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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Another One Bites the Dust - Key West

I was driving east on Fleming yesterday afternoon. I had my windows down as I enjoyed another sunny day in Paradise. I heard a big boom on my right as I passed across Elizabeth Street. A big old bull dozer was knocking down the Universal (Gentle Touch) Cleaners.

510 Elizabeth Street - Key West -as it appeared in 1965

510 Elizabeth Street - Key West - February 2010

Normally it is pretty difficult to knock down anything in our town. In 1971 a good portion of the Old Town area of Key West was designated a U.S. historic district - historically or architecturally significant buildings. A few years later that area was expanded and more buildings were added. Guidelines were established to help control changes to existing structures. Those guidelines have made it nearly impossible to tear down old buildings to construct new ones. So when an old building does come down, it is worth noting.

The more things change elsewhere in the world, little Key West stays pretty true to its roots. Maybe that is why so many people fall in love with this place. When you have been here a few times you know exactly what to expect the next time. The architecture is timeless. The people are laid back. The booze is endless. And the chickens do not sleep. Key West is not Boca, or Ft. Lauderdale, or Miami (Thank God!) It takes a lot of effort to get here by car, plane, or boat. But once you arrive and unwind, it is pretty damned difficult to really want to leave. That may be why so many people dream about owning a place in Key West.

The demolition of the old Gentle Touch Dry Cleaners building made the front page of The Key West Citizen today.The news article reported that the new owner intends to build a family home on the site. Maybe that is why the owner got permission to knock down the old building. The dry cleaning business was out of character for the area. I think a new house will improve the property values for the neighborhood. CLICK HERE to see a photo of the nearly vacant lot.

The owner of 514 Elizabeth Street advises "The new house is designed by Tom Pope in the Key West style of mid-19th-century wooden houses. It is 2 1/2 stories with gable ends as in our house, but much larger. It has a two-story porch across the 5-bay front with French doors rather than windows, a 2 1/2 story ell to within 20 feet of the rear property line and a 1 1/2 story apartment along Artic Lane. It will certainly be more in the residential and architectural nature of Old Town than the dry cleaners."

The sale of this property did not go through the mls. I did some real estate detective work. It looks like the new owner paid $714,000 for the 5150 sq ft lot (51.5" x 100') or $139 per sq ft. That's a pretty good price for a great location in the heart of Old Town.

The first house I sold in Key West is located next door at 514 Elizabeth Street. It was built in 1855. The photo directly below shows that house in 1965. Below that is a photo I took a couple of years ago. The present owner reports "It is typical of the conch or Bahamian house built in the Bahamas from the 1780s and in Key West prior to the Civil War. The original architectural moldings that survive are typical of the 1835-1860 period." The more things change elsewhere, the more they stay the same in Key West.

CLICK HERE to search the Key West mls data base. If you are thinking about buying a place in Key West please think about using me, Gary Thomas, as your buyer agent. I am a full time Realtor at Preferred Properties Coastal Realty, Inc. Contact me by phone at 305.766.2642 or by email at

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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.