San Carlos Institute

Here is an old Cuban raft used by exiles on display at the institute.

Here is an old Cuban raft used by exiles on display at the institute.

The San Carlos Institute located at 516 Duval Street is open daily and is free admission. I have walked by this building countless times and never visited until recently. I had no idea of what to expect inside this picturesque building.

History

The center has had many different homes on island. But in 1890 the effort that rebuilt the San Carlos on a more spacious lot which is where it presently sits. Founded by Cuban exiles in 1871, the San Carlos Institute is a Cuban heritage center. Education and preservation of cultural values were the Institute’s goals and classes were taught in both English and Spanish making the Institute one of the first bilingual schools in the United States.

Many famous people fighting for Cuban Independence from Spain came to the center to speak and to teach the local Cuban population. The most famous being Jose Marti who visitors will learn much about while visiting the museum.

In 1919 when a hurricane struck and severely damaged the building the relatively new Cuban government financed its reconstruction, and that building still sits there today. It is  two-stories and incorporates many elements of Cuba’s architecture such as high ceilings, arches, marble and mosaics.

The Cuban government continued to financially support the Institute until communism seized Cuba and the monies that the Cuban government funded the San Carlos Institute with ceased.  This led to the end of the building’s upkeep and it was condemned in the 1970’s. The building was thus in a state of limbo and in danger of being torn down until in the 1980’s a Miami lawyer raised enough money to restore this historic building.

In the 1990’s the building was finally reopened with great fanfare. The San Carlos Institute today is run entirely by private donations, so even though the building is free to visitors to learn about Cuban history donations are accepted and appreciated.

My Visit
A Mural decorating one of the walls at the San Carlos Institute.

A Mural decorating one of the walls at the San Carlos Institute.

To be honest, the exhibits did not seem to be well organized or described, and they were not very attention grabbing. On top of that, much of the information was in Spanish so gringos like me have difficulty understanding it.

There were a few points of interest such as an old Cuban raft. And the building is absolutely beautiful with its black and white tiled floors and intricate mosaics. It is sad to see that the building’s condition is definitely falling into a state of disrepair again.

The docent was a very nice older Cuban man and he was happy to answer our questions.

It seems like something could be done to better preserve this architectural gem. It would certainly have the potential to make a great venue for many events.

To see what is happening on the island during your visit, check out our Key West Events Calendar to see other upcoming special events. For more information about the fun side of Key West… things to do and see in our island city, go to our Key West Web Site.

Before deciding where you are going to eat while visiting Key West or any of the Florida Keys, be sure to read my  restaurant reviews; check out our restaurant review section of this blog.

Feel free to Email Me if you have any questions about Key West!!

Island Genn – Your Key West Concierge

Harry Truman Little White House Key West

Harry Truman Little White House Key WestLocated in Truman Annex just off of Whitehead Street in Key West, Florida is the Harry Truman Little White House Museum. Initially, this building constructed in 1890 served as the Naval Station Commander’s headquarters during the Spanish American War and then for the World Wars. But in 1946 thanks to the recommendation of his colleagues, President Harry Truman came to Key West to get away from Washington and get some relaxation after making some pretty hard decisions for the country. He enjoyed himself so much during this time that between the years of 1946 and 1952, Truman spent 175 days at the Key West facility. Hence, the naming of the museum.

The tour guides that take visitors through the house are very knowledgable about both the house’s history and about President Truman and his time spent at the house. And they make it a point to out particular points of interest in the house, answer questions, and even spread a little gossip. Some interesting fact imparted to us by the docent include:

– President Truman visited Key West five more times after his presidency, but because he was no longer president he refused to stay at those and instead stayed with local families or at local a hotel.

– President Truman was in Key West when his daughter made her signing debut on the radio. The island’s only radio station was owned by the young John Spottswood Jr, but his station did not broadcast the channel that Miss Truman was to sing on. Harry made a few calls and miraculously the radio station was able to pick up the broadcast, and the two men listened to the program together at the Little White House.

– President Truman insisted on making his own bed when staying at he Truman Little White House.

You will have to visit the museum on your next visit to Key West to learn more about the museum and Truman’s legacy to the island.  I wish I would have been able to get some indoor pictures, but photography is not allowed inside the house. And cell phones must be shut off so as not to inter fear wit the alarm system.

