February 1972 | Volume 23, Issue 2
Key West, southernmost city in the mainland United States proper, was also in 1880 the largest and most prosperous city in Florida; by 1930, in dizzying contrast, it had become one of the most depressed areas in the United States. It has suffered not only from recurrent overexpectations—perhaps a national affliction—but from recurrent disasters, both human and natural. The wavy ups and downs of Key West’s spirits have left their traces on the sand and coral of the small island on which the city stands. On the upswings of its hopes the city produced what few American cities achieve: a distinctive style of architecture. The downswings of its disappointments have permitted its architectural achievement to remain undisturbed; faded, perhaps, but still there. As a result modern Key West is the somewhat startled custodian of a small but priceless architectural treasure.
The city, buoyed now by the surging national demand for fresh shrimp and vacations-cum-outboard-motors, rides the swell of renewed commercial expectations. If these are sounder than their predecessors, prosperity will raise local land values. This trend may well make the sites where the old buildings stand too valuable for the buildings themselves; someone will covet the land as the perfect place for garden apartments or office buildings. The architectural treasure may be in danger. Already there are portents to remind the visitor of similar events in other cities: sudden disappearances of fine buildings, some touches of tarnish where a present owner hopes to sell and believes his site is more attractive than the condition of his house, and, too often, a canny but tasteless substitution on some buildings of architectural rhinestones for architectural diamonds.
Key West’s treasure reflects its peculiarly American heritage. Its notable buildings are not public structures, like churches and government buildings, signed with the unmistakable mannerism of an individual architect. The city is notable for domestic structures—the nonpalatial homes of the affluent and near-affluent that are ignored in European architectural history but on which many American architects, like Henry H. Richardson, Stanford White, Frank Lloyd Wright, or Philip Johnson, made their original reputations. Key West’s domestic buildings are essentially American in still another sense: no professional architect designed them—no one, in fact, designed them at all. They are a spectacular result of carpenter architecture, made by men without formal training who had studied no abstract tables of the strength of the materials and who probably solved the details of design as they built. Their design tables were in their thumbs; their schooling consisted of memories of other buildings, seen in other places, that had accomplished what the carpenters needed. Because they worked in Key West, the carpenter-architects brought with them memories of a number of vessels and seaport homes from their own past. They borrowed what they wanted: widow’s walks from New England; roof scuttles for ventilation from ships themselves; long, overhanging eaves and gutters connected to underground cisterns from the West Indies. From these, and from the echoes of fashion that made their way to Key West with its new arrivals over 150 years of history, they derived from time to time a suggestion of contemporary styles: Greek Revival columns and Federal fanlights; later, from the Gothic Revival, gables and window bays; from Creole New Orleans, wrought-iron trellises and balustrades, reproducing these, with tropical fecundity of imagination, in wood.
Wood, of course, constitutes the essential material of the carpenterarchitect. This tends to degrade his achievement. Many Europeans cannot overcome their sense that living in a wooden house stigmatizes one as asocial and cultural inferior. If taste were more logical, stone and brick houses in Europe might constitute a badge of shame; dwellings there were built in these materials largely because the native hardwood forests had been felled to satisfy other needs: fuel and ships, for example. In forested America, on the other hand, builders were free to use wood generously. Wood was available on Key West, even though little structural-sized timber grows locally. Some came to the city from the salvage of wrecks, the city’s first major doomed industry. Some of these wrecks had been carrying structural-grade lumber from Pensacola and its nearby forests. The cargoes were usually auctioned off in Key West, in part to pay the salvage bill. Lumber was also deliberately imported by Key Westers with the money they made in other transactions—mahogany from Honduras; cypress from the upper Keys, nearer the Florida mainland; pine from the Gulf Coast ports like Pensacola, Mobile, and Pascagoula. Some came in the form of dismantled houses, at least two of which were carried complete but knocked down by their owners, who migrated to Key West from the Bahamas in the i840’s.
