Participating in the 57th Annual Key West Historic House Tour

In April of 2016 we began construction on a significant remodel to our old Key West home. Our home first appears on a very old hand-drawn map of Key West from 1884. It’s our best guess that the home was constructed shortly prior to the drawing of that 1884 map. While the home was probably well-cared for during its first 100 years of existence, it suffered a bit of neglect over the last 40 years and our intent was to bring it back to its former glory. Fortunately, my wife is an architect and we spent several months creating a design to replace an existing, non-historic shed roof & awning with a new, full-height sawtooth roof that would be a more appropriate historic design that what the home exhibited when we purchased it.

Key West 1884 Map
Closeup from the historic hand-drawn map from 1884.

Many months prior to beginning construction in 2016, we sat down with Key West’s Historic Architecture Review Commission (HARC) in order to secure their approval on our remodel project. We met with HARC many times in 2015 in order to ensure that our project followed HARC guidelines so that we could receive their approval and the necessary receipt of a Certificate of Appropriateness in order to officially break ground.

Construction began on April 1st of 2016 with the goal of finishing and passing our final inspection prior to the end of the year. In July, as the project was well underway, we received a letter from Teri Beard of Key West’s Old Island Restoration Foundation. In the letter, Teri wrote, I am writing you because your home on Truman Ave. has been nominated to be on our 2016-17 house tour. Your lovely home would be a welcomed addition on our tour.

It was a pleasure to receive the letter from OIRF, and we were excited to be offered the opportunity to be a part of the historic home tours. But at the time we received the letter, our poor old house and yard had been gutted, with no sign of completion in sight. The  historic tours would begin in December, and we weren’t 100% sure we’d be done with the remodel by then.

July Construction
The remnants of our back yard during construction.

Teri went on to write, Old Island Restoration Foundation was founded in 1960 and has been instrumental since that time in preserving the unique architecture and cultural heritage of Key West. The popular House Tour series is the most dependable source of funds for continuing the work of OIRF. These very successful events make it possible for us to maintain the “Oldest House” in Key West, to award scholarships to deserving college-bound Key West High School seniors, and provide funds to help those who cannot afford to preserve their own historic residences.

Even though our remodel had taken on a life of its own, we decided to accept OIRF’s invitation and offer up our home for the December, 2016 house tour. Our thinking was that if we had a goal for completion (in this case, the date of the tour), then maybe that would help us get focused on not only completing the remodel, but on finishing all the little things we’d had on our to-do list for the last year or so…

Fast forward a few months. We completed the remodel and passed our final inspection in October. This gave us about 8 weeks to put the finishing touches on the house in preparation for the house tour. We were told that most of the homes on the December tour would be decorated for the holidays, so we decided to start putting up some Christmas decorations. We finished painting the inside, put up some new artwork, purchased some interior accessories and throw pillows, and began to stage the house for the tour.

Shortly before the tour, Pat Cummings (from OIRF) contacted me to arrange for her and a few colleagues to check out the house in person and work out the logistics. They wanted to plan out the pathway through the house for the tour and the placement of docents. After that, she wrote the docent script that would be used by the guides during the tour. The script was thorough, including everything from the history of the home to the updated information on our completed remodel. She even went so far as to include descriptions of our front porch, rear deck, and swimming pool. She dug deep into the home’s history, discovering that four members of the Arnold family lived here in the 1890s. She even discovered that Mr. Arnold was a civilian laborer employed by the Navy.

Because the tour is a major fundraiser for OIRF, it is heavily publicized in the local media. The December tour, including a brief description of our home, was advertised in several places, including OIRF’s website and both the Key West Citizen and the Florida Keys  News.

A few hours prior to the beginning of the historic house tour, a team of docents arrived at our home and began to set up. While a few volunteers set up their table and collected tickets on the sidewalk in front of the house, the rest positioned themselves strategically throughout the home and prepared for the tour. We left the house to the volunteers from OIRF and returned toward the end as the tour was winding down. We were told that over the course of two nights, over 500 people came to see our home. It was an enormous honor for us to be able to share our historic remodel with over 500 visitors during the tour. As an added bonus, OIRF sent us a floral arrangement and a metal house plaque signifying that we were a part of the 57th Annual Key West House Tour. The plaque is displayed on a shelf in the living room of our home for all to see.

Key West Historic House
House plaque from the Old Island Restoration Foundation.

On the afternoon of the first tour, as the volunteers were getting organized, one of the volunteers was complimenting us on our remodel project when she asked if we were going to apply for the annual Historic Preservation award. If you’ve spent any time wandering the neighborhoods of Old Town, you may have seen the Ceramic Star award plaque displayed on the front of an historic home. We learned that this star symbolizes the tie rod, which strengthens a structure, and represents the strength of historic preservation in Key West.

We were vaguely aware of the Ceramic Star award, but hadn’t considered applying for a preservation award. After all, wasn’t an award like that reserved for the biggest projects with the most important architects? Not at all, we were told. As a matter of fact, she said, you should definitely apply for it. So over the next few days we thought about applying for the prestigious Ceramic Star preservation award. The only problem was that the deadline was just a few days away…

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