Keys Homes
Sunday, April 8, 2012

By BARBARA BOWERS Special to The Citizen

At its recent award ceremony, the Historic Florida Keys Foundation presented its hallmark for preservation -- the prestigious ceramic star -- to the owners of seven Key West properties.

"The program was inaugurated in 1981 to encourage excellence in historic preservation by recognizing property owners, architects, craftspeople and others responsible for exemplary preservation efforts," foundation President Melissa Kendrick said. "Preserving historic buildings involves overcoming many challenges; consequently, it's important and meaningful to give a pat on the back to those who conclude projects successfully."

This year's back pats belong to six homeowners and a Florida agency.

"There was a great range of diversity -- from modest homes to the barracks building at Fort Zachary Taylor," an historic state park, foundation Executive Director Diane Silvia said. "All were beautifully completed in their own way."

A complete renovation returned the house at 319 Amelia St. to its 1893 roots, a basic shotgun style house. Among other things, new concrete pilings were installed, and a wooden porch similar to the original one replaced a concrete front porch, which likely was added sometime during the 1930s -- a then-trendy architectural update to make it a bungalow look-alike. The thick concrete bases topped with double-wood columns went away, and a much simpler faÃßade now features single-wood columns.

Porches were addressed elsewhere, too -- a dilapidated one at 609 Ashe St. and handicapped access added at 607 Ashe St., part of a complete renovation project for visiting artists to The Studios of Key West. Footprints and exterior designs of both houses were retained, interiors were upgraded, and structural additions in the form of covered porches were made to the rear, common-ground area.

Built in the 1920s, the house at 1901 Flagler Ave. was a general store for the employees of a nearby cigar factory. By 2011, the structure was in fragile condition, and required a near-total makeover. The successful restoration features a business on the first floor and a second-floor residence, with energy efficient innovations, such as the ability to recapture "gray water" for irrigation.

Another house built in the 1920s, 1210 Washington St., boasts unique architectural features in the Craftsman style, which the new owners wanted to retain. Old metal awnings were removed and nondescript windows were dressed up with the geometrical muntin bars popular during the Craftsman period. Painstaking workmanship is reflected in the new front porch, where trim detail unique to Key West was saved.

At 530 Grinnell St., the original 900-square-foot footprint has been kept intact, but new flooring, roof, shutters and a new front porch add new life to this 1890s structure. Originally a double sawtooth, somewhere after 1899 a third sawtooth was added, and some of these vaulted ceilings contribute to the spacious, open-floor plan.

Because exciting exteriors like 1517 Washington St. are usually what most people see in the preservation effort, the hidden upgrades to meet building code standards often get lost amid the back pats. Make no mistake, though, these are significant issues, especially when retaining the original, 1950s layout and architectural elements in this particular house. Also invisible to most people are the refurbished, interior cypress ceilings and Cuban tile floors here.

Military housing at Fort Zachary Taylor was built before the Civil War, and more than a century of patching, altering and add-ons put the barracks building at risk of collapse. The great weight of its concrete roof, alone, caused concern. By tuck-pointing bricks, installing lighter roof material, steel-tie rods to support the walls and new timber trusses, the barracks is once again a powerful architectural statement. Other concealed structural work, such as roof drains connected to cisterns located below the barracks, make it as good as new.

Barbara Bowers is a Key West writer. To suggest a home to be featured in the Keys Homes section, send an email to Homes listed for sale may not be considered.

George Fontana, a freelance writer and recovering innkeeper, divides his time between Key West and Cape Cod. To suggest a home to be featured in the Keys Homes section, send an email to Homes listed for sale may not be considered.

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