By Kathy L. Collins

The newest exhibit at the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts (FMoPA) is called “Gangsters, Pirates and Cigars: A Photographic History of Tampa 1879-1955”. The exhibit will run through Sunday, February 23. FMoPA is located at 400 N. Ashley Dr., Cube 200 in Tampa.

“Gangsters, Pirates and Cigars” will present a dynamic and detailed history of Tampa. The exhibit displays photographs from the time of the formation of the city to its growth in the post World War II era. Tampa was first developed as a military outpost. It was then transformed into a center for cigar production and cattle sales to Cuba.

Some of the images in the exhibit are of Tampa in the early years and include scenes of soldiers resting around their campsite. There are also images of early Hyde Park houses which were constructed of wood which required tedious and intense labor to construct.

When the industrial growth came to Tampa, it brought with it decades of labor and ethnic tensions. This is displayed in photographs of Spanish and Italian ethnic communities which gave Tampa its Latin and European flair, still existing today in Ybor City and some of the surrounding communities.

Tampa was also known for its active and even glamorous organized crime syndicates. These were first led by Charlie Wall and then the infamous Trafficante family.

Important institutions such as the famed Columbia Restaurant figure prominently in the photographs as does Tampa’s fragile ecosystem. This fragility is depicted in aerial photographs taken by military pilots in the 1940’s.

The images in the exhibit have come from a variety of institutions such as the Tampa Bay History Center, the University of South Florida Library, local newspapers and private collections both locally and nationally. For more information, visit


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