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  1. #21
    I grew up mainly in Key West -- a "fresh-water Conch," as they say -- so please forgive me the momentary indulgence of some distant memories.

    We moved to Key West from North Carolina in 1953, when my Dad took over a popular downtown restaurant owned by my uncle, located on the corner of Duval and Southard streets. At that time, Key West was a sleepy little island at the bottom end of a long road. Aside from a large naval presence, it was best known as a haven for artists and writers (Tennessee Williams and Ernest Hemingway, among others), and a popular jumping off point for Gulf Stream fisherman or mischievous misfits meandering suspiciously towards Cuba. In retrospect, I suppose it was a bit like growing up in a Fellini film.

    From the "you-won't-find-many-of-us-around-anymore" department, I can recall driving over the bridges along the keys when there was still a toll booth on the Seven-Mile Bridge. Even more vividly, I can recall when Cuba was open, and Havana was the sin capital of the western hemisphere. There were regular daily flights from Key West to Cuba on "Q Airways," and a ferry boat ran on schedule from Key West to Havana; in fact, for several years my uncle also owned the concessions on that ferry, and my Dad, who then served on the Key West Chamber of Commerce, made occasional "business trips" over on the ferry. We loved listening to Havana radio stations until about 1960, when the wonderful music gave way to long-winded speeches by Fidel.

    I had just started junior high school when Hurricane Donna swept across the middle keys near Marathon in September 1960 and cut us off from the mainland; the severe restrictions on running water seemed like an adventure, as we had public bathing at Monroe Beach (men on one side of West Martello Tower and women on the other) and sandwiches on paper plates in the school cafeterias for a couple of weeks. Later in junior high, Key West became a hot spot during the Cuban Missile Crisis, with some families leaving the island to live with relatives as Nike Zeus missiles popped up in schoolyards and the military took over the town. Exciting times.

    I left Key West a few months after Kennedy was assassinated, but spent a summer there during college, and then moved back for a couple of years in the early 70s, finally relinquishing residence for good when I started law school in 1974. Since then, I've been back only a few times, mainly to take my family members for short visits on which they could share in my brief journeys through the past and laugh at the stories of my unconventional youth.

    To the fine recommendations presented above, I would add only the following three:

    1. Visit the East Martello Tower (now called Fort East Martello Museum) for a flavor of real Key West history, and the West Martello Tower, now maintained lovingly by the Key West Garden Club.

    2. Enjoy a lunch at El Siboney Restaurant, on the corner of Catherine and Margaret streets, and (if you aren't still stuffed) dinner at Blue Heaven. The former is an authentic Cuban restaurant that has served generations of satisfied Conchs, and the latter is a more recent addition that does a very fine job of capturing the culture and culinary spirit of old Cayo Hueso.

    3. Take a leisurely stroll through Peacon Lane, between Caroline and Eaton streets. Unless its residents have surrendered to the siren song of renovation dollars, Peacon Lane was among the last lingering vestiges of old Key West. Henry Faulkner -- William's brother, and something of an eccentric in his own right -- owned a house there in which I stayed for a short time with friends who rented it. If you amble down Peacon Lane and sense a strange vibe, don't be alarmed; it's a breeze from the Twilight Zone taking you to a different time and place that somehow endures in the memories of a few fortunate souls. Or maybe it's just some leftover traces of mind-altering drugs in the air.

    Have fun!

  2. #22
    Join Date
    Dec 2014
    Location
    I'd tell ya, but then I'd have to kill ya
    Quote Originally Posted by Stray Gator View Post
    I grew up mainly in Key West -- a "fresh-water Conch," as they say -- so please forgive me the momentary indulgence of some distant memories.

    We moved to Key West from North Carolina in 1953, when my Dad took over a popular downtown restaurant owned by my uncle, located on the corner of Duval and Southard streets. At that time, Key West was a sleepy little island at the bottom end of a long road. Aside from a large naval presence, it was best known as a haven for artists and writers (Tennessee Williams and Ernest Hemingway, among others), and a popular jumping off point for Gulf Stream fisherman or mischievous misfits meandering suspiciously towards Cuba. In retrospect, I suppose it was a bit like growing up in a Fellini film.

    From the "you-won't-find-many-of-us-around-anymore" department, I can recall driving over the bridges along the keys when there was still a toll booth on the Seven-Mile Bridge. Even more vividly, I can recall when Cuba was open, and Havana was the sin capital of the western hemisphere. There were regular daily flights from Key West to Cuba on "Q Airways," and a ferry boat ran on schedule from Key West to Havana; in fact, for several years my uncle also owned the concessions on that ferry, and my Dad, who then served on the Key West Chamber of Commerce, made occasional "business trips" over on the ferry. We loved listening to Havana radio stations until about 1960, when the wonderful music gave way to long-winded speeches by Fidel.