Besides President Truman, other presidents that have utilized the house and grounds include William Taft, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. Other famous visitors to have stayed at the house include Thomas Edison and Edward Hayden. The house may be a museum now, but it is still used for many occasions today. In fact, President Truman’s grandson sits on the museum board and stays at the house on a quarterly basis.

Guided tours are offered every about every 20 minutes through the day, from 9am to 4:30pm 365 days a year. Tours last approximately 45 minutes and include an illuminating short film about President Truman focusing on his time spend in Key West.

To see what is happening on the island during your visit, check out our Key West Events Calendar to see other upcoming special events. For more information about the fun side of Key West… things to do and see in our island city, go to our Key West Web Site.

Before deciding where you are going to eat while visiting Key West or any of the Florida Keys, be sure to read my  restaurant reviews; check out our restaurant review section of this blog.

Feel free to Email Me if you have any questions about Key West!!

Island Genn – Your Key West Concierge

Key West Holiday Historic Inn Tour

Isle Style Salon on Simonton Street in Key West, Florida.

Isle Style Salon on Simonton Street in Key West, Florida.

Key West might not have the cold temperatures or the snow to make it feel like Christmas, but we do have the lights! On the first of the two lighted historic inn tours offered this holiday season, my friend Pam and I decided to join in and find some holiday spirit. At 6pm we headed over to Isle Style on Simonton Street which was one of the “inns” on the tour that evening. We easily found parking in this neighborhood, and with the Old Town Trolley’s offering transportation around the island to the other inns on the tour as part of the $30 fee, we were all set to go! 

Isle Style is not an inn; it is actually a high end spa offering all different types of services from hair and nails to massage and more. They even have a boutique! But the conch style house that the spa calls home is definitely worthy of being a historic inn. And frankly, it was one of my favorite stops that night. Partly due to the gorgeous foliage that decorates the outdoor courtyard, partly because of the amazing little boutique that I browsed and had to council myself not to buy anything, and partly because Better Than Sex owners Len and Dani were there to provide delicious snacks for the tour members. The Chocolate grilled cheese was so deliciously decadent.

A room at the Almond Tree Inn on Truman Ave in Key West, Florida.

A room at the Almond Tree Inn on Truman Ave in Key West, Florida.

Next, we took the trolley to Almond Tree Inn on Truman Ave. I have driven by this property a million times, but I had no idea how nice it was. The foliage is gorgeous and the pool looked so relaxing. They had a room opened to show tour members, and it was very updated and comfortable. It reminded me of an old hotel on St. Pete Beach that I once stayed at, but really nice and updated version. The snacks and wine were served near the main office, and it was nice relaxing by the pool for a bit.

Our next stop was the Wicker Guesthouse on Duval Street which we walked to. The wicker Guesthouse has a great location and a fierce following of regular guests. The inn is a bit older in looks, but the staff is incredibly friendly and they were quick to offer wine, water, and other snacks poolside for the tour members.

Next we again rode the trolley to Courtney’s Place which is a very small B&B on Whitmarsh Lane. The grounds were well manicured and the pool was very cute. Nyna, one of the employees and a friend of mine showed us around. We got to tour a couple of the unoccupied rooms which were more like little apartments. This place is pet friendly and would be a great, inexpensive place to stay for a family.

Santa taking a nap outside of the Mermaid and Alligator B&B on Truman Ave in Key West, Florida.

Santa taking a nap outside of the Mermaid and Alligator B&B on Truman Ave in Key West, Florida.

The last place on the tour for us was the Mermaid and the Alligator which is one of the most beautiful inns on the island located on Truman Ave. The Victorian House is very homey, and it was probably the best decorated for Christmas of all of the inns on the tour. The pool area surrounded by tropical foliage was just beautiful, and they offered wonderful hors d’oeuvres here. The guesthouse dogs were lounging by the pool too,and they seemed to like us, coming up to Pam and I for pets. The inn employees were super friendly and even told us about how the inn got its name. Hint: check out the pool side statue when you stay here!

Now, I mentioned that the trolley was part of the tour package, but, I neglected to mention how great these drivers are! They know the town inside and out, they are friendly, and they are full of knowledge. I suggest any visitors to Key West take a tour on the Old Town Trolley to learn more about the island and to get a better idea of what sites you really want to check out during your stay. Even I seem to learn something new every time I take one of these tours!

