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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Calling Lt. Columbo




I have always been a mystery fan. I loved to watch Perry Mason outwit Hamilton Burger, the District Attorney who was an ineffective prosecutor, and Lt. Tragg, the defective police detective.

Jessica Fletcher had the same knack for outsmarting the tricksters that portrayed themselves as altar boys only to be unmasked as murders in the final minutes of each episode.

My favorite was Lt. Columbo. If you saw Lt. Columbo walk into a room you might dismiss him because he always wore that shabby trench coat. He had a distrust of the wealthy. Lie as they might and have all kinds of excuses corroborated by their wealthy friends, the rich were no match for the Lieutenant who always had to ask "Just one more thing..." It was at that moment we at home knew that Columbo had figured out how the the rich sonofabitch with a concocted alibi had committed the near perfect crime. We relished in the fact that the bad guy would not get away with his evil deed.

A couple of months ago I noticed scaffolding had been erected around a genuine Key West landmark house - the Indian block house located at 936 United Street (corner of Grinnell and United Streets). The property is subject to the HARC (Historic Architectural Review Guidelines) adopted by the City of Key West. CLICK HERE to read the guidelines. You can even download and print a copy for your records.

936 United Street as it appeared in 1965

The guidelines are designed to give notice to owners of real property (and to the public) as to what they can and cannot do to their property because of location in the Key West historic district or because a property has been designated as significant. I advise buyers to consult local real estate lawyers, architects, and city officials to determine what it permissible and that which is not.

I have an out of state buyer who has been looking for a fixer-upper. We found one house that has a massive two tier porch somewhat like the one at 936 United Street. I started taking periodic photos of the renovation that I thought was going to occur. The first photos I took showed the original columns, railings, and spindles that had fallen into grave disrepair. Sometimes wood is salvageable. But so many elements of the porch were in such bad repair, I assumed the entire porch would have to be replaced. I thought it would be great to chronicle the old features as they were replicated. It would have. That's not what happened. You can view all of the photos if you CLICK HERE. (The most recent photos appear at the front and proceed backward.)

936 United Street Street at the start of the renovation in June 2010

Close-up of a delicate second level spindle

The delicate lines of the original columns

A couple of weeks ago I went by the house to take some pics to update the progress. I noticed that new columns had been installed. Except they were not the same as the originals which were turned or rounded. The new columns were 6" x 6" squared. That did not make sense to me. I know HARC is a stickler for compliance to the guidelines. It is my understanding that HARC provides a written description of what is to be done with each property. Substitutions and changes need to be approved by HARC. I sent an email with photos attached to a HARC commissioner who forwarded the photos to the HARC official at city hall. I was told that HARC had approved a plan where the original columns would be replaced by new turned columns. I was relieved. (See below.)

At the end of last week I went by the house to take more new photos and noticed that the three surviving original turned columns had been removed and were replaced by new squared columns. I contacted the HARC official at city hall who responded:
'The HARC members approved a final version of a turned wood column that will replicate the original ones, but the smallest profiles of the round column will be slightly larger than the original ones due to actual building code. The building department requested the contractor to secure the two story balconies due to hurricane and school season. The columns that are installed are not final columns.

HARC approved turned wood columns and we are waiting for final shop drawings from the supplier who will be fabricating the columns. We want to make sure that the final columns are as close as possible as the original ones.'
Yesterday I drove past the house on my way to an appointment. I noticed that new railings were being attached to the squared columns and that final trim was placed at the bottom of the squared columns. I'm no Columbo but I suspected something was not right about what I saw. I went back to the house an hour later to take pics and saw even more railing had been installed during the short interim. I took new pics and sent them to the City of Key West late Wednesday.

The photo below is what 936 United Street used to look like in June 2010 when it had turned columns and delicate little spindles that decorated the graceful curved porch. The curves of the Indian block, the porch, the columns, the spindles all worked together to create a beautiful Key West landmark house.

936 United Street June 27, 2010

The photo immediately below is how the house looked yesterday. Quite a remarkable difference.

936 United Street September 22, 2010

CLICK HERE to see that actual HARC application and "approval" for the work at 936 United Street. You can download and print it for easier viewing. Take the time to take a look. If you are in Key West you might want to drive by 936 United Street to see for yourself.

Just one more thing, if you have any thoughts or comments about what is going on at 936 United Street in Key West post them below.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

I can't imagine a regulatory body in Key West turning a blind eye to someone who's not following designated guidelines.

Anonymous said...

ha! I LOVE this post Gary! One of your best yet and I can't believe what is happening either.

Gary Thomas said...

http://www.keywestcity.com/

The above is the City of Key West's official home page. Lots of phone numbers and email addresses there if you care to contact anybody about
936 United Street.

I've made my thoughts known to City Hall. I've sent photos to back up what I have seen.

Make your thoughts known if you care.

Gary

Anonymous said...

This is one instance where I'll have to disagree with your post, Gary.

I have to say this is nun ya, as in, none of your business.

In my opinion the house looks fine with the new rails. While the detail work isn't what it was, I think in this depressed market having somebody restore a home from further degradation is important.

I know the market is slow, but don't become a Gladys Kravitz.

Anonymous said...

Actually it IS our business. To the people who live in Old Town or Casa Marina and have to abide by the HARC rules when they decide to improve their home, why shouldn't everyone be held to the same standard?

This is not just my business or Gary's it is EVERYONE who lives in Key West's business.

As for being a Gladys Kravitz, better than being a Sgt. Schultz with an 'I know nothing, I see nothing' warped perception of it all.

Depressed market? Hardly - Key West real estate is picking up and more and more buyers are looking and purchasing.