Metal nails were in short supply in Key West, however; most of the older houses were assembled mainly without them; mortise and tenon joints held the structural members together. The assembly worked out very well despite the extreme stresses that frequent hurricanes have put on the buildings of Key West. The wooden houses are generally erected on Florida cypress posts, which are sunk into heavy coral or limestone footings. The sills of the houses are pegged to upper ends of the posts. This type of construction is especially hurricane-proof, according to a group of native Key Westers descended from white immigrants from the Bahamas, who call themselves Conchs (rhymes with “tonks,” as in “honkytonks"). They explain that the treenailed houses bend in a heavy blow, offering less than rigid resistance to high winds. Whether or not this adequately explains the high survival rate (and the oldest house on the island has withstood every hurricane since 1825), it is a fact that the older homes are built without plaster, which might well crack when the structural frame shifts position. Wooden interior walls, sometimes ornamented with chair rails or base boards, typify the best old houses.
Social considerations aside, wood is a great building material. It is light in proportion to its strength. Unlike concrete, long, unsupported pieces of it will not easily break apart. Any good carpenter who has worked with it can safely judge how thick a piece of lumber should be used for any purpose, even one he has never tried before. He can decide to run his columns up two stories instead of one and pick the dimensions he will then need, without having been trained in the engineering sciences. He does not even have to buy a design manual. Wood is so easy to shape and so simple to connect, unlike steel, that a carpenter-architect with no training beyond his journeyman’s experience can relatively easily develop new forms for arches, doorways, rail posts, balustrades. A result of this is a pleasing variety among wooden houses.
In Key West in 1969 more than three hundred houses were still standing that were built in wood before the year 1900; at least one is more than 140 years old. The three hundred houses are concentrated on approximately twenty blocks of the city, immediately surrounding and including its main business street, Duval Street. After the visitor has got used to this sudden plethora of buildings like none he has seen before ("Some of these quaint and charming houses are to be found in no other area in the country,” said Robert Garvey, a former executive director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation), he finds that as many as a hundred buildings are distinctive. Of these, twenty-one are included in Pelican Path , a guide to Old Key West prepared by the Old Island Restoration Foundation. Five have been meticulously studied by the u.s. government, their dimensions, elevations, plans, and details set down in drawings and notes by the Historical American Buildings Survey of the Department of the Interior. At least twelve others have been noted in the H. A. B. s. records and might have been measured in detail if their owners had not objected to the nuisance and loss of privacy involved in the procedure.
Of the wooden buildings of Key West a few have been saved from demolition by the timely arrival of someone with money and a desire to save the building for its public importance. Captain Geiger’s house, in which John James Audubon stayed for several weeks while sketching the birds of the Keys during the 1830’s, was saved by Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell Wolfson and turned into a small museum when it was on the brink of disappearance to make way for a filling station. Others have been put to similar adaptive uses as doctors’ offices, beauty salons, curiosity shops. But the overwhelming majority of the buildings are still homes for somebody or other. They have not been refurbished en bloc to an agreed-upon standard by wealthy new arrivals or resuscitated by a philanthropic millionaire into a threedimensional museum, however valuable, in which all animation remains suspended. In Key West one walks past faded house and shiny house, from white house to pink house, from authentic renovation to authentic dilapidation, hearing on Sunday mornings husbands quarrelling with their wives behind the modern jalousies, and observing that while one owner has permitted his saber-sawed gingerbread balustrades to fade and rot untouched, his neighbor, in a misguided fit of neatness, has replaced the original white wooden picket fence with a concrete-block wall washed over with cement grout into which (for ornamentation, one supposes) an occasional terra-cotta tile has been stuck like a square currant in a crust of unbaked dough.
Key West’s wooden houses reflect three different periods into which the city’s history may conveniently be divided. The Captain Richard Roberts house, one of the two known to have been brought over from the Bahamas by its owner, dates from the earliest period. It was re-erected in Key West in 1847, on’y twentysix years after the Senate ratified the purchase of the Territory of Florida from Spain. The change in sovereignty did not extinguish private titles. An Alabama citizen named Simonton purchased the uninhabited island of Key West from its Spanish owner in 1821 for two thousand dollars and promptly sold off threequarters of his purchase to others. Within a few months settlers began to arrive; the most permanent was the United States Navy, which, after hearing the report of a survey party, established a naval station under the command of Commodore David Porter, remembered for sturdy service in controlling piracy in Caribbean waters. The Navy has had a permanent installation at Key West ever since, but its size and importance have changed over the years, with corresponding effect on the economic health of the civilian city.
