‘Forgotten Fountain’ shines light on Tampa’s immigrant history

Hillsborough County

It represents a page out of Tampa’s immigrant past, a special monument for so many local families

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A three-tiered fountain in Tampa represents a page out of the city’s immigrant past, a special monument for so many local families. Many believed it was demolished in 1969 but now, we think otherwise.  

The fountain once sat in front of El Sanatorio del Centro Español, a hospital that played a major role in writing Tampa’s history. 

El Sanatorio, in all its grandeur, was the only hospital in Tampa Bay to treat Hispanic patients in the early 1900s. It was founded by El Centro Español to mark its transition from a patriotic organization to a mutual aid society. 

“If they needed health care, if they needed hospitalization, they had a place to receive first-grade care,” said John Rañon, a historian and Centro Español member. “There aren’t many people left who remember the hospital and its details.”  

Its cornerstone was laid down in 1904. Patients filled its halls in 1906. By 1969, it was torn down along with two of its iconic three fountains that decorated the land around the hospital. The remaining fountain still sits on its original property off Bayshore Boulevard and Santiago Street.  

“You can’t see the fountain,” retired judge EJ Salcines said, pointing at all the vegetation covering the fountain. 

Despite the condition, it reveals a labyrinth of memories for Salcines, whose father was very involved with el Centro Español and frequently visited the hospital.   

El Sanatorio’s last remaining fountain, covered in overgrown vegetation, sits on its original property at the Bay Oaks apartment complex off Bayshore Blvd.

“The children were not permitted in. So, our assignment was to count how many goldfish are in the fountain,” Salcines remembered fondly.

Centro Español members knew this special fountain remained standing but spoke up about its existence when developers sought a permit from the City of Tampa to demolish the apartment complex and make room for a new Ritz-Carlton property on the 5-acre land.    

“There was a packet on my desk, I opened it and it was from Centro Español,” said Michael Hammon with the Related Group. “I had assumed just walking by that it was a planter and not an actual fountain.”  

Hammon is now working with the Centro Español and has vowed to save and restore the fountain as closely as possible to its original state.  

“Related being a Hispanic-owned property, it means something to us,” he said. “Anyone walking along Bayshore will see it and also they’ll see that there’s a sidewalk that meanders up to it and around it with a historic marker plaque giving a history of the hospital.”  

The Related Group shared this rendering with 8 On Your Side of its plans for the historic fountain.

The importance of the restoration of the beloved fountain would only grow if what this group discovered while we were there is true – that this fountain, in its sad and deteriorated state, might not be just one of the hospital’s three fountains, but the central fountain that welcomed everyone as they entered El Sanatorio del Centro Español.   

“Oh, I Iook forward, hopefully before I die, to see the old fountain flowing again,” Salcines said.

They’ll know if it is the central fountain once the vegetation is removed and historians can examine the monument in its entirety. It will take some time. The Related Group first needs to obtain development approval from the City of Tampa to build the Ritz-Carlton Residences on the historic property. If they get the green light, developers will break ground in late 2021.  

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