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Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Projects of Key West - The Hotels

Key West is on fire! No not that kind of fire where buildings burn to the ground. No the fire this time is the enormous amount of money being spent building new public and private sector buildings. Money is being spent in the belief that if you build it, they will come - meaning more and more tourists will come to our little island home and spend more and more dollars.  I've lived in Key West for 23 years. I have seen this little town change from a place which sometimes seemed trapped in a time warp into a community engaged in a semi-chaotic race to grow bigger and bigger, faster and faster, without regard to the quality of life for those of us who live here.  Some of the construction reflects an indifference to our historic architecture.Today I am writing about two projects - the renovation of a group of hotels on North Roosevelt Boulevard at the entrance to the Island of Key West and the construction of a new hotel on Simonton Street which I consider despicable.

IN THE BEGINNING   The black and white aerial photo below was taken in 1941. It shows the point where US 1 enters onto the Island of Key West. Those patches of low-lying ground and water later would  be filled to create new solid earth upon which several 1950s vintage motels would be built. The first was the Holiday Inn built in the upper right quadrant.  The original Holiday Inn was razed a little over a decade ago and re-emerged in 2006 as the new Beachside Resort Condominiums which today operates as a luxury hotel under the Marriott Hotel flag. The Holiday Inn briefly relocated across North Roosevelt Boulevard only to be torn down a couple of years later as a part of the renovation of these hotels began. Most of the old Holiday Inn was razed and new buildings built. The other hotels were stripped and redone in place with new buildings added.

The old motels did their job of housing the tourists who motored their way down to Key West. Motel rooms were cheap for several decades as was much of town. That was part of the draw of this little town located so far away from America. It was cheap, fun, and far away from the rest of the world. But all of that changed when the TDC started spending huge amounts of sales tax revenue to promote Key West and the Florida Keys as travel destinations. The Florida Keys became immensely successful as a destination resort. Room prices and housing prices raised in response to the demand for hotel rooms and services.

Welcome to the Island of Key West. Work had already begun in 2013 when I began to take photos of the former Days Inn and other hotels located where US 1 enters the island of Key West. I actually stayed at the Days Inn one night in 2007 while my house was being tented for termites. The room was dark, stinky, and just plain hideous. I faulted myself for choosing the cheapest place to save a few bucks. And then I realized some people save their money all year long to come to Key West for their annual vacation. And many of them stay at places like this for a reason - to save a few bucks. The newly renovated and expanded hotels won't be cheap. Today's blog will show progressive photos of each hotel.


By the time I came up with the idea of photographing this project, the construction (or destruction) crew had taken down most of the Holiday Inn. I snapped away at what remained and returned on Saturdays and Sundays to take progress shots. This was and is the first sight most visitors see after crossing the Cow Key Channel bridge as the enter Key West.
This renovation was much different than the old Holiday Inn next door. The skin and balconies of the old hotel were stripped and replaced. The rooms were gutted and redone.  If you haven't been to Key West in three years you probably wouldn't notice the change except the changed name.

This place stayed untouched during most of the hotel renovation. I got ticked off each time I drove by or walked by this tacky place.  The owners make so much money from tourists. I thought they were going to leave their operation the way it was - trapped-in-time. But as the hotels neared completion most of the old buildings came down. Recently, the owners announced plans to build new commercial and residential units here. If I correctly remember what I read in the Key West Citizen, the owners acquired all housing allocations for next year which will be used to build this new property.

The Quality Inn renovated the older hotel rooms and built a new lobby and guest amenities including pool and bar. The former Splash Bar is now Rum Row.

COMFORT INN formerly Radison Hotel is now 20 NORTH
The facade at the Comfort Inn changed dramatically as new exterior balconies were added. The new balconies provide covered walk ways from the elevators and also improved the facade. The rooms were gutted and renovated. The original ground floor at the Comfort Inn used to include a Denny's. A customer of mine was in the military and treated me to lunch there one day in 2005. He was an aircraft control operator at Boca Chica Naval Air Station near Key West. He took his job so seriously. He did not drink. He told me he couldn't because other peoples lives depended on him. (I wish some civilian pilots were as cautious as this young man.) He got a 10% discount at Denny's. Thank you, Denny's, for being one business that gives back to our community.

I think the transformation of this collection of hotels has made a remarkable change to North Roosevelt Boulevard. These new hotels will generate huge amounts of revenue for their operators and also produce huge sales tax revenue for the city. The prophesy of if you build it they will come shall be fulfilled. Moreover, I expect more of the 1950s and 1960s era buildings will be razed and new buildings will be built as the Key West economy continues to grow. CLICK HERE to see more photos of the Roosevelt Boulevard hotel project. Please feel free to copy and use without contacting me in advance.

During the same time period a second hotel was being constructed at the southern end of Old Town. An historic group of 1950s vintage buildings were razed to allow for the construction of a building more suited to Miami Beach than Old Town Key West.

