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Ybor City's hidden history of booze, hidden rooms, tunnels

TAMPA (WFLA) - There is history under foot in Ybor City. In an area with colorful characters and a colorful past, there are some parts of the Historic District that many people have never heard of and most have never seen.

During the years of prohibition in Ybor, it was well known you could still buy alcohol, but that didn't stop federal agents from performing raids.

Wallace Reyes is a social anthropologist, historian and author who has researched the tunnels of Ybor.

"The tunnels were an intricate part of the history of Ybor in the prohibition days," said Reyes, who believes many of the tunnels and underground rooms of Ybor were built under the direction of gangster Charlie Wall.

"He was the kingpin. He was in charge of the Bolita, gambling, prostitution."

In 1994, News Channel 8 explored several rooms and tunnels under what was then the Blue Ribbon Supermarket.

One of the tunnels led under 7th Avenue to a nightclub across the street.

When the Blue Ribbon was destroyed by fire in 2000, the rooms and some tunnels were filled in.

Reyes says they were used frequently during the years of prohibition.

"Those cellars were connecting and that's the way they transferred liquor from one building to the next without much complication to go above," said Reyes.

The tunnels were not huge, just large enough to serve their purpose.

"They were no more than four feet high and the reason is, they have kind of a box with wheels and they put the liquor there, and they have ropes on both ends and they pull in and pull out," said Reyes.

Reyes believes some underground voids still exist and says the city ran into one when doing sewer repair work, but for the most part they've been sealed and are no longer in use.

"When prohibition ended, they forgot about the tunnels," said Reyes.

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