A building that was once the cornerstone of community activity in a Key West neighborhood, whose walls hold links to the local breaking-down of racial social barriers, has won a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars Walter R. Mickens Post 6021 and William Weech American Legion Post 168, at 803 Emma St., was granted the distinction late last month after a lengthy struggle by local veterans.
Whether the building itself will survive, however, remains to be seen.
City officials listed the building as unsafe for occupancy due to serious structural problems.
Key West's Building and Planning departments and the Bahama Village Redevelopment Committee, a voluntary board that reports to the City Commission, are working closely with a small group of vets to see that the problems are corrected. A local architect, Bert Bender, is assisting and has expressed confidence to city officials that the post can be made safe and operational. But proof of that has not yet been presented.
What effect the listing on the national register may have in terms of securing the building's future also remains to be seen.
But the accomplishment is still seen as cause for celebration.
"I think it is a great thing for the legacy," said Bahama Village Redevelopment Committee member Jerry Curtis, who helped shepherd the $300,000 grant used to make initial architectural inroads with the building. "For folks in Bahama Village, that building is the centerpiece of community activity; and I cannot overemphasize the importance."
The listing does not automatically protect the building from continued closure or demolition, nor does it guarantee any additional streams of funding for preservation, according to information supplied by the U.S. Department of the Interior, which administers the program.
It is nonetheless an acknowledgement that the building is significant historically and architecturally. The status can also benefit attempts to obtain some grants that can be used for renovation or rebuilding, under some circumstances.
City Commissioner Clayton Lopez placed the building on a list for special funding under the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program, and has acted as a go-between for the veterans and various city agencies. TIF comprises property tax revenues from a "blighted" area that can be reinvested into that community for improvements.
Lopez is pleased about the listing, but also aware of the tenuous nature of the building's future.
"A lot of work and resources have gone into this from everyone," Lopez said. "I congratulate those who have worked so hard getting us to this point. This is indeed [a] historic structure that has too long been overlooked ... . It has also been under-maintained and is at a critical point of preservation and restoration. No one wants to see it torn down, so we have to look into what we can save now, while planning for what future efforts must be undertaken."
The commander of the post, Josephus Chaplin, has been determined to keep as many components of the original building and décor as possible. But that conflicted with elements of a report initially prepared by architect Michael Miller.
Chaplin could not be reached for comment Saturday.
City Planner Don Craig expressed some concern.
"Planning staff and the Historic Architectural Review Committee recommended against this," Craig said of the listing. "We were fearful and still remain fearful that the unsafe nature of the building cannot be remedied, and may result in the entire -- if not the majority -- of the building being removed or replaced. And once you move to replace the historic building, it is no longer historic."