    I had just started junior high school when Hurricane Donna swept across the middle keys near Marathon in September 1960 and cut us off from the mainland; the severe restrictions on running water seemed like an adventure, as we had public bathing at Monroe Beach (men on one side of West Martello Tower and women on the other) and sandwiches on paper plates in the school cafeterias for a couple of weeks. Later in junior high, Key West became a hot spot during the Cuban Missile Crisis, with some families leaving the island to live with relatives as Nike Zeus missiles popped up in schoolyards and the military took over the town. Exciting times.

    I left Key West a few months after Kennedy was assassinated, but spent a summer there during college, and then moved back for a couple of years in the early 70s, finally relinquishing residence for good when I started law school in 1974. Since then, I've been back only a few times, mainly to take my family members for short visits on which they could share in my brief journeys through the past and laugh at the stories of my unconventional youth.

    To the fine recommendations presented above, I would add only the following three:

    1. Visit the East Martello Tower (now called Fort East Martello Museum) for a flavor of real Key West history, and the West Martello Tower, now maintained lovingly by the Key West Garden Club.

    2. Enjoy a lunch at El Siboney Restaurant, on the corner of Catherine and Margaret streets, and (if you aren't still stuffed) dinner at Blue Heaven. The former is an authentic Cuban restaurant that has served generations of satisfied Conchs, and the latter is a more recent addition that does a very fine job of capturing the culture and culinary spirit of old Cayo Hueso.

    3. Take a leisurely stroll through Peacon Lane, between Caroline and Eaton streets. Unless its residents have surrendered to the siren song of renovation dollars, Peacon Lane was among the last lingering vestiges of old Key West. Henry Faulkner -- William's brother, and something of an eccentric in his own right -- owned a house there in which I stayed for a short time with friends who rented it. If you amble down Peacon Lane and sense a strange vibe, don't be alarmed; it's a breeze from the Twilight Zone taking you to a different time and place that somehow endures in the memories of a few fortunate souls. Or maybe it's just some leftover traces of mind-altering drugs in the air.

    Have fun!
    Great story, thanks for sharing. As someone who has been amazed/stunned at the changes I've seen in my 32 years in Florida, I can only imagine the mixed feelings you have. I know a couple of older locals in my area who have told me about chickens in the yard (fresh eggs for breakfast) and usually fresh fish from the local estuary for dinner because nobody had any money. Even if your family owned a hotel, it was basically subsistence living. Interstates, NASA, then Disney, changed Central Florida forever.

  3. #23
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    Location
    Outside Philly
    Quote Originally Posted by dudog84 View Post
    Great story, thanks for sharing. As someone who has been amazed/stunned at the changes I've seen in my 32 years in Florida, I can only imagine the mixed feelings you have. I know a couple of older locals in my area who have told me about chickens in the yard (fresh eggs for breakfast) and usually fresh fish from the local estuary for dinner because nobody had any money. Even if your family owned a hotel, it was basically subsistence living. Interstates, NASA, then Disney, changed Central Florida forever.
    Yep, that was awesome. Helps explain the name, too.

  4. #24
    Join Date
    Dec 2014
    Location
    I'd tell ya, but then I'd have to kill ya
    Quote Originally Posted by bundabergdevil View Post
    Yep, that was awesome. Helps explain the name, too.
    Hey, what's gnu?

  5. #25
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    Location
    Outside Philly
    Quote Originally Posted by dudog84 View Post
    Hey, what's gnu?
    What ga-zelle are you talking about?!?’

  6. #26
    Thank you so much for everyone’s replies. I am genuinely overwhelmed with everyone’s helpfulness and thoughtfulness to give us recommendations. This board truly is a wonderful community of great people.

    Cheers!

    CameronDuke

  7. #27
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    Undisclosed
    Quote Originally Posted by CameronDuke View Post
    Thank you so much for everyone’s replies. I am genuinely overwhelmed with everyone’s helpfulness and thoughtfulness to give us recommendations. This board truly is a wonderful community of great people.

    Cheers!

    CameronDuke
    I have found DBR to be a great source for travel info and recommendations, both foreign and domestic.

    Oh, and Stray has been everywhere. His recommendations are always winners.

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