Saturday, September 5, 2015
Friday, September 4, 2015
I took this picture a while back of a nice old tumbledown house on a large patch of land half a block off Simonton Street. I actually have a number of images of this picturesque heap in my archives, one notably from several years ago announcing the building for sale for the low, low price of four million dollars. A price that was not entirely realistic apparently, even in this crazy town, as a new owner has surfaced and remarked in the paper that they paid a mere $1,850,000 - did I mention this town has some crazy real estate prices?
The reason the new owners are in the paper is not because they paid a preposterous sum of money for an uninhabitable wreck- that happens all the time in Key West- rather because they have plans to get the full measure of their money's worth for this place. Their plans for the new structure to occupy the lot as so expansive as to be ludicrous in the real world, but the theme of this essay is becoming, accidentally I might add, the mad mad mad world of housing in Key West. Check out this side view of what is purportedly the future of this lot.
Neighbors in this corner of architecturally sensitive Old Town Key West are somewhat taken aback by a plan that calls for a home that appears to be styled in the manner of a guest house or exclusive hotel, as some of the less charitably minded neighbors suspect is the ultimate goal of this monument to bad taste. the old 5,000 square foot wreck is supposed to be the frontispiece for a 6,000 square foot addition in the rear - no really- that will include a walkway between the two homes, with two swimming pools and 1200 square feet of covered porches. The mind boggles. But what makes it even more boggling is the fact that the Historic Architecture Review Commission, the guardians of preserving Old Town's character, bent right over and gave this thing their seal of approval. Which has really annoyed some people who can't get storm windows or white roofs approved for their Old Town homes. They do sort of have a point, don't you think?
The proud new owners didn't help their case along with a rather tart comment in the paper to the effect that they didn't pay that much money for all that land to grow vegetables. Which may very well be true but a large house, a nice swimming pool and some superb tropical shrubbery could have done the job were one less ambitious, with perhaps a modest guest house and garden shed to round out the compound. The thing is I rather imagine the city will yield - it usually does- and make some mumbling noises and get a couple of minor concessions and one more nail will be planted in the coffin of Key West's urban character. Might as well build it and hang a CVS sign on the front I suppose.
It's not impossible to buy an old structure and redo it with dignity, and no doubt a lot of money. Check Bonnie Albury's old place on Southard Street. The former school teacher died and her beloved home was put up for sale, not surprisingly really as it is a giant structure on Southard Street:
And this week's podcast on Travel and Safety we feature a rather fun interview with a young enthusiastic Australian comedian. Take none of it too seriously but enjoy his take on the crazy world he has come to enjoy in America, for the first time. A very confusing place it turns out!
Thursday, September 3, 2015
Cheyenne is patiently waiting out summer heat and humidity, refusing to spend much time outdoors between sunrise and sunset. So when I offered her an early evening walk I wasn't surprised when she refused to follow me out of the door. However a couple of hours later she came to me on the deck and stuck her snout between me and the Smithsonian (Preserving Pompeii) and told me in no uncertain terms she was ready to face the outside world, despite the persistent humidity and lingering heat. Just as well she wanted to go. I planned to take her to the ramp at the end of Blimp Road, one of her current favorite walks, but I stopped halfway at a break in the mangroves and watched the spectacle until my unpredictable dog got bored and steered me back to the car. All pictures using the hand held iPhone with Camera+ app, unretouched and taken more or less in a 360 degree circle.
Wednesday, September 2, 2015
There are certain things, after all these years that escape me about this town. Some people tell me the shabby chic is part of the charm of Key West but I disagree. I think maintaining the infrastructure is never a bad idea and if that involves filling the cracks and applying a lick of paint so much the better. Personally I'm not bothered but it surprises me that visitors aren't much bothered either. They come in droves. I suspect there is the New Orleans factor at work here, the slightly seedy, not really dangerous, down-at-heel charm of an eccentric town that is unlike where you came from. I get it.
That aesthetic is getting a work over as more and more uninteresting chain stores move in and eccentric local stores move out. The entire retail experience is changing anyway as Amazon and package delivery is replacing store fronts. Life in Key West revolves around Internet access and online life. Yet some physical shopping will still be required I suppose. I hope. Shopping as either life saving intervention or as recreation perhaps. Bigger brighter more comprehensive big box stores coming soon!
