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Florida Keys News
Thursday, January 17, 2013
Key West's Pier House for sale

The Old Town resort that embodies the adage, "If these walls could talk ..." is on the market.

The Pier House Resort, located at 1 Duval St., has stood sentinel over the foot of Duval Street and Key West Harbor since real estate tycoon David Wolkowsky built it in 1968.

The resort changed hands over the past four decades; the Ohio-based Jacobs Group has owned it since the late '80s. The Jacobs Group recently hired Eastdil Secured, one of the world's leading real estate brokerage firms, to sell the 142-room luxury resort.

"I can't see that the sale would affect any of our clients, many of whom are repeat guests," Pier House General Manager Joy Smatt said Wednesday. "And to speak candidly, I don't think it will affect the employees, other than probably me. But if anyone came in to try to change this resort, I don't think it would work."

The legendary resort tends to change people, not the other way around, Smatt said.

Wolkowsky agreed, saying he has fond memories of the Pier House and still treasures Key West.

"I don't think it matters what happens with the sale and the owners because The Pier House already exists with its own personality," said Wolkowsky, now in his 90s, who still maintains homes in Key West.

Wolkowsky first used dredged material from the construction on nearby Tank Island, now Sunset Key, to construct a pier at the foot of Duval Street. That pier eventually became the famous Havana Docks lounge, whose guest list read like a who's who of literature, smuggling and adventure.

The same is true for the resort's Chart Room Bar, a dark, wood-floored oasis in the midst of renovated luxury. Peanut shells still litter the floor of the Chart Room every night, and inside jokes are scrawled on a blackboard while patrons line the bar or sit at one of the giant wooden spools that are used as tables.

"I don't think anyone would dare get rid of the Chart Room," Wolkowsky said Wednesday. "I created that place. I named it."

The bar was a favorite of treasure hunter Mel Fisher, and is said to be one of the first watering holes in Key West that allowed a long-haired songwriter from Mississippi named Jimmy Buffett to play his guitar and sing about life "in those little latitudes."

Smatt agreed that the Chart Room likely will remain a permanent fixture at the Pier House, which includes four uniquely designed buildings, a spa, private beach, bars, restaurants and meeting space.

"I would doubt very much that anyone would try to do away with the Chart Room," she said. "It is world-renowned, with so much history, and I can't see how that would ever happen."

Jean Thornton, a longtime Key Wester and a former treasure diver for Mel Fisher, is one resident who hopes Smatt and Wolkowsky are right in their predictions for the infamous bar.

"Admittedly, the funky little bar doesn't, at first, seem to fit into the posh surroundings of the Pier House, but it's been a favorite of so many people for almost half a century now," she said, rattling off the names of patrons such as Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, Hunter S. Thompson and Mel Fisher and his "Golden Crew."

"The Chart Room is as much a part of Key West history and lore as Captain Tony's and Sloppy Joe's, and I know I'm not the only one who truly hopes it survives exactly as it is today, regardless of what happens with the Pier House sale."

Like Key West itself, the resort has remained fiercely independent, without a name-brand hotel flag, for its 45 years of existence.

The real estate parcels that make up the Pier House property have an assessed value of about $21 million, according to Monroe County Property Appraiser records.

But Mark Schoenholtz, a managing director of Eastdil Secured who is handling the sale, could not be reached for comment about an asking price or potential buyers.

mmiles@keysnews.com

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