Tuesday, May 14, 2013

All Change At The Pier House

The newspaper reported last week that the venerable Pier House resort, the first of the vast spacious waterfront hotels in downtown Key West, has been sold. The developer who built the place in the 1960s, David Wolkowsky sold it to a corporation a while back and they have now sold the place for a cool ninety million dollars. Change is inevitable with that sort of money changing hands, and almost everyone was fired yesterday according to a friend of mine who has connections with the place.
It seems they will be having a "job fair" at the resort later this week and I suppose the poor unfortunates will be invited to re-apply for their jobs. I doubt wages and benefits will be improved and one can only hope the bosses will be kind. Ninety million dollars-worth kind? Probably not. As I read about "hospitality workers" begging for charity to pay medical bills and I watch the gyrations in the local business scene as Key West cranks up the gentrification revolution I am glad of my staid city job. Paid sick leave, vacation time and raises. I am a rare animal in this town and I am grateful.

I found this picture of the Chart Room online at what appears to be a defunct blog. I never did have the wit to get my own picture, the nature of the place being what it was, alcohol and all, though the picture doesn't really illustrate the place that well. It was a space occupied by memories and history and people. Notably Jimmy Buffett getting his start and writers from the early 70s hanging out there. These good folks look more representative, sunburned happy tourists in this case off a passing boat.


The changes at the Pier House have created a wildfire of rum ors and some say the famed Chart Room bar is going to be turned into a t shirt shop which would be a cruel irony in a town filled with such awful stores yet not quite bountiful with weird bars. I am not a bar person (I don't like fishing either by the way, and I'm not gay so I suppose I disqualify for residence here) but I did like the Chart Room's eye wateringly strong Dark and Stormys. Though I'm not terribly squeamish when it comes to kitchen cleanliness I did have to be fairly inebriated before I would consume any of the free hot dogs steaming in the foetid atmosphere of the Chart Room. For some people the likely demise of this bizarre holdover from another era is a bitter pill to swallow. I have no doubt people will talk about the old Chart Room for decades. I shall endeavor not to be a bore about it. I wrote about the Pier House here:

Wolkowsky known for owning the unusual appartment stuck on top of the Kress building is also known for woning the only inhabited private island west of Key West. I read Ballast Key is for sale for soemthing like $15,800,000, an eccentrically uneven asking amount worthy of the eccentricities of the elderly Wolkowsky, who it turns out has his own trifling Wikipedia page, inclduing this exerpt:

The Pier House became a magnet for celebrities and media types, mostly because of Wolkowsky's unique personality and laissez-faire attitude. When writer Truman Capote arrived at the hotel to spend the winter he asked Wolkowsky to show him the best rooms. After viewing several choice units, Wolkowsky invited Capote over for a drink, to his residence of the moment, a 45-foot (14 m), two-bedroom, double-wide trailer, covered in bamboo and parked 10 feet (3.0 m) from the hotel's waterfront. Capote begged Wolkowsky to rent him the trailer. Wolkowsky finally agreed and moved into a suite of rooms, in his own hotel, for the winter, to accommodate the writer. Capote's "Answered Prayers" were written in Wolkowsky's waterfront trailer. Discarded handwritten pages were often given to Wolkowsky by Capote in gratitude for allowing him to write in the trailer. Years later, the papers were stolen from Wolkowsky's penthouse apartment, high atop Key West's former Kresge five and dime. Wolkowsky had restored the building, renting out the ground floor to department store "Fast Buck Freddies" and the upper floors to the Key West Parole Department. He is quoted as saying, "I never felt safer than when I lived above the Parole Board. The Capote papers were stolen by someone I know, not by a parolee".


In other news The Wharf restaurant on Summerland Key was rumored to be in foreclosure. As far as I can tell it is no such thing, it is simply for sale for several million dollars. My neighbor thought there was a buyer for it but who knows. They grow vegetables, cook fish and promote sustainability so it would be nice to see it transition survivie and prosper at Mile Marker 25.

The strangely named Sugarloaf Sandwich Company is also for sale, and it is an odd name for a shop on Summerland Key, not Sugarloaf, close by the Wharf. I asked the owner about the name and I forget the reason but I think it had to do with original plans to locate the shop on Sugarloaf Key, plans that went awry. It's done well at this location and I would be surprised were it not to do well under a new owner.

Key West is undergoing changes about which I shall write and take pictures as I watch the town develop. Yet every time something changes there is usually a collective intake of breath across town as people anticipate the worst. I try to convince myself these are the good old days as I keep on keeping on.


1 comment:

Shonassie said...

Wow things sure are changing! Can't imagine how it will all sort out in the future. As much as I love the Keys, I may not be so much into KW in the future. So many other places more private and laid back. That was what drew me in the first place back in the '90's. Well much to my detriment (not really) I landed a fantastic job (hopefully will last after searching for 2 years since my down-sizing) and two days later my daughter got accepted to the college in MI that she wanted to transfer to. She had her application for the KWPD done, was just holding on to see what the college would say. So , I guess we will be back for vacations, but not for possible relocation as we were kicking about. For me it's back to dispatching trucks from a national retailers distribution ctr (not the one with the yellow happy face discounts thank god! More like the bullseye if you get my drift)and better salary than was at the Tiger (Greaaat!) place I worked at before. Hopefully the economy will come back and I will still have a chance to stash away some retirement monies, after I help pay for daughters college tuition that is! LOL!! Life changes so quickly, everywhere now, it just leaves me stunned. I really do appreciate the updates on what happens on the island and around the lower Keys. Thanks for hanging in there and being who you are to all of us here, there and everywhere. Sherry