The Floridian Motel was the original name of the 1950s motel located at 1212 Simonton Street. Later it became the Spindrift Motel. The building across the street has been a restaurant for as long as I remember. I think it was called Poor Richard's. (Now it is called Abbondanza.)  I remember going to Poor Richard's twice in the mid 1980s on one my earlier trips  to Key West. One night the food was incredible. We went back a few days later except that time the service was so slow I thought the waiter was helping prepare the food. The service and the food was just awful. I told the Realtor I was looking at properties with about my experience. She said the sous chef had just won the Florida lottery quit and left town.
The Dennis Pharmacy was located across the street from the Spindrift buildings. The drug store sold a variety of over the counter drugs, sundries, and sun tan products. Jimmy Buffet wrote his song Cheeseburger in Paradise about this place. The lunch counter offered a cheap bowl of soup and crackers and the proverbial cheeseburger for a couple of bucks. The place couldn't compete with the big chain drug stores. So it closed. When it closed a little bit of our heritage was lost. The building still stands but now it has a new facade. It's a bank. The memories are all that we have left of what used to be. Little places like this that made our island so perfectly imperfect are being replaced by crap like the new hotel across the street.
The Floridian/Spindrift was a mid-century motel with small rooms with zero appeal to the modern tourist market. It looks to me like the mansard style over-hang was added to the building in the late 1970s or 1980s. The neighboring two story commercial / apartment building once had a concrete monolith slab which cantilevered over the sidewalk. I remember when the monolith suddenly collapsed and killed a person walking underneath. The monolith was replaced by a canvas awning. I also remember the day I was riding my bike south on Simonton Street when I saw fire trucks, police cars, and an ambulance parked in front of that building. A couple of girls in their 20s were sitting across the street on the edge of the sidewalk - staring at the commotion. I went over to ask what had happened. One girl looked up and said "My boyfriend killed himself." I knew the kid - he went to my gym. Gorgeous guy. He was straight but was a dancer at a gay club on Duval Street. I felt horrible for asking what happened. The first floor businesses changed over the years. More recently the commercial spaces included a hair salon and the original home of Badboy Burrito.  Badboy Burrito relocated a block north just before the buildings were razed.

The new 22 room luxury hotel will have a rooftop pool on the south end plus 11 plunge pools. I have had a couple of discussions with locals about this place. I personally think it is too large in scale as compared to the historic nearby historic homes on Louisa Street. People using the pool may be able to look down into the private pools of nearby homes. While I appreciate contemporary architecture, I think it is inappropriate here.  People come to Key West because it is unique, not because of crap like this. I will forever despise this place. CLICK HERE to view progress photos of this project.

There are a few other commercial projects which I have been photographing. I will post them soon. In the meantime, please continue to follow my blog as I write about the real estate listings and offer a few unsolicited comments about the life and times of Key West as well as yours truly.

4 comments: said...

Gary: You have outdone yourself on the exposure of the commercialization of Key West. The H2 O suites as well as the newly being built Fish restaurant on Truman are 2 examples of city changing their own rules. The city continues to "WHORE" itself out to the highest bidders, as well as to "who's names are secretly involved" in the deals. I do also remember old Key West, brings a tear to my eye. Key West Jay

Gary Thomas said...

Jay, People with money always get their way. It's no different here than anyplace else. Only here we sort of know who is pulling the strings. I can tell you this - the money being exchanged is not spent here buying toys or real estate. That would be too obvious and would create an uproar. Go to Hong Kong and other places you'd never expect a CONCH to own property.

I've been photographing Seven Fish and will do a blog on it. I think the architecture is great, but not for Key West and especially not next to a perfect gingerbread on Truman. What were the HARC members thinking?

I talk to other agents on during realtor caravan while we are riding from house to house. Many of them say the same thing you said. They remember the way things used to be. The city HARC staff treats homeowners as if they are delinquent teens in high school detention - making them defend their conduct - prove that they didn't do something in violation of the rules. I don't have personal gripe. I just see the way things play out. And I am especially upset with the favoritism that I can prove occurred for certain individuals - people who got away from having to comply with the rules that everyone else has to obey.


Anonymous said...

Surprised you haven't written about the $80,000 price drop over on Flagler. Your great deal is now even a greater deal.

bbece said...

Hi Gary, I grew up in Key West & the Keys. I've followed your blog on and off for years and always enjoyed. Thank you so much for this part. I used to eat & shop at the Pharmacy, many cool memories. The Denny's will always hold many memories too. I worked there as a teen and met so many different people. One in particular was very special. I only spent about 6 hours total with him (2+ on the job) but he made an impression and offered me a completely different life. Long story shorter, I didn't "leave" town with him as I knew a family member wouldn't "like" him. He died last year and I immediately felt bad not having said a "proper" goodbye or Thank You for the Fabulous Fully Clothed Face Time he spent with me. After I saw the news I came looking for photos of the building. I did not find many, minus a few, but they were rather lifeless and depressing. I enjoyed seeing your pics and since learning the hotel and building is full of life again. Take Care.


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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.