The Rest of the Way Down Duval Street

Leaving Saint Paul’s Episcopal at the corner of Duval and Eaton, we go across Duval to the Oldest House. Originally on Whitehead Street before there was a Duval Street, it was moved to Duval Street sometime in the early 1800’s and was there by 1836. Captain Francis Watlington, his wife Emeline and their nine daughters lived there, the youngest, Lily Watlington, never married and lived there until she died in the 1930’s. Someone later bought it and gave it to The Old Island Restoration Foundation, which had it restored.  Admission is free to the public.  There’s a lovely peace garden out back so you can rest after your hectic stroll down Duval Street.

Down the street on the other side is the Women’s Club. Founded in 1915, it has been a major source of good works in the community. They have a beautiful old building that has been lovingly restored and is open to the public. Their cookbook, published in 1949, has been sold around the world. It contains many of the old Key West Recipes, is quite amusing and a delightful read. I have a copy of the original given to my mother. It has been much used but still intact. My “love to cook” friends love to read it. It has been reprinted many times, a real timepiece, and has turtle steak recipes, now a protected species. Peter says they  served turtle steak at the Bachelor Officers Quarters when he first came to Key West in 1968. We used to have it when I was little. It sort of tastes like veal and was served breaded. All the recipes in the original cookbook were handwritten and very conversation-like with very few measurements given, the way people cooked back then, mostly from recipes handed down from female forbears. The newer editions are typed, easier to read but not as charming.

Behind the Woman’s Club on their property is the Red Barn Theater. My first date with Peter was to hear Yehuda Guttman play classical piano at what later became the Red Barn. It is a very small intimate theater, about 150 seats. We go there a lot. They give me a handicap space in their small lot beside the theater.

Further down the street are two restaurants, Hard Rock Cafe and Fogarty’s, both in old mansions and with indoor and outdoor eating. They are always jam-packed. And The Bull, a bar across the street (I’ve never been) with dozens of motorcycles and bicycles out front makes this block very crowded and noisy. The young people love it.

Across the street on the corner of Duval and Greene is Sloppy Joe’s, a famous Key West saloon with an Earnest Hemingway connection. Hemingway patronized Russell’s bar, which was an illegal speakeasy during Prohibition. Joe Russell was a friend and fishing companion of Hemingway’s for 12 years. When Prohibition ended, Hemingway encouraged Joe Russell to rename the bar Sloppy Joe’s. In July of each year there is a Hemingway look-alike contest. The 36th one will be in July 2016. All the past winners have formed the Hemingway Look-Alikes Society (HLAS), all men with white beards. I’ve never been in there, but when Peter first came to Key West, he remembers that there were three sailors in the place, two playing pool in the back and one hung over the bar. Today when we ride down Duval Street, it is hard not to hit the throngs pouring out onto the sidewalk and street.


On the other side of the street down on the corner of Duval and Front Street is the First National Bank building built in 1926. It is a beautiful red brick building, probably art deco (Photo from State Archives of Florida). I heard from my father that in the bank failures of the twenties, a lot of Key Westers took their money out of the Key West bank and put it in the bank in Miami. The bank in Miami failed, but the First National Bank in Key West didn’t. At, least, that’s the story I heard.

The last place on Duval Street right on the water is the luxury Pier House Resort, built in 1968. It has a spa, bar, restaurant and beach. Key West was a navy town in the 60’s. When the Navy started leaving Key West, the downtown area was dying, a lot of stores boarded up. The Old Island Restoration Foundation had restored the Audubon house and the unique history and quirkiness of the island had always had a certain appeal to tourists and snowbirds. David Wolkowsky grew up in Key West and Miami and received his degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He visited Key West in 1962. His family had some properties in Old Town. In 1963 he purchased the old Cuban Ferry Dock, waterfront property near Mallory Square for $106,000. He built the Pier House Resort and Spa, making a large investment in that part of the island. And the rest followed. In 2002 Wolkowsky created a Teacher Merit Reward Fund, which gives $5,000 to each of nine Key West teachers and $25,000 to a single teacher each year. He is also said to be responsible for no high-rise hotels on the island. I don’t know how he accomplished that. I also don’t know how the infrastructure on the island could have supported them.


2 thoughts on “The Rest of the Way Down Duval Street”

  1. Joanne, your blogs are so wonderfully interesting! This new one sent me to Google to find out more about David Wolkowsky…what a colorful and philanthropic entrepreneur he was. Did you know him personally? Hot dogs, potato chips, and wine served to guests? A great idea! And his monetary awards for teachers is an even better one. They deserve every extra penny that comes their way.
    Thank you, dear friend, for all the time and effort you put into writing the blogs. Please keep them coming!

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