Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Sunday, December 23, 2012
Restoring historic Key West one grant at a time

Colby Fisher and Katie Leigh have put plenty of their own muscle, time and money into the Conch cottage they bought in the Meadows section of Old Town a couple years back.

The 1880s-era yellow house on Olivia Street was exactly what the couple wanted, having started a family with the birth of their son, Owen, 4½, who in 2010 inspired them to move from sailboat to land.

One task involved stripping off 14 coats of paint from the front hallway to set free the Dade County pine that had been buried for years.

"Just on one wall," said Leigh. "That was Colby. Some of that paint was lead."

But a local nonprofit helped out when it came time to replace windows that wouldn't completely seal, awarding the couple a $2,000 grant in early 2011.

"It really allowed us to do it earlier than we would have," said Leigh. "It was half the cost of the four windows."

They couldn't just go to Home Depot for the windows, since the Historic Architectural Review Commission required certain specifications for the windows that cost more than the regular retail ones, Fisher and Leigh said.

The Old Island Restoration Foundation's grant was more than a pat on the back by a group dedicated to promoting the preservation of historic buildings in Key West.

"Every bit helps," said Lee Cummings, a member of the grants committee, on Saturday while volunteering at the Oldest House. "Any individual or nonprofit can apply. We have a total of $30,000 to spend."

Old Island Restoration Foundation, which began in 1960 as a response to new development and neglect that was wiping out historic architecture, will once again award $30,000 in grants, in various amounts, to people restoring buildings in Key West.

Grant proposals are due by Jan. 15. Applications are available online at www.oirf.org, or may be requested by calling 305-294-9501.

Whether all of the $30,000 is awarded during each grant cycle depends on the applications, said Cummings. The foundation's board of directors will cast the final vote, weighing each application.

Grants are only given to projects located in the city of Key West.

For-profit organizations aren't eligible.

Criteria for the grants include the historical significance of the project, and the likelihood that renovations will result in a successful completion, the application makes clear.

"Preference will be given to proposals from individuals and organizations who establish their need for the funding," according to the application.

Win or lose, applicants will receive word from the nonprofit on Feb. 15.

Old Island Restoration has been awarding restoration grants for several years, said Cummings. The nonprofit also gives out a scholarship or two to a Key West student each year.

Still, the foundation's landmark job is caring for and running the Oldest House and Gardens, 322 Duval St., raising money via annual house tours, selling memberships and other events.

Cummings on Saturday was helping out with the annual December house and garden tours, set for Dec. 27 and 28. Tickets are $30 and the homes are open from 4 to 8 p.m. each day, including a Victorian at 1501 Olivia St. built circa 1906, when this spot was dairy farmland at the far edge of town, and a cottage on 909 Pohalski Lane, which was once part of a mini-village built for cigar makers.

Since its inception, the foundation has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain the Oldest House, and awarded grants for restoration of some of Key West's most notable structures: Old City Hall, the Custom House, the Martello Forts, the Key West Lighthouse, and the Woman's Club building, 319 Duval St.


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