August 8, 2018

Jerry Wilkinson/
The 1950s 125-unit air-conditioned Key Hotel changed ownership frequently becoming first the Jack Tar Motel, then the Salty Dog Motel, then the Driftwood Inn.

Jerry Wilkinson/ The 1950s 125-unit air-conditioned Key Hotel changed ownership frequently becoming first the Jack Tar Motel, then the Salty Dog Motel, then the Driftwood Inn.

MARATHON — Historian Jerry Wilkinson recognizes Marathon as leading the way in “the 1950 ‘dredge and fill’ mode” that swept through the island chain during the heyday of Florida Keys development.

On his site,, Wilkinson writes, “In the 1950s, Phillip Sadowski and John Puto probably double-handedly had made the largest change by developing Marathon Shores and Little Venice areas” — Marathon Shores being located behind the airport and Little Venice immediately south of Key Vaca Bridge between 115th and 109th Streets.

While Marathon may have led the way durlng the development boom, the city now is proceeding slowly with evaluating and designating its historic assets.

Marathon Shores and Little Venice are among the areas in Marathon considered notable in a recent survey conducted for the purpose of generating discussion about historic preservation in Marathon. Historic preservation is the process of protecting and maintaining buildings, structures, objects and archaeological materials of significance, and can be separated into three phases: identification, evaluation and protection.

The Marathon City Council heard a presentation by Senior Planner Brian Shea last month based on a report prepared by Patricia Davenport-Jacobs and Meghan Powell. The report stated, “While the City of Marathon does not appear to have the distinctive historic structures that come to mind when preservation is discussed, the city does have its own unique heritage. There are roughly 2,283 properties within Marathon that are at least 40 years old. Using the standard “Fifty Year” criteria for [preservation] eligibility, there are 1,249 properties that are potentially eligible. This leaves 1,034 properties from the recent past, which could meet the eligibility criteria within the next 10 years. Without thorough identification and documentation, these properties are potentially threatened by development and should therefore be placed on a ‘watch list.’”

The study further said, “A total of 194 historic resources were recorded during the survey; of those resources, none had been previously recorded. One hundred eighty-five resources are considered potentially eligible or contributing to a National Register Historic District and approximately nine are considered to be ineligible, or non-contributing structures, within two geographical areas surveyed.”

The council took no action after the presentation, instead suggesting a public workshop be scheduled to share information it had heard. Caution and concerns about unintended consequences were among the reasons cited for wanting to proceed slowly.

Developers in Key West, with its historical architectural guidelines presided over by the Historic Architectural Review Commission, may have to seek extra approvals during the building process, which can slow renovation and refurbishment while historical integrity is scrutinized.

The Marathon study noted, “In the early 1950s, canals were dredged and dynamited to make shorelines valuable and habitable. By creating the canals, homes were constructed with waterfront ‘backyards.’

“Phil Sadowski and his son, Chester Sadowski, arrived in Marathon and started the Sadowski Building Company. Sadowski’s crews would dynamite land to create the canals and then build one-bedroom, one-bath Masonry Vernacular Style houses for $5,995 in Little Venice.”

Unlike other subdivisions in Marathon, Little Venice has a contiguous area of similarly constructed homes built between 1952 and 1961.

“All resources surveyed in the Little Venice area were built pre-[Flood Insurance Rate Map], or pre-1974, and were allowed to be constructed with slab-on-grade foundations. This area retains its integrity and holds significance,” the study noted.

The historic preservation report recommends public meetings to make residents aware of the preservation process, and the aesthetic benefits and financial incentives afforded property owners of historic buildings as well as continuing education through a variety of methods including newspaper articles.