The Art Of The Columbia
The Columbia in historic Ybor City is known not only for its great food, but also for the artwork that fills every room.
Don Quixote Room
When the Don Quixote Room opened in 1935 it featured not only Tampa’s first air-conditioned dining room, but also colorful tiles depicting the windmill-tilting character of Cervantes’ classic novel. Second generation owner Casimiro Hernandez, Jr. began his collection of Quixote-themed art in the 1930s. Spain’s ambassador to the U.S. visited the restaurant and gave him a tile once displayed at the 1936 Chicago World’s Fair. Other tiles Casimiro Jr. collected near Havana. In the late 1940s, he added $3,000 – a tidy sum back then -- of new tiles from Cuba, Spain and Mexico.
Albert Schwartz of Atlanta and Anna Maria, who had worked on chapel windows, created the Columbia’s stained glass windows. Casimiro Jr. started with four and received so many comments he added even more and valued the collection – at that time – “in the thousands of dollars.”
The colorful mosaic-tiled fountain in the Patio Dining Room has a statue in the middle called "Love and the Dolphin.” The statue is a replica of a sculpture found in the ruins of Pompeii. Cesar Gonzmart had the statue built in Italy in 1937, the same year he had the Patio Dining Room built.
For more than 70 years, as sunlight shines overhead through the skylight roof, The Columbia’s fountain provides a colorful background to countless happy occasions, including engagements, wedding receptions, birthdays and anniversary celebrations.
Opening on New Year’s Eve 1955, the Siboney Room featured two fountains, sculptures, paintings, tapestries and antiques. Bronze works dated to the 16th century. The stained glass was 300 years old, tracing its history to the early days of Spanish settlement in Cuba.
The Columbia placed its first exterior hand-painted tile in 1973. When third generation owners Cesar and Adela Gonzmart vacationed in Seville, Spain they fell in love with colorful tiles there. In 1978, Cesar spent $160,000 to cover most of the restaurant’s exterior with tile from Seville.
While the Columbia still showcases many of the priceless pieces of art from its history, many more have been repositioned next door in the former Columbia Centennial Museum, which is now used for private parties.