281 Front St
Key West, FL 33040
Presented by Bert Bender.
Join Bert Bender, Bender & Associates Architects, as he discusses the nearly $9 million, 9 year restoration of the historic Custom House, Key West’s crown jewel. Historic preservation is the practice of protecting and preserving historic sites, structures or districts which reflect local, cultural, social, architectural or economic history. Architecture is a direct and significant representation of history and place. By preserving historic edifices, we are able to share the very spaces and environments that generations before us lived. It also upholds our cultural identity. Historic buildings help create vibrant, cultural centers that draw tourism, art, festivals, and other activities.
The Custom House building is a prime example of historic preservation. Just a few months after the Custom House was declared excess property by the U.S. Navy in the 1970s and the entire abandoned Naval base was turned over to the City of Key West for development. Unable find a use for the property, the city commission abandoned the idea of purchasing the property and put the forty plus acre parcel up for sale at public auction in 1986. The Old Custom House and Post Office was included in the sale. A developer purchased the former Naval property for $17.25 million. The effects of the national recession were felt in Key West, and the development of Truman Annex came to a halt. The developer was forced to sell off parcels of property and in October 1990, a ‘For Sale’ sign was placed in front of the Custom House.
Immediately, the Key West Art & Historical Society proceeded with initiating an effort to save the building for public use. The Trust for Public Land purchased the Custom House building for $1.1 million and contracted with the Key West Art & Historical Society to manage the property, restore it, and operate it as a museum of art and history. It was time for the community to band together in order to raise funds to restore the Custom House, the architectural crown jewel of Key West. The restoration culminated with the grand opening of the Custom House in 1999.