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A Slice of Key West History - Pier House Resort & Spa

The Pier House was built in 1967 as a small 50-room motel by American developer David Wolkowsky, a Key West native. Wolkowsky is largely responsible for the preservation of Key West and the prevention of high-rise buildings on the island paradise. He previously built the original Sloppy Joe's of Hemingway fame, Pirate's Alley and the Original Cigar Factory. The initial Pier House Resort Motel soon added 50 more rooms facing the ocean and became a became a magnet for celebrities because of Wolkowsky's charismatic personality and laid-back attitude.
Jimmy Buffett and Bob Marley started their careers in the hotel's funky Chart Room Bar, where Buffett credits as his first gig. Over the years, the hotel was the winter home of Truman Capote, who wrote "Answered Prayers" here, and Tennessee Williams. Wolkowsky served hot dogs, white wine and potato chips to his guests, including British Prime Minister Edward Heath and various Rockefellers, Mellons and Vanderbilts.
Today, The Pier House Resort & Spa is a haven for locals, world travelers, and musicians. The Chart Room Bar still serves free hot dogs!

Key West History

  • Key West was originally called Cayo Hueso which means island of bones, allegedly for all of the Indian bones that were found on the island. The name Key West is an Americanization of Cayo Hueso.
  • There are more than 3,000 structures in Key West on the National Historic Register.
  • From 1828 to 1850 Key West was the richest city per capita in the United States.
  • In 1889, Key West was the largest city in Florida and in 1899, it had street cars.
  • During the Civil War, Key West, although the southernmost city in the country, was Yankee territory. Key West was the only place where you had to go north to fight for the South.
  • There is an African Slave cemetery at Higgs Beach where 295 men, women and children are buried.
  • Most graves in the Key West Cemetery are above ground and abound with unusual and amusing epitaphs.
  • There are three Civil War forts on the island of Key West.
  • On October 28, 1927, the first international flight was from Key West to Havana Cuba. The flight was made by Pan American Airlines, and their original ticket office can still be seen at the corner of Whitehead and Caroline Streets. It is now a restaurant called Kelly's, named for owner Kelly McGillis, who starred in the films Top Gun and Witness.
  • In 1934, Key West was the poorest city in Florida. President Roosevelt had the Key West Aquarium built which is still an attraction today.
  • In 1985, after 16 years of searching and operating out of Key West, Mel Fisher discovered the sunken Spanish galleon Atocha and a treasure worth more than $450 million. The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum is in Key West.

Fun Facts About Key West

  • Key Lime Pie is yellow.
  • There are 42 bridges connecting Key West to the mainland.
  • The sun sets on one side of the island once a day.
  • The entire island is a bird sanctuary.
  • Lobsters in Key West are actually saltwater crayfish.
  • Famous people who have lived in Key West include Earnest Hemingway, Harry Truman, Jimmy Buffett, Winslow Homer, James Audubon, Tennessee Williams, Kelly McGillis, Mel Fisher and Ralph Lauren.
  • Major motion pictures filmed in Key West include Operation Petticoat, The Rose Tattoo, Reap the Wild Wind, PT 109, Beneath the 12 Mile Reef, License to Kill and Running Scared.
  • Key West's beaches are created by sand brought in on barges from the Bahamas.
  • Cuban cigars are not sold in Key West. You will, however, find Cubans in Key West who roll cigars.
  • Nearest Wal-Mart is in Florida City, 126.5 miles north of Key West.
  • Population: Approximately 25,000.
  • People born in Key West are called Conchs (pronounced Conks)
  • There is nothing anywhere like Fantasy Fest, an annual Key West celebration held in October.
  • On April 22, 1982, Key West seceded from the United States and declared itself the Conch Republic.The Pelican became the official Republic Bird and the Hibiscus the official Republic Flower. The Conch Republic applied for foreign aid from the United States.
  • There are about 40 cats living at the Hemingway House, all descended from Ernest Hemingway's cat. Most have six or seven toes on their front paws. All of them are named for movie stars.
  • The Schooner Wharf Bar has a happy hour at 9:00 a.m.
  • In the 1930's, self-proclaimed Count Von Cosel lived with a dead woman in his bed for seven years. When this became public knowledge, the woman became an instant tourist attraction.
  • There are more bars and churches per capita in Key West than anywhere else in the country!
  • Most buildings are required to have tin roofs.
  • Jimmy Buffett's first gig in Key West is reputed to have been at the Chart Room Bar at the Pier House Resort.
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