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Friday, May 26, 2017

5 Brothers Key West - An Homage


My friend Ronny Bailey dropped by my office a few days ago to show me his latest piece of folk art, a wood cutting depicting 5 Brothers Grocery and Sandwich Shop located at 930 Southard Street in Key West. Ronny is a native Key Wester, a multi-generation Conch. He was a carpenter by trade until he retired a few years ago. He hung up his saw, stowed the hammer and began the second phase of his life as a folk artist. I don't think he started out to become an artist as much as he used his skills as a carpenter to create miniature versions of the facades of the old houses of Key West - the way they used to be - before the gentrification that is forever erasing memory of the past imperfect houses and their conversion into perfect tiny million dollar cottages. Later Ronny depicted larger homes and then added some commercial buildings. Most recently Ronny added added wood carving to his repertoire.
The 5 Brothers piece is Ronny's homage to the place and the people that go there each morning. If you drive by this place on any weekday morning you will invariably see a couple of cops, several healthy looking men who obviously work for a living (as opposed to guys who sit at a computer or who sell houses), some older guys who look like retirees, and some tourists. There are a couple of benches which are usually occupied. Many others stand and swap stories. A former neighbor of mine (who I will call "Norm")  told me what really goes on at 5 Brothers. Norm was also a general contractor. He said he and other contractors would meet there to discuss what projects they were working on or going to be making bids on that day or that week. He told me the same guys would meet after work at a bar and discuss the projects and prices they would quote so that they could distribute the work among each other and not get into bidding wars. I have to live here and can't tell the rest. Imagine "collusion".
Notice the three officers inside the store, two sitting on the bench, and the guy in the patrol car. Look carefully at the license plate which reads "SWEET H2O". The cop driving the car is Officer Sweetwater. Ronny chcukled with glee at his cleverness.
Ronny's depiction is more generous than Norm's narrative description. The wood cutting is three boards made into one larger piece which was then painted black. Ronny carved out layer after layer to create the building, the streetscape, the sky with helicopter, and the Key West people - each a real life Key West character.  Ronny referred to each person with the word "mister" before each person's name followed by some descriptive sentence about who that person was and why he is on that piece of art. You will notice the helicopter on the upper right side. The wood cutting depicts the real life helicopter pilot "back in the day" on a special ops mission for his Cuban coffee and cheese toast! When I saw the helicopter I was reminded of the scene in the the 1989 James Bond movie License to Kill which was filmed in Key West when Bond and his pal parachuted from a helicopter down to St. Mary's Catholic Church on Truman Avenue to attend Bond's pal's wedding. Ronny told me about the many "stories" that the pilot described from his life. I added an arrow directing your attention to the word Peace on the helicopter. Ronny adds the words Love, Peace, and Joy each piece of art he creates.
The building at 930 Southard Street has remained pretty much the same since the black and white photo below was taken in 1965. Note the cutout police figure in the lower right hand corner. The prop-cop was used to alert drivers to the Harris School located at the next corner. I found a similar roadside cop in a photo taken at 1200 White Street which warned drivers to slow down for the old Key West high school one block to the south.(Look at the far left side of the road to see the policeman) In today's Key West there are real life cops standing guard at every school in town, each adorned with bright neon yellow vests and whistles. I personally like the less expensive and more clever cutout cops. I'd slow down if I came upon one and smile for a block or two.
I looked through my old shoebox and found some photos I took over the years of 5 Brothers. I rarely go there myself. I drink way too much coffee when I get up. But I know a lot of people who do go there regularly. I stopped by 5 Brothers on my way to the office to snap a couple of photos of 5 Brothers. Those pics are at the bottom of this blog. Stop by the next time you are in town. Go inside where you will find the original Ronny Bailey wood carving. Smile to yourself as you see the Key West characters and the place that made them famous.
Photos taken May 26, 2017 below. The scene never changes. The characters do.


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Gary Thomas in a Nutshell

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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.