The civilian settlers who began to arrive at Key West were also interested in the location of the island with respect to shipping in the Caribbean area. Their interest was not strategic, however. More menacing to the Caribbean trade than Porter’s naval guns were the persistent east winds of the south Florida coast and the long, treacherous, and unmarked Florida Strait. The earliest Key West settlers were seafaring men from New England and elsewhere who saw the financial possibilities in salvage. Sometimes they themselves had been shipwrecked on the Florida reef and salvaged by a Key West wrecker. The rule of the sea awards the first captain at the scene of a wreck the special status of wrecking master: he is entitled to a special share of the fee payable for saving the vessel or its cargo, or both. From the tops of houses in Key West the wreckers could keep an eye on a long section of the reef, dashing down to their salvage sloops at a sign that someone was in trouble, in much the same way that a modern automobile wrecker keeps his short-wave radio tuned to police frequencies in the hope of hearing about new business. Other captains cruised the reef in search of someone needing help.
Key West was a wrecker’s paradise. The climate was equable, and there were plenty of potential customers. Thirty American vessels cleared Havana each week; twenty more cleared the smaller port of Matanzas on the north coast of Cuba. To go home with their cargoes of sugar and rum they had to sail past Key West, only eighty miles from Havana, and keep to the strait between the Florida reef and the Bahamas. If only a fraction of these ships were wrecked on the reef and only a small portion of the value of the cargo paid to the wreckers for salvage, there was still a handsome sum of money to be divided among the wreckers of Key West. Business in the city expanded.
Once a disabled ship had been pulled off a reef or its cargo unloaded —often at great risk—outside assistance was necessary to decide on the value and necessity of the wreckers’ services. Before Florida’s status was settled by international treaty with Great Britain, the salvaged cargo and the salvaged vessels were taken to the Bahamas for adjudication of a proper fee, and usually for auction of the goods saved in order to raise the amount. Simonton, no doubt still interested in the prosperity of his investment in Key West real estate, wrote to the House of Representatives in 1828 pointing out that the govern- ment was losing the revenue from court fees and duty on the goods sold by permitting vessels wrecked in American territorial waters to be taken elsewhere for the adjudication of salvage. In response the Congress passed a law requiring that all vessels wrecked in American waters be brought to the nearest American port, and to take care of wrecks in the Florida Strait the government established a court at Key West.
An immediate result of the new law was a drop in the wrecking business in the Bahamas, whereupon a number of outstanding Bahamian wrecking captains moved to Key West and became American residents and ultimately American citizens. Captain Richard Roberts was one such. He came over in 1847, bringing his disassembled house with him, probably because the hurricane of 1846 had destroyed many of Key West’s homes and it was then difficult to find builders and materials for new ones.
The Roberts house, which is still standing and in use, is a splendid example of simple conch architecture, designed to provide sturdy protection against hurricanes and having long, shady porches. To conserve interior space the stairs to the second floor are on the outside of the house; the stairs to the third floor are more like a companionway in a ship than a flight inside a house. The landing at the top of this nearly vertical flight is so narrow it suggests a crow’s nest; one must maneuver around the banisters sideways to get to the two rooms on the top floor, one at each side of the stairs. The rooms are ventilated by hatches cut into the roof.
“Significant architectural features,” says the Historical American Buildings Survey in discussing the Roberts house, “include porches along the long dimensions of the house at both floor levels, exterior stairway, wide beaded-edge siding and mortise and tenon joinery.” The present resident of the house, who has survived three Key West hurricanes, describes the house as “riding with the storms.” The interior walls and ceilings are made of boards as wide as eighteen inches; there is no plaster in the house.
Captain Roberts, according to local historians, was a southern sympathizer during the Civil War, as were many other Key Westers, including particularly those who arrived from the Bahamas after the abolition of slavery there. Since Key West remained firmly in Union hands throughout the entire war, the captain moved up the west coast of Florida and operated a blockaderunner. He returned to Key West after the war and, having married three times, produced enough Roberts offspring to confuse local genealogists and cataloguers of Key West houses. His youngest daughter by his third wife continued to live in the Roberts house until 1964.
The wrecking business that was supposed to provide Key West with perpetual prosperity flourished until the Civil War, reaching a high point of 2.8 million dollars in 1855.
But gradually it began to taper off. Lighthouses were built to mark the Florida reef (over the opposition of Key Westers, some said), and marine safety’s gain became the salvage business’ loss. But the final blow was the development of steam navigation. Having broken their dependence on the wind, shipmasters made the passage through the Florida Strait with so few accidents that the wrecking fleet could no longer depend on salvage fees to stay alive.