Would I do this tour again? Probably not because I am not a big drinker, and I think that besides showcasing some of the properties on the island, it is another reason to party. But for those visiting the island in early December that like their wine, this tour is a must. I am glad that we did it, and I got to see a few things that I had not seen before. For me, I thought $30 was a bit much for the tour, but if we had even had one glass of wine at each stop I would think that it was more than worth it!

See what else is happening on the island during your visit by checking out our Key West Events Calendar, and for other things to do and see in our island city, go to our Key West Web Site.

Before making your reservations for Christmas dinner or any other meal while in Key West check out our restaurant reviews!

Feel free to Email Me if you have any questions about Key West!!
Island Genn
Key West Concierge

 

 

Key West Custom House Museum

The Custom House Museum houses many wonderful exhibits showcasing the amazing  history of Key West.

The Custom House Museum houses many wonderful exhibits showcasing the amazing history of Key West.

The Custom House, located at 281 Front Street and overlooking Mallory Square, is one of the most beautiful and recognizable edifices in Key West. It is fitting that this building now houses so much information about the history of Key West as the building itself has a long history and has been through much.

Originally opened in 1891 as the island’s post office, custom office, and court house, these offices eventually moved to their own buildings and by the 1930’s the Navy was utilizing the building. In 1973 the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, but the Navy had since stopped using the building and it began to fall into disrepair. In 1976 the City of Key West was given ownership of the building, but there were no clear plans as far as what to do with the building. Then in 1991 the Florida Land Acquisition Advisory Council purchased the building and the Key West Art and Historical Society began its restoration which was completed in 1999.

Today, the building is a national landmark considered to be the crown jewel of Key West. It houses 200 years worth of island history on two of the four floors that are open to the public.

The last time I visited the museum was probably about ten years ago, so my husband and I decided it was time for another visit. Upon entering and paying the fee, we walked into the the doors and to the right was the first exhibit, “Depicting Hemingway.” This exhibit is comprised of 59 sketches by Guy Harvey following the storyline of The Old Man and the Sea. Each sketch is accompanied by an except from the book. Complementing these works are a few other Hemingway pieces of art and nostalgia. Since I am a huge Hemingway fan, this was my favorite exhibit and I liked revisiting the Hemingway novella which I had not read since college.

Next, it was up the stairs and to the next exhibit. But before we get to that, as we went up the stairs, the walls were covered with paintings of Key West residents that held importance in one way or another. Portraits include those of Ernest Hemingway, Lee Ida Mac Neil, Queen of the Key Lime Pie, and Eleanor Walsh, Key West Cigar Lady to name a few.

Once upstairs there is a room dedicated to the late Wilhelmina Harvey, who served as the first woman juror in Monroe County, the first woman County Commissioner, the first woman County Mayor, and the only woman from Monroe County to be inducted into the Florida Governor’s Hall of Fame.

The Industrious Key West exhibit focuses on the history of Key West’s economy. Mainly, wrecking, sponging, turtling, transportation, and cigar making, which were all at one time during the island’s history important industries.

Flagler’s Speedway makes up a huge portion of this floor’s exhibits. Famed for his business acumen, he was responsible for having the Overseas Railway built. This enormous effort is depicted through film, audio clips, photos, and other means.

And of course the exhibits are rounded out with more Papa Hemingway information, pictures, and paraphernalia.

Some of these exhibits will be replaced by others. Coming soon, “Tennessee Williams, Painter and Playwright” exhibit will mark the thirty year anniversary of the death of this former Key West resident. And “Anything Goes” exhibit will showcase memorabilia reminiscent of musician Cole Porter.

The Custom House is open daily from 9:30 to 4:30 pm everyday except for Christmas Day. Admission is $9.00 with discounts for children, seniors, locals, and AAA members.

To see what is happening on the island during your visit, check out our Key West Events Calendar to see other upcoming special events. For more information about the fun side of Key West… things to do and see in our island city, go to our Key West Web Site.

Before deciding where you are going to eat while visiting Key West or any of the Florida Keys, be sure to read my  restaurant reviews; check out our restaurant review section of this blog.

Feel free to Email Me if you have any questions about Key West!!

 

Island Genn – Your Key West Concierge