Friday, May 15, 2009

La Concha

The city of Key West has a height ordinance limiting buildings to less than 40 feet ( 13 meters) more or less, but in 1926 there were no height limitations when they built La Concha Hotel:
People ask me where they should stay when in Key West and it's a question I haven't a clue how to answer. Personally I'd rather have a tooth extraction without anaesthetic than stay at a bed and breakfast; I prefer the anonymity of a hotel to the intimacy of staying as a guest in someones home. And yes I know I'm in the minority on that one, but there it is. While roadside motels are extremely convenient, a hotel like La Concha that has a history is far more fascinating to me.La Concha is operated these days by Crowne Plaza, but it hasn't always been that way. Hotel chains are like baseball franchises, they change names and allegiances pretty much at the drop of a hat. In 1926 Carl Aubuchon opened this landmark and his is a name that has dropped from sight in the annals of key West popular history. But whoever he was he had a vision and he built a luxury hotel for a town that wasn't completely conversant with the concept of personal bathrooms, elevators and a level of comfort that apparently got people talking.La Concha fell into disrepair in the seventies and eighties at which point the building got a makeover and was brought back to it's original glory. It strikes me that La Concha measures the fortunes of the economy, rising up in the middle of the crazy 1920s and getting a major makeover at the start of the twenty year boom that began in the 1980s. Today it is still a very comfortable hotel, but a roof top pool and elevators don't mark it as especially luxurious. But if you're asking this is my kind of hotel, luxurious perhaps not but old fashioned comfort is what I want. And the pool? It's okay I guess, crowded with greenery and people on a Friday evening:My cousin came to visit a few years ago and stayed here, so I did get to see an average room which is furnished in keeping with the hotel's historic ambiance though the rooms aren't that huge for the most part. And people are strange because they frequently feel the need to sleep in a room that is the size of a barn, for some reason. On the other hand La Concha is on Duval between Southard and Fleming Streets so if downtown is where you want to be, this is the spot.There's a huge parking lot in back where you can leave your car and rent a scooter is you feel so inclined and you can even pull right up to the door like a motel and unload your luggage:La Concha puts you right in the heart of the action on the four hundred block of Duval Street and that is cool or annoying depending on your point of view. The city's only Starbucks franchise is in the row of shops alongside the hotel. And the loo for the Starbucks is in the lobby of the hotel so make sure you ask the barrista for the key card before you go wandering through the lobby looking for relief:And what in this picture looks like a pile of rubbish is actually a palm frond weaver's workplace. The weaver himself, on a slow afternoon, was talking to the coconut painter:But the painter was staying focused on his work, the devil as we know, is in the details...Next to the Starbucks there is a store, an official conch republic store I think, selling trinkets, and what vacationer doesn't want to go home without trinkets:There was even a musical performer crowding the sidewalk in front of the cash cow that is La Concha, but she was taking a break from her drums:But through it all La Concha sat imperturbable:You hardly need leave the hotel for a a vacation if you felt like staying in the hotel and ignoring the city around it (as much as the night time revelers allow anyone to ignore their noisy fun). There is a bar and restaurant downstairs:If , like me, you don't actually stay at the hotel you can scoot through the lobby, check the Hawaiian-shirted concierge at work, listen to the low murmurs of comatose tourists resting comfortably......and make a bee-line for the elevator where you will find references to famous residents of the hotel. Wanna guess? Ernest Hemingway stayed here when he first came to the city and Tennessee Williams we are told wrapped up "A Streetcar Named Desire" while staying at the hotel. Those kinds of claim to fame always puzzle me, as though inspiration comes within the wallpaper. Then there was Harry Truman who stayed at the Navy Base while President, and here, later:The elevator will take you to the top of the hotel, where, lo and behold there is another bar of course......with splendid views of the city, including as it happens, my motorcycle parked on Fleming Street:More tomorrow on the views from The Top that the hotel promotes. A picture of my Bonneville apparently doesn't rate because you won't find it on the hotel website.