Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Key West 1938

I happened upon this exhibit of pictures in the display area at the Tropic Cinema. The exhibit itself is on at the Customs House Museum of Art and History on Front Street next to the Westin hotel.
Key West in 1938 was being developed as a tourist destination as a way to revive the economy devastated by the city's bankruptcy in the Great Depression.
Life was not i think a bowl of peaches for people living in Key West, subsisting on public assistance and public works projects. It was so bad the Federal government considered abandoning Key West by forcible evacuation.
And yet the government's administrator  Julius  Stone Jr managed to turn it all around. It was a hell of a story, told briefly in a Sun-Sentinel article reproduced below:
IN JULY 1968, THE KEY WEST Citizen published a news item about the death of Julius F. Stone Jr. Nearly a year earlier, at age 67, he had died peacefully in his sleep in Double Bay, New South Wales, Australia.
Many Conchs remembered him only as a shady lawyer who left the island owing them money. Many others didn`t remember him at all.
They should have, for Julius Stone was the man who almost singlehandedly created the Key West we know today.
If a time machine could whisk a traveler back to the past, he would meet a parade of widely differing Julius Stones, ranging from visionary to scoundrel.
JANUARY 1960 WAS A BAD TIME for Stone. Debts had engulfed the attorney. He had done too much shuffling of clients` money and investments, and the law was closing in. That`s when he decided to slip away to a house he owned in Cuba.
But one problem remained. Stone still had to sell his home, the ``Southernmost house in the U.S.A.,`` which he had bought in the late `40s from novelist Thelma Strabel, author of Reap the Wild Wind.
Working secretly from Havana with the Old Island Realty Co. in Key West and the U.S. consul in Cuba, he sold the oceanfront house for $45,000. Now the trick was to slip back into Key West, complete thetransaction and return to Cuba with his money untouched by angry creditors.
So Stone flew into the Key West airport in a small plane, the deed was exchanged for $45,000 in cash, and off he flew to Cuba. According to one account, Stone never left the plane, slipping in and out of town like a phantom.
Another story, however, says that the plane developed engine trouble, forcing Stone to stay overnight at a motel while repairs were made. The next morning he left Key West for the last time, leaving behind memories, debts, a ruined reputation, and a glorious island city that was a monument to his brilliant imagination.
The Museum Web Page
Some things don't change much do they? And even then not necessarily for the better.