For 100 years now, it was enough to read Tampa’s La Gaceta newspaper
In government offices, at energizing lunches downtown, and in front of cigars and mugs of coffee with lecheTampa has long heard a familiar refrain:
“Did you see what he said in The Gaceta?”
From its offices at the end of Seventh Avenue, just east of Ybor City, the 50-cent weekly billed as the only trilingual newspaper in the country celebrates its 100th anniversary. Over a century ago, Victoriano Manteiga came here from Cuba for a job as a lecturer in a cigar factory, reading short stories and novels to workers as they rolled cigars. Then, in that city’s rich mix of immigrants, he started a newspaper.
Next is his son Roland Manteiga in his elegant white suits, holding court with politicians and the powerful at his permanently reserved corner table at La Tropicana restaurant in Ybor. (Frequented by mayors, governors and the occasional president, and once the center of the illegal bolita numbers game, Tropicana had its own history.)
Over devilish crabs, Cubans and Spanish bean soup, he collected water for his column “As We Heard”. Want to know which powerful citizen would be crowned King Gasparilla even before it was announced? Or who was planning an election race? Want to know how the cops spent an entire weekend at one of Tampa’s famous strip clubs before making arrests? Pick up a Gaceta.
Today it is his son Patrick Manteiga, 57, who carries on the tradition of exclusive treats, events and the occasional sharp elbow – as in the dust between the mayor and the city council regarding, among other things, the appointment of a new police chief. the Tampa Bay Weather sat down with Manteiga to talk scoops, regrets and a white-hot city’s ability to retain its soul.
La Gaceta, which began as a Spanish-language daily, publishes articles in Spanish, English and Italian. Given Tampa’s roots, that seemed important. Is it still?
So in the 1950s we added English because we had to (to get legal publicity.) The other thing is the things that (my dad) Roland wanted to write about, we wanted the English-speaking world read them. There’s no point criticizing the mayor if the mayor can’t read it.
What my dad told me was that some members of the Italian community asked if while we were making this change we could add Italian. They were losing their language, and when you lose your language, you lose your culture.
Without having Spanish, Italian and English, I think Tampa loses a bit of its soul.
What a blow it was when the restaurant La Tropicana closed during the pandemic? Did you find a replacement?
It was a big hit. This is part of the newspaper’s history, its heritage and its mystique. We saved the table. It’s over at the Cuban Club.
I was supposed to meet (an official) at the Starbucks near City Hall. He is so weird. I’ve avoided Starbucks meetings most of my life. I don’t even know what to order there. (For me) there are two types of coffee – Cuban black coffee and coffee with leche. That’s it.
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No, I haven’t found a replacement for the Tropicana.
Did the table really have a red telephone?
Cell phones did not exist and Roland kept his office there.
He had no paper, he had no pen, he had no recorder. He wanted you to tell a great story. He could go get a towel after you said something, but it was still very casual. You wouldn’t know you were being interviewed because it was a conversation.
How would you describe the current role of the “As We Heard It” column in the political fabric of Tampa?
We went down to a daily (newspaper). Television has decided to focus on national (news). Often I can be the only voice or the only voice of comparison with someone like the (Tampa Bay) times.
I think there are still a lot of people reading us who have power in the city. I think a lot of media read us.
Any scoops you’re particularly proud of?
In one paragraph, I picked up the whole nation on Obama going to Cuba, the (Tampa Bay) Rays going to Cuba, and the (Rolling) Stones going to Cuba. They all came from different sources.
I knew someone who knew someone at the Hotel Nacional who said the State Department was looking for rooms. I knew someone who had received a call to bring stage equipment from Florida to Cuba. The other, I just had good contacts with the Rays and knew who they contacted for passports and visas.
Have you ever regretted something you wrote?
Once. It was when I was replacing my father when he first fell ill. Someone told me (an official) had filed for divorce and I wrote it down. About eight months later, I saw him and he said, “I just wanted you to know my wife and I patched it up – no thanks to you.”
I thought the public didn’t really need to know that. And from then on, I never wrote about divorce. I try to stay away from people’s children, mothers and fathers.
Have you ever driven a politician really crazy?
They called me and threatened me at home…”I’m going to sue you, I’m going to sue you…if I could hurt your family, I would.”
What have been the difficult times over the years for The Gaceta?
A tough time was losing my dad, dealing with people who wondered how I was going to handle this, people who thought the newspaper was all my dad and nothing else.
The fire we had (in 2006, started by the cord of a desk calculator.) The majority of businesses do not survive a fire. We were up and running by 10 a.m. the next morning.
The other difficult period was during the height of the foreclosure crisis. We had always had legal notices (ads) but all of a sudden three clients gave us 100 pages of legal notices. Then (a trade publication) expanded into Hillsborough County and made a deal with my three biggest clients to do that and more for them. Seventy percent of my stuff left the house.
You seem to have an endless supply of historic photos to display center stage – long-gone buildings, school children, baseball teams, historic events. Recently you had Rough Riders in Tampa in 1898 and the first car on the Davis Islands in 1925. Where do you get them?
We have our archives. Everything (the late historian) Tony Pizzo ever found he brought to us first. We encourage people to send them to us. I fish constantly. You go to the online public libraries, Florida State Archives.
The hardest part is getting the subtitles right. I find proofreaders change things incorrectly because they are so far removed from the past.
Tampa has grown from a port city to today’s bustling and ever-growing downtown. What do you think? And can Tampa retain its “Tampaness”?
I think we are at a turning point.
Some of the players like (Jeff) Vinik came here and (he) seems like a guy from Tampa now. I agree with a guy from Tampa moving from Tampa.
But there are a lot of guys I don’t know. I’m worried if we’re still going to have people saying this looks like a great little town…friendly…southern town. I don’t know if it will still be our reputation.
There are buildings in which I have never been. This has never happened before.