Sunday, November 8, 2009

Peary Court

The 19th century Navy Garrison at this location consisted of wooden barracks which were torn down, according to J Wills Burke's Streets of Key West and declared surplus in the 1970s. The city leased the land for a dollar a year and I well remember using Peary Court as a short cut from my dinghy in Garrison Bight to my breakfast at the El Cacique greasy spoon downtown. The free range chickens of Key West have made their home in Peary Court since the Navy reclaimed the land in the 1980s and planned to build housing on the land when the city's lease expired in 1990. This area used to be recreational in nature, with grass and a softball court beautifully captured in the film "Criss Cross" a film set in Key west with Goldie Hawn and well worth a screening. The Associated Press reported in 1991 on a 21 year old woman called Molly Logan who tied herself into a tree for five days to protest the changes planned for Peary Court. She slowed them down but now the 29 acre site holds 160 homes.More changes are in the works for Peary Court. The guard shack off White Street is empty and the homes are to be offered to people who are not Department of Defense personnel:City of key west employees have been offered a chance to rent these homes for the not unreasonable sum of $2,000 a month. They look like nice homes with decent facilities but it's not exactly affordable housing for anyone below the rank of manager. It felt decidedly odd to cycle onto the former base without so much as a by-your-leave, past the old signs:The old military cemetery lies alongside White Street past the fence. By my calculations the boat is parked roughly where the old softball diamond used to be:Most of the houses I saw are what are known to Americans as "town homes" and are known to the English as "semi-detached" homes:
Another curiosity is the bank, used by civilians but that found itself surrounded by Navy property. Keys Federal Credit Union, existed as an enclave inside the base but accessible to the world outside by a winding, fenced-in street that leads to Palm Avenue on the other side of Peary Court. The pedestrian gate to Peary Court is still locked:Peary Court is named for the Arctic explorer, Robert Peary, who was according to J Wills Burke a "one time key west resident." It so happens Judge Peary Fowler in Key West is a great-granddaughter of the explorer.
It would be odd living in this neat suburban semi-gated community in the middle of Key West, so unlike any other area of the city, and so very similar to so many self contained communities across the United States.