The incipient depression that resulted was cured by several new industries—sponge fishing (until it was killed by a sponge blight), shipping and ship chandlery generally, and, most important, a number of activities that flourished on a political if not a coral reef: Cuban unrest. Success in these circumstances required somewhat more sophistication than the rough-and-ready atmosphere of the wrecking days. The John Lowe, Jr., house, recorded in detail by the Historical American Buildings Survey in 1967, is typical of this second period.
John Lowe, Jr., who built the house from a load of lumber that he brought in himself from Pensacola, was a generation younger than Captain. Roberts of the Roberts house. Lowe was born in Key West of parents who had emigrated from the Bahamas. He earned his shipmaster’s license at the age of thirteen but chose to spend his life ashore clerking in the mercantile business established by a brother-in-law, William Curry. He later went into business for himself, owning a fleet of sponge vessels and trading schooners. The house indicates he prospered.
At a casual glance Lowe’s appears to be a white wooden house very like the Roberts house and unmistakably a Key West house. But the differences are remarkable. While the Roberts house seems to have been built with portability in mind, rather like a mobile home, the John Lowe, Jr., house is grand in conception and imposing in dimension. The ceiling heights in the Roberts house suggest the tautness of shipboard space; in the Lowe house the ground-floor ceilings are twelve feet high; the living room is thirty feet long; spacious porches surround the main body of the house on three sides; and a fine staircase rises from the central hallway into which the front door opens. On the left of the main central hallway is a study, and behind it a fine classic dining room. Upstairs, at the second-floor level, a second porch runs across the front and sides of the house punctuated by the slim, square white columns that extend all the way to the roof line. The roof slants straight down from the ridge of the house to the columns at the outside edge of the second-floor balcony. “The Captain John Lowe, Jr., house is typical of mid-igth century homes built by successful mariners of Key West,” H.A.B.S. tells us. “Its design was influenced by a classic revival, island architecture and shipbuilding techniques evident in its proportions, trim and construction.”
On the top of the roof stands a broad widow’s walk from which one gets a fine view of all of the island of Key West and its harbor. The widow’s walk was originally an enclosed cupola. It blew off in a hurricane in 1919; discretion seems to have dictated its replacement by the open walk: the wind can whistle harmlessly between the balusters. Three years after the Civil War a new set of episodes started in Spain that made possible Key West’s most spectacular wave of prosperity. The original event was simply a short-lived 1868 Spanish republican uprising. Cubans expected that the new regime would permit Cuba, a colony, far more self-government than she had previously enjoyed. When this happy hope failed to materialize, some Cubans began a revolutionary movement that became a ten-year war.
There is a general sense in the world that no good will come to you if your livelihood depends on other people’s misfortunes, but this did not prove true for Key West. First it had thrived on wrecking; now it profited from the agony of Cuba’s history. In that island’s struggles Key West was beneficiary and stimulant. When Cubans and their American friends tried to assist the revolutionary forces in the Civil War of 1868-78, Key West was the principal base. When fighting broke out again in 1895 and American journalists tried to write dispatches on Cuban atrocities for a public hungry to be shocked, Key West provided the cable office through which the dispatches came. When Cubans fled their country, either temporarily while preparing what they thought would be its liberation or permanently as exiles, Key West, more than any other city, attracted them and prospered by their skills.
Key West was centrally involved in 1873 in the first serious international incident arising from the efforts of filibusters—private armies of exiles and adventurers—to free Cuba. This was the case of the Virginius , an American-flag steam-powered commercial vessel. Its commander was Captain Joseph Fry, a New Orleans man who had lived in Key West as a child. The Virginius was allegedly a gunrunner or a transport for mercenary revolutionaries. Ignoring the U.S. flag and non-Spanish nationality of the majority of the men on board, Cuban colonial officials, quite without valid international precedent, pursued her into Jamaican waters, captured her, and brought her back to Santiago. There, over the protests of the American and British consuls, the local governor declared the ship a pirate and began to execute its officers and crew, killing fifty-two of them before the arrival of a British warship put a stop to the massacre. American newspapers screamed for revenge, and President Grant was persuaded to demand an apology and reparations. To back his threats he assembled the North Atlantic fleet, consisting of obsolete and deteriorated equipment left over from the Civil War. Key West, of course, was the closest port to Cuba, and the fleet limped there, with some of the older vessels, particularly the ironclads, scarcely able to make their way down the coast. Ultimately, the Spanish, perhaps moved by this threat, agreed to give back the Virginius —not much of a prize in herself, since she could not make it back to Key West under her own steam. The whole unsatisfying affair, however, threw Key West into prominence as the port most likely to provide a threat to Spain in Cuba and to provide a haven for Cuban refugees.
