White Street

Sometime in the late fifties, the County had some leftover money (when does that ever happen?) and decided to spend it on some infrastructure projects. The one they decided on was to build a quarter mile roadway pier out into the ocean at the end of White Street (Picture:  State Archives of Florida/McDonald). For a while some of the locals called it “the unfinished highway to Havana.” When I was a child, you could drive out there and park at the foot-like end, which we often did, taking out our lawn chairs, sitting and enjoying the evening air and visiting with neighbors. At least my parents did. We children just ran wild like all kids do when set loose. Then in the eighties, mainly because of some environmental problems, it was redone, blocked off, a cut under and a bridge over it was built so that water could flow freely along the beach. Lampposts were added and it is now a walking pier. It is a wonderful thing to do to go out there with your morning coffee and watch the sun rise or in the evening to see the sunset. I have done neither, but I hear it’s fun from one who has. Perhaps someday. When my son was young we would often walk down there in an evening and talk with the people fishing along the pier. One night we stopped to talk to a couple and they gave my son a hand line to use to fish. The man took a piece of bait and threw it in the water and a small barracuda came out of nowhere and as quick as lightening snatched it up. As children, we were all taught not to swim in the ocean with rings or jewelry so as not to attract barracudas.

Heading down South Street, the first major cross street we hit is Flagler Avenue named for Henry Flagler who built the railway to Key West in 1912 that was washed away in the 1935 Hurricane. The Casa Marina Hotel which he built was vacant during most of my growing-up years. It has been completely renovated in recent years and is again quite the place to stay.

Further up the street on the left is the new Key West City Hall recently renovated from the old Key West High School built in the 30’s. It has just been completed and landscaped in the last few months. There was a big fight over the name and now there is a big fight over putting the old rusted metal tiger back out front where it was when it was a Jr. High. Oh, oh, last night I saw the newly repainted and renovated tiger on the corner, as quick as that. So, there it is, a fait accompli. What it has to do with anything, only a few know.

Across the street is the National Weather Service. For a real-time map of weather here, look up “National Weather Service radar from Key West Fl.” on the internet.

When I was a child the blocks between United and Truman were my stomping grounds. Dairy Queen was on the corner of White and United (Picture:  State Archives of Florida). Still is today, only one block in from White Street, selling the same ice cream treats they did back then. It is the Southernmost Dairy Queen in the United States. My grandchildren with parents in tow walk over there for a treat after supper. It is always a crowded scene, especially in summer.

Juan Mayg’s was on the corner of White and Catherine. My mother would send me down for kerosene for the space heaters, which we operated when it got cold. They were largish iron contraptions and my mother always had a pot of boiling water on the top vent to humidify the space. We had two of these heaters and they kept us warmish. And no one ever got burned; we knew to stay away from them. We rode our bikes, got sodas and candy, bought Christmas trees there, and cigarettes for our parents. I remember being stopped once by the kid who lived on the corner; he stopped my bike and took my candy. He was a bully and probably became a juvenile delinquent, a term you don’t hear much anymore. Gulfstream was across the street when I was a child. Today it is Fausto’s, the neighborhood store with everything.

At Sandy’s across the corner of Virginia and White there is always a crowd of people sitting on the stools or standing around chatting on their way to or from work. The Cubans drink a single Buchi which is strong espresso with at least one sugar served in a small throw-away cup. It is absolutely undrinkable with no sugar. There is also a double and triple Buchi for real dedicated coffee drinkers, like Peter. And for we more gentle folk a Café Con Leche (espresso with milk.)

Up the street on the right is the old Truman Elementary School where I went to 4th and 5Th grades in the mid-fifties. The two things I remember is learning how to sing The Star-spangled Banner in chorus which everybody sings way too slow today (my opinion, but where’s the spirit?) And all of us lining up to get polio shots. Today the school building has been renovated and is  a Monroe County Government building.

Now we are going to take a left on Truman for a bit. Down the street is St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church and next to it The Convent of Saint Mary Immaculate. During my growing up years in the fifties, I went to the church many times on Saturday mornings with my friend Jeanne. We rode our bikes and I waited while she went to Confession. We had no discussions about why I didn’t. It was just something we did and then went on to play. We were seven years old.

The Convent with Mary Immaculate School was in an old building, constructed in the 1850’s that had become infested by the late nineteen seventies with termites and needed extensive repairs. It was torn down before anyone could do anything and a new school building constructed. Today the townspeople still consider its demolition a great loss for the town. Here is an old photo of this beautiful building and a picture of the convent school students and teachers in the 1890’s (Pictures:  State Archives of Florida).

We’ll do a U-turn and go back to White Street and hang a left. Down the ways on the left is the old Armory Building. The Armory is a handsome Italianate-style building erected in 1904. During the Civil War, volunteer troops that helped defend Key West from the Confederates were known as the Key West Rifles and then later as the Island City Guards and then later still the Florida National Guard. It was used for training troops during WWI and WWII. And later became a Community Center. Restoration began in the 1970’s and It was turned over to the Historic Florida Keys Preservation Board in 1994.

Further down is the laundromat where my mother and father went to do laundry on Monday’s with two children dragging along. Then they took the clothes home to hang on the clothesline. My father did not help with that. He had done his day’s work in the Navy Yard and my Mom had listened to the radio and eaten bonbons all day. Not really, but that’s the way it was back then.

6 thoughts on “White Street”

  1. Love the pier and when we stayed with Sparky in White,
    we spent a lot of time there and snorkeled under it. I agree – convent was a great loss. Btw: we will be camping and working at ZAC from 2/1 – 5 and then at Bahia 2/6 – 2/11. Will we be able to meet up?

  2. Drats! So wish I could tag along with Deb to see you. With your blog in hand, I would be just fine and dandy finding my way around everywhere, even to your front door.

    I have so loved seeing Key West through your writings! The spell you’ve woven around Key West, for me, is akin to the one Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings created with her book CROSS CREEK, which I’ve read repeatedly. I want to crawl into the story and be there, your story and hers!

    Wishing Peter and you a Happy and Blessed New Year from Lonnie and me!!

  3. Thank you! Yet again I’ve loved reading your blog, Joanne. One of these days maybe we’ll get to see Key West with our own eyes, but can it possibly be better than what we see through yours?!!
    About the Star Spangled Banner, I agree with you about its being sung too slowly. Also, I dislike that way that so many megastars put their over-the-top interpretations into their “performance” of it. Can’t we keep it straight, simple, and sung with dignified spirit?

  4. I’m amazed at your grasp of the history and, especially the names. I expect Key West is smaller than where I grew up and maybe that’s part of the reason I don’t have those kinds of facts. Also, Central Wyoming being in the early oil patch, things came and went quickly. I remember a story from Joan’s dad. In the early days he had an office in a town in the oil field, about 40 miles north of Casper. One Monday as he was headed to that office, there it was on the back of a truck. They were moving the town.
    Really enjoy your thoughts and descriptions. You bring a lot of my memories back.

  5. Joanne and Pete, We really enjoyed our visit with you. thanks for your heart-warming hospitality and for the tour and stories about Key West. Your blog is a lot of fun and I hope it continues. Barbara and I will be regular readers. Millard and Barbara

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