Home Production studio Historic Sicilian West Tampa Club to be Restored to Become a Production Studio

Historic Sicilian West Tampa Club to be Restored to Become a Production Studio

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TAMPA – The Sicilian Club building at 2001 N. Howard Ave. once housed a “talking cinema”.

The historic structure, originally built as a social club for Sicilian immigrants, will later be used to produce talking films.

North Carolina-based Black Horse Studio bought the 14,000-square-foot building for $ 1.2 million from Pawan Rattan, according to the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser website.

“The building is this incredible gem,” said Jennifer Bostic, co-owner of Black Horse. “We couldn’t be more excited to make this our next home.

They will spend almost $ 2 million to turn it into a studio for photography and commercial productions, hopefully by summer 2021, Bostic said. It will include space for temporary sets and a functional kitchen for food photographs and advertisements.

The building of the Sicilian Club, formerly a social club for Sicilian immigrants, will be restored and transformed into a production studio. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]

According to Bostick, Black Horse has grown from a business only with clients in North Carolina to a business working with businesses across the country, including Lakeland-based Publix.

“We considered moving to New York or Chicago, California or even Atlanta,” she said. “But we chose Tampa because we’ve done a lot of work there over the years and think it’s this amazing, vibrant city.”

Related: Restoration of historic Tampa’s Jackson House underway

Black Horse’s current headquarters in North Carolina is also a historic building. Built in 1893, the red brick castle-like structure was originally used by Nissen Wagon Works.

“We couldn’t just move into a normal building,” Bostic said. “We wanted a place with character and a story to tell.

Related: In Tampa, a fountain is all that is left of a historic hospital. A developer wants to save it.

It will take work to restore the Sicilian club.

Missing pieces of the roof allow pigeons to roost in the rafters. It needs new windows and the second floor needs to be stabilized.

“But the bones are good and what he still has is special,” said Justin Czternastek, whose Onsite Construction is responsible for transforming the building.

The building of the Sicilian Club, formerly a social club for Sicilian immigrants, will be restored and transformed into a production studio.
The building of the Sicilian Club, formerly a social club for Sicilian immigrants, will be restored and transformed into a production studio. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]

The tiled floors are in good condition on the first floor, where a marble staircase leads up to the balcony on the second floor. The projection booth from the old movie theater is still there.

“These marble stairs would probably cost over $ 100,000 today,” Czternastek said.

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The entire building cost around $ 100,000 to build in 1928, according to news archives, and was hailed as one of the city’s new architectural wonders in 1929.

The social club for Sicilians – founded in 1914 and originally headquartered on the nearby main street – has organized dinners, dances, concerts and plays. Cinema technology was added in 1931.

“It will be called the Sicilian theater of Cazin”, Tampa Tribune reported that year, describing it as a “talking movie theater”. Public cinema was to bring financial stability to the Sicilian club.

The Tampa Tribune announced the construction of the Sicilian Club in 1928.
The Tampa Tribune announced the construction of the Sicilian Club in 1928. [ TImes (1928) ]

But the Sicilian club closed in the mid-1930s and members joined the Italian club in Ybor City.

“The Great Depression ended its run,” historian Gary Mormino said. “The Italian Club took over the structure and operated it as an auxiliary.

In 1947, the Westown Theater, which focused on “outstanding Italian production footage with English subtitles”, opened in the building and remained operational through the 1950s.

Related: Ybor City’s century-old clock tower will strike again soon

The Sicilian club was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. But, it “was in bad shape” in 1990, Mormino said.

It was later restored by the West Tampa Community Boxing Club, which successfully lobbied the city to designate the building as a local historic landmark in 2001.

But it has fallen into disuse again.

In 2009, the Tampa Tribune reported that the city had declared the Sicilian club “unfit for human habitation due to risk of collapse”.

The structure was stabilized but remained vacant.

“We are eager to give it new life,” said Bostic. “He already has so much character and soul. It has a personality that will shine even brighter once it is fixed.