug. 6, 1951 "Cuban Senator Shoots Himself"

    Read this 2013 story by Paul Guzzo on the whereabouts of Jose Marti's pistol, gold ring, and chaveta.

 

THE CUSCADEN PARK POOL

In 1937 the city built the above-ground, oval pool on 15th Street through the Works Progress Administration of President Franklin Roosevelt.  Designed by architect Wesley Bintz, Cuscaden is one of the few remaining Bintz pools in the country.  The two-story red-brick facility now has lockers and classrooms on the first floor. A promenade offers vistas of the V.M. Ybor neighborhood and Ybor City.

Cuscaden Park public swimming pool, May, 1939

 

 

To thousands of Tampa tots, summer wasn't summer without the Cuscaden Park Swimming Pool. They swam, splashed and soaked up the sun, relishing the area's only public pool. Many took lessons to refine their strokes. Others just learned to stay afloat.  Over the years, countless children at the Ybor City Boys & Girls Club took their first strokes at the Cuscaden Pool.

 

In the old days, there was a small admission charge to swim in the pool.  Max Castro (who later on became an optometrist), friend of Agustin "Marty" Martinez, used to be one of the lifeguards.   Every so often they had to empty the pool, to clean it, and whenever they did that, Marty and his friends at the pool had a dance.  Manny de Castro, who’s a Filipino and was retired from the Navy, had a bunch of guys who had a band, a Filipino band, and when the pool was empty, he would bring the band to the pool and the would have a dance party. 

Cuscaden Park public swimming pool, 1940s

 

On Aug. 20, 1943, Drew Army Field soldiers put on a spectacular show at Cuscaden pool. The surface of the pool was covered with gasoline, ignited, and when the entire surface was ablaze, forty-five Drew soldiers dove through the flames and swam under water to the opposite end of the pool, where they demonstrated how to break through flames without being burned.

The pool closed in August 1997 due to leaks and old age and sat unused for several years.  When the pool closed, the city considered turning it into an inline skating rink, but some community members balked. Even Mayor Dick Greco, who spent part of his youth in Ybor City, pushed for the pool.   In 2002,  it was ready for revival. The city of Tampa set aside about $3-million to restore the 1937 pool to its original glory.  It was an expensive job -- a new pool costs about $1-million -- but worth the trouble, local leaders said. "Those of us who have lived in Tampa a long time learned to swim there," said Wayne Papy, the city's recreation director. "It will become a focal point for the neighborhood."  First, the city intended to declare the Cuscaden pool a local landmark. The issue went to the Historic Preservation Commission on Aug. 13, 2002, then to the City Council in September.

Like the Roy Jenkins Pool on Davis Islands, the Cuscaden Park pool has bathhouses around the perimeter below the deck.  Its red brick and blue and white trim give it a stadium feel.  Geometric lettering on the front adds Art Deco flair. Funding for the project came from Community Investment Tax money and a $1-million federal grant from the Urban Park and Recreation Recovery program. The city renovated the entire structure, replacing the leaking liner and adding community meeting rooms.  When finished, it will look brand new, Papy said. Construction was to be started in 2003 and were completed in 2005.  The plan followed the pool's original design, which did not have a drain system around the facility's outer walls. During heavy rainfalls, water overflowed and collected on the deck, leaking into rooms below.

In May of 2010, after more than six years following the 3 million dollars worth of local and federal tax money to restore the pool, the Cuscaden Pool will be closed this summer while city officials decide what to do about leaks at the historical swimming facility. 

The pool is not all that will be empty this year.  The baseball fields eventually gave way to two soccer fields.

Although the playground and ball fields will be open, the city plans no summer youth programs, which in part rely on classrooms on the first floor below the raised pool. Enrollment in after-school programs dropped significantly when the city raised its recreation fees in October.

Tampapix Home

 

SOURCES

2008 Interview with Augustine “Marty” Martinez and Mary Martinez by Catherine Cottle, 92 minute sound file with accompanying PDF transcript, USF Digital Collections.  Mr. Martinez grew up in the area, describes his childhood, marriage, and life in Tampa, with emphasis on playing baseball and other sports at Cuscaden Park.

"$3-million set aside to restore 1930s pool" By SUSAN THURSTON, Times Staff Writer St. Petersburg Times published July 26, 2002

"POOLING THEIR RESOURCES" TBO.COM online, MAY 26, 2010 South Tampa, Kathy Steele, Tampa Tribune

Baseball Was My Life: The Stories of West Tampa By Mary Jo Melone and Art Keeble - Tampa Bay History, Vo. 23, 2009

Tampa Sports History blog (Benito / Cuellar photo & info)

TWO DECADES OF POLITICAL CONFLICT -1900-1920: Tampa’s Politics in a League of Its Own - (Notes on Aruthur Cuscaden)

The Inter-Social League 1943 Season by Wes Singletary  Sunland Tribune v. 26 2000

Tampa's Cuban Heritage, Tony Pizzo, (paragraphs on Chibas)

Cuscaden boxing news from Google news archives:
July 15, 1942            July 18, 1942

La Gaceta, May 13, 2011