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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Like a Virgin -- 522 Grinnell St. Key West

I love old houses. I've spent years watching This Old House as the hosts and professionals restored neglected homes from another era. The end product was almost always very appealing and seemed to fit nicely into today's lifestyle.

One of the first houses I "almost" bought was the Croke Patterson Mansion at 428 East 11th Avenue in Denver. Like a lot of large older properties it was converted into apartments and deteriorated somewhat. Click HERE and HERE to see what I almost bought for $90,000 in 1974 or 1975. I was a young lawyer at the time and needed to borrow some of the down payment money from my mother. She didn't say "No" but instead said it was too much work for me to handle. Same thing. So I didn't buy it. Someone else bought it, fixed it up, and resold it a couple of years later for a little over $1,000,000.

A lot of the old houses in Key West got "bought up" in the 1970s and early 1980s. They got restored and the price of real estate in Key West exploded. Some of the very large houses were converted into apartments and others in guest houses (bed and breakfasts). And a few of the big houses just sat there, neglected. They sat for decades and nobody did anything to them. The exteriors did not painted or the gutters repaired. The facades were untouched. The interiors were un-fooled around with.

It invariably happens when I am driving clients around Old Town they spot one of the virgin houses and ask "How much does that cost?" thinking it must be cheap since it looks so run down. Nothing in Key West is cheap. So properties are just priced more affordably than others. And most of the old virgins are not priced affordably. But that may not make them expensive.

The new listing at 522 Grinnell Street belonged to the same family since it was built in the late 1800s. It was purchased from the original owners a couple of years ago. The house now sits vacant and awaits new owners. Potential buyers can look around this great hulk of a house without feeling like you are intruding. (The previous owner insisted that only she could show the house. She always re-told her family's history room by room. I actually enjoyed her showing the house because buyers got a real appreciation for the property.)

As I recall the story the former owner told this house, like so many of the grand old homes in Key West, was built by ship chandlers. That means the house was built to withstand strong winds and the elements. I would not call this house "grand", but I do think it has a very simple beauty that could just shine after a careful restoration. The house is big (2754 sq ft) and sits on a 55' x 100'lot.

There are bay windows on both the south and north sides. There is a large inviting formal entry. The living room and dining room are formal by design. The other rooms are just basically large rooms with tall ceilings. There is a wrap-around front porch on both the main and second floors. You can see so much of the Key West skyline from the second floor.

The rear yard has a small building that might allow you to "renovate" and turn it into a pool house. Yes, there is room for a good sized pool as well. I'd ask for permission to tear off the existing kitchen addition at the back and reconfigure the main rooms downstairs into spaces that meet our current lifestyle. That would mean creating indoor-outdoor living space. Perhaps you could add a first and second floor rear porches overlooking the pool and garden. Certainly you would want to redo the second floor and have the master suite at the rear to take advantage of the pool views. The nice thing is that this house is so large and so sound that you could dream up all kinds of creative ways to renovate it in style and yet retain that simple architecture that we can see under the peeling paint.

Cornish Lane (it's so small there isn't even room for a car) flanks the south side of the property. There are four cottages on Cornish Lane and a good sized house next door to the north. There are a couple of beautiful restorations on the opposite side of the street. And Five Brothers Grocery is on the corner at Southard Street. The Historic Key West Seaport is a three minute walk to the north and Duval is a five minute walk to the west.

CLICK HERE to see more photos and more details on the grand old virgin at 522 Grinnell Street in Old Town Key West. They don't make virgins like her any more.

If you are in the market for a virgin, or maybe a place that's been abused and needs some TLC, please call me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642 or e-mail me at


flipper said...

This "untouched" virgin is far past her prime and requires an extensive (and expensive) makeover. She is dreaming if she honestly believes anyone could possibly be interested at anything close to $1.85 million. If she opened her eyes wide and had a good look around she'd see she has some attractive and more reasonable competitors, and many more will be available in the months ahead. My advice to this old bird is to lower her sights a bit; a lot actually. Despite what she may think, she is not the belle of the ball.

Gary Thomas said...

Flipper and others: Did you notice that I did not mention price? I agree that the asking price is steep.

I understand from the listing Realtor that a new appraisal is being done. Perhaps there will be a price adjustment.

Forget the price and just consider the prospect of restoring one of the last Key Wet virgins. I think it would be great fun if you have the money.



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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.