I am sick of this board being used as a sounding off point for the idiots on the island. Gary pointed out a simple fact of what can and should not happen here.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree with the most recent post, and with Gary's message here. We just finished a renovation top to bottom of an old conch house in Old Town and HARC watched us every time we sneezed. Why does this guy at 936 United get off easy? Who does he know at HARC?

Gary Thomas said...

http://www.keywestcity.com/

The above is the City of Key West's official home page. Lots of phone numbers and email addresses there if you care to contact anybody about 936 United Street.

I've made my thoughts known to City Hall. I've sent photos to back up what I have seen.

Anybody that plays by the "rules" knows the City can be very demanding. The City can make owners jump through all kinds of hoops and impose very large fines for intentional and even unintentional wrongs. Or the City can ignore an issue if nobody cares.

Gary

Anonymous said...

If HARC watched you every step of the way during your renovation, then I imagine they'd be doing the same here.

Calling to snitch on others isn't something I'm fond on.

If the market where picking up more and more I'm not sure Gary would have the time to go snooping. Just sayin'

Anonymous said...

"Anybody that plays by the "rules" knows the City can be very demanding. The City can make owners jump through all kinds of hoops and impose very large fines for intentional and even unintentional wrongs. Or the City can ignore an issue if nobody cares."

Yes, we both know that so why are you making it an issue for these people by plastering it over the internet?

flipper said...

Hey "Annonymous" any chance that "these people" is actually you? My gawd, Gary's point is much broader than what "these people" are doing. It is about fairness and consistency in the system. Come on.

Anonymous said...

No, I don't own that home. I'm just finding it hypocritical that Gary is calling these people out since he's done things before without city approval.

And again, I don't mean to slam him, I'm just looking for fairness. I don't think calling the people renovating that house out on his blog is a nice thing to do, and like I said, it's hypocritical.

Anonymous said...

and just WHEN has Gary done anything without City approval? Get off it - you have no basis for this slander and I and many on these board are sick of your holy-than-thou attitude.

Look, Gary has lived here for years. He's a former attorney. He is as honest as the day is long. I know him and I know him to be fair and just.

Yes, you are trying to slam him as someone using his blog to go after HARC. All anyone wants is fair outcome in dealing with this group. No one should get a special reward or skirt the rules. Yet you seem to think that is ok. Just don't tell on anyone. I bet you are the type would would see a robbery and look the other way without helping. Or not come forth as a witness to a crime. Unless it affects you.

Get off your high horse, put down the crack pipe and live in reality. And don't feel the need to answer this post as you have nothing intelligent to say.

Still waiting for you proof - oh, forgot, you DON'T HAVE ANY! :p

End of this comment section.

g said...

My first reaction was what could he be thinking? Its not like he covered up bad wiring with drywall.
This is right out there for the world to see.

But after reading the HARC documents I'm not so sure that this isn't an intermediate step to get through hurricane season.

Gary (or anyone) how tough (expensive) can it be to get the proper posts?

Gary Thomas said...

To the last comment-
1. The HARC staffer believes the work is "intermediate". I accepted that as well until I saw the railings and trim go up and the paint go on. Nobody would go to that expense for a temporary fix.


2. An easier and much less expensive temporary fix would have been to erect steel beams attached to roof and floor until hurricane season is over.


3. The HARC application can be read by clicking the CLICK HERE link at the bottom of my original post. Go to Page 2 where the rules and the application history are laid out with clarity. The issues were discussed, the rules, reasons, and requirements were set forth with precision. What was permitted was supposed to be replication of the original and not a substitution for something the looks okay.

I don't know any of the people involved in this project. My photos were just as I said - I wanted to document the restoration of a beautiful home. When I saw something different seeming to occur I asked questions.

I'm not trying to create a problem for anybody. The HARC staffer wrote "The house was built circa 1905 and is a unique two story concrete block structure with a prominent two story wood porch. The porch is profusely decorated with turned balusters, spindles, and turned columns. The house is located on a prominent corner of United and Grinnell Steets."

Hopefully, the city will address this.

Gary

Anonymous said...

Guess HARC got after Gary for posting about them on his blog. That and he deletes any posts he doesn't like.

Sorry Gary - you lose. No anon postings means no dialogue and no comments of merit.

Then again, the housing market has died - loans are impossible to get and RealtyTrac says more foreclosures on the bank books could delay any recovery till 2012.

Would hate to be selling a house now. Especially in a vacation market like Key West.

Anonymous said...

Guess HARC got after Gary for posting about them on his blog. That and he deletes any posts he doesn't like.

Sorry Gary - you lose. No anon postings means no dialogue and no comments of merit.

Then again, the housing market has died - loans are impossible to get and RealtyTrac says more foreclosures on the bank books could delay any recovery till 2012.

Would hate to be selling a house now. Especially in a vacation market like Key West.

Anonymous said...

WHY KEEP DELETING POSTS?

What DID HARC do to you that has you so afraid of anonymous posters on your blog?

Third time delete of a post. What gives?

What has you so up in a snit that you don't like someone posting?

Sad

Sad

Sad

Anonymous said...

Did HARC get mad Gary - is that why no anon postings?

Or did YOU get mad?

Whatever.

You don't get sellers when you hinder their posts. Then again, look at the market which is going nowhere and fast.

Anonymous said...

This home is owned by a real conch and has been for nearly 80 years in the same family. Well before any of you posters and well before the HARC board.

If you look around the area you will see MANY square columns.

However if you want turned columns pull some of the tax payers money and put up or shut up.

Did you take pics of HOB?

You have a hidden agenda!

Unbelieveable.

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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.