And yet life down here is honestly made so much better by the Web...I love my daily access to the world's newspapers, my ability to store and read numerous books on my phone, the connection of cheap telephones, Skype and instant photo sharing and messaging. It's a huge paradox to me that I like the isolation of life nestled in small islands surrounded by warm water, yet I crave the electronic connection that keeps me in touch, from a safe distance, with the world around. My sister sent me an email describing an outdoor dinner her village organized in Italy last week. I found a picture on Facebook, not a very good picture, and sent it to her: this one? I asked. Yet for all the connectivity my life here is as alien to her as it would have been in the age of the telegraph and steam engine. Connection is made by contact, not electronically.
My start up company is starting up without direct contact with the engineering company that is building the widget in Los Angeles. VezTek, who I have never met, says the completion date should be early to mid-October. The sales manager is in San Francisco, the marketing company is in Brooklyn and my Technology partner is in Southwest Florida. How the hell do you start a company scattered like that? Easy it turns out with modern technology. And yet I wake up on a small island on a distant dead end street as far removed from the hustle and bustle as it is possible to be without actually cutting off the road connection.
I cannot explain it but Key West has been in a total uproar over the opening of Taco Bell. It seems the last franchise actually managed to go bust in 2009,but so far this lot could only go bust by running out of food which they managed to do this last weekend. And yet the line to eat at Taco Bell keeps spilling over into the main road day and night. Speaking to those who have braved the impatient crowds lined up for cheap fast food the inside of the restaurant only has one operating cashier so the lines in the drive through can be as long as the lines inside. It's as though some form of collective madness has rained down on Key West. I understand the cheap food dilemma in a town where everything is expensive but this peculiar form of worship heaped upon a fast food joint is decidedly odd. Next week they promise to open for breakfast and I cannot imagine the chaos that will ensue. In other countries people scuffle to make a political point or to fend off starvation. Here they have come to blows to prevent their neighbors taking cuts to get ahead in the line for dollar tacos.
This is the year of Taco Bell, next year it will be Walmart's turn to upend shopping in the Lower Keys. We too deserve cheap is the Conch mantra, which leads those of us who came here to escape bland uniformity to wonder what happens next. At least they can't buy and bottle the weather which remains perfect no matter what we do down here.
Tuesday, September 1, 2015
It is with some embarrassment I read of the End of Summer Up North. In the Keys this is the time of year when everything slows down and takes on a summer-like lassitude. It's odd because the students are back in school and that's when summer becomes really delightful, crowds thin as families get back to their regular schedules and local discounts take full effect for a few steamy weeks in Key West.
It is true that Key West and the Keys generally are becoming impossibly popular and all the statistics indicate hotels are charging as much as ever and can afford to as they are sold out more often than ever. It used to be that down time in the tourist trade lasted longer but September and October have always been the quietest months. This year that is especially pleasurable as the rest of the year has been hellishly crowded. Rain, schools, threats of hurricanes,heat and humidity that last into November are all reasons for things to go quiet, for businesses to take a vacation and seasonal workers to count their pennies as they wait for Fantasy Fest to give tham another chance at making real money.
I saw this sign and it made me realize that indeed it's possible to make money even if you can't speak English in Key West. "Southernmost House's" on the sign really seems to indicate it intends the plural of "house" even though the sign reads "of the house." Just because you make money doesn't mean you can speak English. There is no apostrophe when you are expressing the plural of a singular noun. If this concept is alien to you please don't parade around demanding that everyone speak English in this country because too many native speakers can't manage the feat.
It doesn't really matter though does it? As long as we get the idea across all will be well, so goes modern thinking. I get annoyed at myself for noticing this stuff but it sticks out like a sore thumb to me. Yet when I edit my own essays it sometimes takes two or three goes to spot howlers on my own page. Spotting bad grammar is like giving advice- so much easier to advise others than ourselves. I wish I were a chicken sometimes. Well, no I don't actually as an inability to spell seems to make their lives critically boring.
I grew up around free range chickens but it seems most visitors to Key West didn't so these free loading bums get lots of positive attention from passers by. Enjoy and forgive me for being a grammar grump.
