69. Island House

This corner structure is comprised of three buildings believed to be built in the 1920s. Two of the buildings were built to accommodate Navy families who were living “off base”. The third building, which serves as the resort entrance, began as a small cigar factory and was transformed into a launderette by the 1960s.

Two of the buildings may have been moved from across the street to make way for an early Army expansion. The large complex of buildings across the street has a long military history. In 1835, construction started on the 25 acre Key West Army Barracks. The location was chosen not only for housing but for a strategic defensive post. The north side of the barracks, along Palm Avenue, was essentially beachfront property.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Henry Flagler added acres of dredged land fill along the beach to accommodate his railroad. With the expansion of the island the Army property became land locked.

Occupancy of the barracks fluctuated to match the ever changing needs of the military. With the advent of peace in the mid 1940’s, the Army’s presence and strategic demand in Key West and the Caribbean were in decline. The Navy acquired the barracks for housing and renamed the property Peary Court.

By the 1970s, Key West was slowly emerging out of an economic downturn that began with its bankruptcy during the Great Depression. Much of Duval Street was boarded up and the historic district’s housing stock had fallen into a state of disrepair. Today we would refer to the consolidation of these three buildings as a good adaptive use of structures that had outgrown their intended usefulness.

The emergence of Island House Resort is also a symbol of a surge in interest and investment by the gay community in the island during the 1970s. Key West was fortunate to have been bypassed by the “urbanization and modernization” that demolished and disguised many of the historic cities and neighborhoods throughout the country during the1950s and 60s. Our multicultural-community, live and let live lifestyle, sub-tropical weather, and stock of funky old buildings emerged as a trendy destination in the gay community. Much of the renovation, restoration, and beautification of the island in the last few decades can be attributed to their vision and efforts.

The current building houses the oldest gay resort in Key West.