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Saturday, December 15, 2007

This Old House

The key requirement when purchasing an historic Key West home is that it be constructed of Dade County Pine. You can't buy Dade County Pine anymore, because it all got used. There is no "new" Dade County Pine because almost all the trees were cut down years ago. New pine comes from other areas now and are inherently soft and fast growing wood. Dade County Pine, on the other hand, is native to South Florida and is an aged wood of superior strength.

So what?, you say. This is what. Dade County Pine that is found in almost every old house in Key West is apt to be over 150 years old or older. Key West still has a few homes built in the early 1800s and many built soon after the Civil War. The Dade County Pine used to construct those homes was "old" when it was used, and by the passage of time that wood has become extremely hardened and resistant to termites. Many of the larger historic Key West homes were built by ship chandlers (builders or out-fitters). So the historic homes became desirable because of their character and the materials used in their construction.

I have mentioned several times that I used to own the Eaton Lodge guest house at 511 Eaton. That property is one of the great Key West homes. I learned first hand how damned strong Dade County Pine is when I did a little remodeling to a room in 1994. I removed one interior wall constructed of Dade County Pine. Big deal, you say. Yes it was, I say. The wall had Dade Pine on both sides and the 2x4's were also Dade Pine. And they were so strong that the Mikita reciprocating saw I used was almost useless. I remember swinging a huge sledge hammer at the wall that did nothing except exhaust myself. I think it took over two days to get the wall removed.

Here are some some photos of interior walls in a Key West home. Photo #1, Photo #2, Photo #3, Photo #4, Photo #5. CLICK each "Photo" to see the pictures. The pics demonstrate my reference to the construction method. This particular house is not a historic home other than it is old. I had one "fancy" Realtor get just damned irritated at me one time when he was showing his listing to me and my client and said the house was "historic". The house was a dog in a crappy location. I asked what historic event or what historic owner used to live there. He got real snippy after that...

If you think about how the big houses were constructed years ago they were made of Dade County Pine on the outside walls, the inside portion of the outside walls, the interior walls (both sides), the ceilings, and the floors. That is a lot of wood, and the houses are very strong because of it. Since the wood is native, it works well in this climate and environment. Homes that have been remodeled and homes that have been preserved and restored (as the case may be) are very sought after. Unfortunately, they are also very expensive. Even in today's market. CLICK HERE to checkout such a house located at 406 United Street in Old Town. I encourage you to checkout all of the photos in the link as they show several rooms where the Dade County Pine walls have been masterfully restored and put to excellent modern use. The house is actually a bargain by Key West standards. It is priced at $2,495,000 or $689 per sq ft. It was remodeled only a couple of years ago and many of the homes of that same time are being marketed around $200 per sq ft or higher.
CLICK HERE to perform your own search of Key West homes to see if you can find a house with Dade County Pine construction that you want to transform into your dream home in Paradise. It can happen. It just takes work. Then call me, Gary Thomas, at 305-766-2642 to schedule a showing. Who knows, you may end up owning a This Old House.

1 comment:

Bill said...

Hi Gary,

I enjoyed your article on DC pine. That's our house shown in the five photos in your article. They show the inside of the old core house before the demolition of some later additions (after HARC approval, of course!)

The entire core, inside and out, is DC pine. We are leaving several of the inside pine walls and saving the rest to use on the interior walls of the new addition. Also, during demo we found out that the original ceilings were 10 feet high, and we will keep those.

The house was built in 1884 by a Francisca Lopez, as we learned after research with Tom Hambright in the KW library archives. She bought the land from Francisco Marrero, the cigar factory entrepreneur of the late 1800s. You probably know the story of his two wives, his demise, and the ghost of wife #2 who still allegedly wanders through his mansion, now the Marrero House, a B&B.

The renovation is due to be completed May 1 (yes...and the check is in the mail, etc., etc.) We will send you an email once it's finished if you want to come by and see the "After" view now that you've seen the "Before" view.

Best, Bill and Eric


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Key West, Florida, United States
I first read about Key West in a magazine called "After Dark" sometime in the mid 1970's. But it wasn't until March 1984 that I made my first visit to the island that would become my home. I had two weeks for a vacation and reserved a room at Colours Guesthouse (now Marrero's Guest House) for one week. I thought that if I didn't like Key West, I could always go back to Miami or Ft. Lauderdale for the rest of my trip. But after a couple of days in Key West, that was no longer a consideration. But when I wanted to extend my stay for the extra week I found there was no room at the inn. The guesthouse owner did find me a room at LaTeDa, the infamous guesthouse/restaurant. That's a story I'll write another day. But those two weeks in Key West gave me the realization that I had found Paradise. Key West has been my home since 1993 and my only regret is that it took me so long to get here. I am a full time Realtor at Preferred Properties CRI. Let me help you find your new home or business in Paradise. Living in Paradise is not a slogan, it's a way of life.