As I trailed Cheyenne I noticed something that surprised me- there were no sleepers in public places. I usually see a whole tribe of people sleeping on the streets, the usual collection of dismal abandoned humanity coping as they can with their addictions and illnesses mental and physical. In this case there were none. No explanation.
The low wall is one of two downtown panhandling zones, the low wall is where people can sit and exercise their first amendment right to beg for money, the theory being they won't then clutter up the rest of downtown. But on this day there was no one to be seen there or down Wall Street. Odd that, perhaps they are getting into some sort of summer migratory pattern.
Monday, August 31, 2015
34 acres of waterfront open space were handed to the city on a platter 13 years ago and now at last there is a plan to build- a toilet!
When I lived in California my congressional representative suggested creating a commission to gradually reduce the number of US military bases in a post-Cold War world. As a result one of the first actions of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) commission was to close down the biggest base in Congressman Leon Panetta's district and that spelled the end of Fort Ord on Monterey Bay. BRAC also chose to hand the city of Key West the open space shown below in a web picture, between Fort Zachary and Truman Annex. Since then the military has been cleaning up the land and the city has been pondering what to do with it. Beyond one imagines, building a toilet.
Good citizens worry that the $225,000 toilet will become a magnet for street bums. Indeed much of the city's open space philosophy is directed not at serving residents but at thwarting the residentially challenged. Thus if you plan an expedition to a park you'd better take your own furniture. I suppose in the future thwarting the bums will be an issue.
The white wedding cake is former Navy officer housing from the good old days when submarines tied up at the inner mole and now they are expensive condos on the other side of the fence. However Key West attracts all sorts of people in winter and don't ask me how they migrate when they don't appear to have two beans to rub together. Its all part of Key Weird, millionaires overlooking a field currently filled with RVs trying to camp illegally and a park one day to be filled with who knows who.
I like Truman Waterfront the way it is not least because it is an area in transition so you can do what you want here (within reason obviously). People walk, ride bikes, take their dogs out for a run, park their cars and take lunch breaks here. For me it is a reprieve between eras, the before when there was Navy control represented by the old guardhouse, nowadays no longer there, and the after when the formal park will be created and activity areas will be properly defined:
There are two access roads the main one being through Truman Annex on Southard Street which the gated community tried to have closed, but which attempt was thwarted by the Navy which threatened legal mayhem unless the street was kept open. The city quavered and wavered and said nothing when the gate was being installed to close a city street; luckily the Navy had the more robust reaction to being denied truck access to it's base.
This photo below is from the Key West Diary files but I still take Cheyenne walking in the area from time to time. It's a very pleasant walk along the water and through the grassy areas.
The Navy has had to clean up the soil and make it fit for civilian use, trucking off tons of contaminated soil debris. So now the land use is becoming more intensely debated. There was a plan to put six and half acres into use as an old folks' home on the waterfront, to keep a promise to the Bahama Village (African American) community to house their elders close to their families. That plan went over like a lead balloon and I've lost track of the outcome of the heated debate but I think in the end the answer was "no" to "wasting" waterfront land for old folks' use. I thought the whole debate was rather unbecoming. The only facility currently in use is on Stock Island five miles away which is a long way for people who live in Key West and I think Bayshore Manor has a long waiting list. But there are no signs of action on the subject here.
The other thing that the developers led by the redoubtable, indefatigable, ubiquitous Spottswood family was the plan for an upscale marina (their words) along the waterfront here:
Their idea was to have the city pay to build it, the Spottwoods would operate it and pay the city a pittance out of the taking to cover the costs, they said, of running the new park. That plan was scotched once again by the Navy who figure in this narrative as city saviors more than once, The Navy said they had decided to keep control of the waters of the basin for use solely by government ships unless temporary permission were granted by them. Thus no marina. Yay! Here were the plans published in the Citizen:
What to do with the open space has been a bit of a conundrum. An open market lasted no time at all. They have suggested a covered farmer's market inside the old Navy storage building. Others want to create parkland with gardens but the people in charge want maximum use and maximum efficiency which leads inevitably to maximum income.
It is gloriously void of purpose at the moment, a special treat in an over developed very small town like Key West..
It can't stay this way forever as I have been whispering to myself for a decade...but so far so good.