They soon came in droves, bringing an industry with them. Already, Francisco Marrero, a Cuban who had been arrested in nearby Havana in 1869 on a charge of treason and imprisoned there, had won his release and come to Key West. He opened a cigar factory on Front Street in Key West; many more such businesses followed his. By the middle of the decade of the seventies there were twenty-nine cigar factories in Key West, employing, according to an 1876 count, nearly 2,100 people. In the 1880’s the number rose even higher. Naturally, the growth of the cigar business and its employment brought revenues into the city that in turn sustained a demand for other goods. In 1874 more American vessels entered Key West than entered Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, and St. Johns, Florida, combined, a statistic somewhat lessened in impressiveness by the fact that unlike those cities, Key West could not be reached at all by land.
The cigar factories provided more than employment for the Cubans. They provided gathering places where support for revolutionary activities could be mobilized. A revolutionary junta in New York City coordinated such undertakings. Its mainspring was José Martí, a writer and orator jailed by the authorities in 1868 at the age of sixteen and thereafter, during a short lifetime, dedicated to freeing Cuba. It was he who was primarily responsible for organizing work among Cuban exiles in Key West and Tampa. Marti was killed in 1895 on a revolutionary expedition. But disorganized and sometimes totally disconnected efforts at armed filibustering against the Spanish regime in Cuba persisted. Key West was of peculiar importance in all of these paramilitary ventures, because it supplied either the funds or the vessels or the equipment or, best of all, a haven for retreat when the filibusterers were chased out of Cuban waters by Spanish warships. Key West was the port of refuge, for example, to which Napoleon Bonaparte Broward —later to become governor of Florida—brought his tugboat, The Three Friends , after a comparatively successful expedition in March, 1896, during which he claimed to have put ashore in Cuba some sixty-five men with a modest quantity of arms.
It cannot be claimed that providing a base of operations for filibusterers was an important source of revenue to the citizens of Key West in the eighties or nineties, but it was a valuable demonstration of the importance of effective municipal publicity. The cable to Havana, laid in 1867, made Key West the natural center of news from that island; and any rumors passing through Key West, even if they originated no closer to Cuba than the cigar factories on Duval Street, carried a measure of plausibility. There is some evidence also that the illicit gun-and-soldier trade—like the rum-running trade that came thirty years later—kept busy some of the vessels that otherwise might have lain idle.
In any case Key West’s participation in the episode of Spanish, Cuban, and American affairs reached its climax during the Spanish-American War. As the telegraph station nearest to Cuba, it was the place where correspondents hurried, on private yachts chartered by newspapers, to file their dispatches—a practice that had been initiated before the war’s actual outbreak in order to avoid the Spanish censors in Havana.
During the war itself, limited land access to Key West meant that Jacksonville and Tampa served as more important ports of embarkation for the Army, but the port of Key West was still important for naval supplies and fuel.
The booming conditions produced by all these events caused a tremendous demand for new housing. The third major period of Key West carpenter architecture began in the seventies and was now supplemented by the construction of several important public buildings, including a convent and a handsome brick post office. The latter, built in the nineties, was later acquired by the Navy and is still used as part of the naval base. Over the years the Navy, while maintaining the building meticulously, has managed to add a few false and discordant accents, closing in open porches, tinkering with the roof line, and inserting jangly aluminum sashes in the Richardsonlike window openings. The building remains a vigorous and strong example of its style and has been recorded in detail by H.A.B.S.
The eighties and nineties were the period in Key West in which the Gothic Revival went south. The buildings erected then, though they retained many of the same qualities of basic simplicity and clean line that distinguished their predecessors, added so much ornamentation in the way of fretted wood balustrades, corner brackets at the porch column heads, and even stand-up wooden icing along the roof ridges, that many visitors to Key West form the instant impression that the lacework is the essential, intrinsic feature of Key West architecture.
