A historic three-story brick building has become a hot spot for artists in Tampa.
The Santaella Cigar Factory was not only known for being one of the largest and most efficiently equipped factories in the city, but also for being Babe Ruth’s favorite place to stock up on cigars.
After being vacant for four years, Gray Ellis never thought he’d come to be the owner of such a factory.
“I thought no way could we possibly afford to buy this 52,000 square foot building,” Ellis said. “And as it turned out we were very fortunate. We had friends that helped us and we were able to buy it.”
Shortly after Mr. Ellis’ purchase, he converted the basement and first floor into his business, Ellis-Van Pelt Office Furniture, Inc.
He then turned the remaining floors into the Santaella Studio for the Arts. Today, there are roughly 40 artists that rent the studios and walk the hallways that used to be nothing more than an open area.
“It’s really interesting, you walk down the hallways and you can see how easy you got it now,” Kenn Bradley, a producer working at Santaella for Florida Footage said. “I can just imagine people working here in these conditions back when it was a cigar factory.”
The studio space is filled with art that varies from photography, paintings, sketches and more. While there are many modern art pieces and studios in the building, the historical feel is still present. An old crotchety elevator, sets of precarious stairs and a dusty piano are just some of the relics from a different era.
Looking from the outside, you would think twice before stepping foot inside.
“You drive by and you’re like – I don’t know, that place looks creepy,” Emma Sims, an intern at Vosler Studio for Young Artists said. “But it’s kind of amazing in here. There is a lot of different artists, there is a lot of different ideas floating around, and it’s a cool little haven for everybody here. “
While some may be hesitant to venture inside, local residents appreciate its existence.
“You know it’s better for the community. It brings a lot to the community and the area,” Willie May Gregg, a resident who has lived across Santaella Studio for 22 years said.
Santaella Studios for the Arts would not exist in the community if not for the fire department right next door. After the original building burned down twice, Mr. Santaella decided he would only rebuild it if the city would build a fire department next to it.
For more information on Santaella Studios for the Arts and local event offerings, visit the studio’s Facebook page.