The Historical American Buildings Survey has noted some thirty different patterns of balustrades used in Key West at the height of the Gothic Revival. These range from fairly simple elementary cutouts in which two adjacent diamonds meet at their broadest point while at the rail line and the foot of the banister the apexes flourish in a scalloped semiround, to far more elaborate designs with heart-shaped cutouts, and others too involved even to attempt to describe. These designs, according to local legend, were developed to their romantic high point by a Cuban Negro craftsman named Francisco Camello, who operated a wood-carving plant in Key West in the eighties. Nowadays if one is faced with replacing any of the balustrades, he can consult Howard Englund, a civilian architect attached to the public works department of the naval base. Englund has made templates of each of the designs, and local millwork establishments can reproduce the designs from his templates. None of this helps with the really elaborate ornamentation, however. Some of these include lathe-turned wooden spokes inserted in wooden arcs or crossed with each other in the kind of complex intertwining that suggests filigree jewelry. These designs are often used in conjunction with turned wooden columns, which are standard in a number of Gothic adaptations of the basic Key West style.
In the 1930’s, when the whole Victorian epoch was reviled generally by the makers of taste in America, the structures of Key West’s third period were rather contemptuously regarded. A writer for the WPA, in an unsigned unpublished manuscript at the P. K. Yonge Library of Florida History of the University of Florida, refers to the “varied yet fussy and monotonous decorative elements” of the Gothic Revival, but even the nameless critic admitted a feeling for the interior wood curtains and the ceiling murals that are sometimes found in the more extravagant examples. Today, as the functional criteria of architectural beauty that seemed so important in the thirties are close to realization, the ornamentation of the Victorian period has come back into style, a welcome relief from bad Bauhaus; and many find appeal in the exuberance, confidence, and even the extravagance and perhaps the unsophistication that marked Key West’s third architectural period.
But long before mid-twentieth-century critics appraised Key West’s “Gothic period,” the prosperity that had produced it stopped. The cigar business moved to Tampa, perhaps because of labor difficulties compounded by the political complications of the Cuban-Spanish rivalry; perhaps simply because rail and road transportation was better from Tampa. When this industry left, it was, unlike salvaging, replaced by nothing. When the Spanish-American War ended and the Panama Canal was built, Guantánamo Bay on the south coast of Cuba, not Key West, became the Gibraltar of the Caribbean. The naval base dwindled instead of growing. In 1912 a new day seemed possible when the wildest of all Floridian schemes, the construction of the Florida East Coast Railway—120 miles over the Keys from Florida City to Key West—was completed, but it had no economic significance whatsoever. Its owner, Henry M. Flagler, made some pretense of believing the railroad would thrive by carrying sport fishermen to Key West and bringing back goods, but fundamentally the line was his toy, built by a personal investment of fifty million dollars in the spirit of an Oriental prince constructing the Taj Mahal. It did nothing to check Key West’s decline.
In 1935 one of the most disastrous hurricanes ever to hit the Keys destroyed and undermined so much of the railroad line that no one wanted to rebuild it. For three years the island was once again cut off from dry connection with mainland Floriida; but federal funds came to the rescue, and the roadbed was converted into a two-lane highway. This road, as it turned out, did revive Key West. Carrying not the sport fishermen foreseen by Plagier, but simpler Americans made mobile with trailers and outboard motorboats, it has put the Keys—including Key West—within the range of middle-class America in an age of postwar affluence and leisure. Some of these visitors are carrying out vows to make the pleasant town their retirement home. In addition, from the start of World War 11 the naval base, down to a complement of fourteen men in 1932, stirred with new life, not so much because of its strategic location but because its warm surrounding water provided a fine testing and training ground for underwater weapons and personnel. And finally, a shrimp fleet based in Key West and fishing throughout the Gulf of Mexico now employs- on the boats and ashore—as many people as once rolled cigars and gave dimes to Martí and his junta.
The potential new boom may make or break Key West’s heritage. Perhaps, drawn to the palm-fronded patios and the honest craft of the carpenter-architects, enough wealthy Americans will buy and maintain the old buildings of Key West to save the national treasure they constitute. Perhaps, instead, these homes will fall before the great need for efficient concrete-block retirement homes on the island acreage of this small but climatically blessed island, and the creations of the old-time master workmen will simply continue to disappear, little by little, a building at a time, until as little is left of them as was of the wrecking masters, the sponge divers, and the New York journalists sitting in a vanished telegraph office and spinning tales of atrocities that helped to send two nations off to war.