From beginning as a Spanish colony to its years as a pirate town, and through its pivotal role in the Cold War, Key West has played a colorful, important part in American history.
This island in the Florida Straits occupies the southernmost point in the continental United States, and is about 90 miles from Cuba. Many large salt ponds on the eastern side were filled in, almost doubling the original island land mass in the late 1950s.
The island was originally inhabited by the Native American Calusa people, but a chance visit by the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon saw the island become a Spanish colony in 1521. In 1763, Great Britain gained control of Florida Keys, moving the Spanish and Native American populations south to Havana. It was sold - twice. Once, for the price of a sloop boat, and the other to a businessman in a Havana cafe.
It was transformed in 1912 by the creation of Flagler's Overseas Railroad, an extension of the Florida East Coast Railway. The Casa Marina was originally built to house the wealthy guests of the Railroad.
Throughout the years, Key West has grown accustomed to a number of prominent visitors. Among the two most famous figures to be enchanted with the island are the literary figureheads Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams. Hemingway was a long-time visitor of the Keys, and legend has it that he wrote 'A Farewell to Arms' above a Key West Ford dealership. He worked on a number of important texts while staying, and based the novel 'To Have and to Have Not' in the area, while a number of locals formed his characters. Tennessee Williams allegedly wrote a draft of 'A Streetcar Named Desire' while holidaying in the area.
Key West also hosts the building informally known the 'Winter White House,' which was also used as a base during the Cold War Cuban Missile Crisis. Over the years, Presidents Kennedy, Roosevelt and Truman made repeated visits to the Keys - Truman in particular returning with regularity.
HISTORY OF THE KEYS
On New Year's Eve, 1920, the Casa Marina, A Waldorf Astoria Resort opened its doors as Key West's most glamorous destination. Conceived by American railroad tycoon Henry Flagler, the resort was intended to accommodate wealthy customers of Flagler's Overseas Railroad, which spanned from Key West to the Florida mainland.
Although Flagler died before the hotel's construction began in 1918, architects Thomas Hastings and John M. Carrere - who also designed New York's Metropolitan Opera House, New York Public Library and the Senate and House of Representatives office buildings in DC - wanted the resort to serve as a monument to the magnate's memory. 6.5 acres and 1,200 square feet of beach were purchased for $1,000, providing a spectacular natural backdrop for the hotel. The two architects handled the hotel's interior and exterior, ensuring every detail honored Flagler's original vision.
Three days after the resort's grand opening, President Warren G. Harding came to visit, establishing Casa Marina as an exclusive high-end destination. In 1942, the property was bought by the US Navy, and used as officer's quarters for the duration of World War II. Casa Marina re-emerged as a luxury hotspot in the 1950s, and played host to celebrities such as Gregory Peck, Ethel Merman, Ezio Pinza, Rita Hayworth and Gary Merrill.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the hotel was used by the US Army's Sixth Missile Battalion. Soon after, Casa Marina fell into a period of decline, which was exacerbated by piecemeal renovations in 1978 and 1984. With the completion of a recent $43 million overhaul however, this splendid property has been restored to its original grandeur. Each of the resort's 311 guestrooms have been revamped with sophisticated furnishings and modern amenities, including LCD televisions, iHome docking stations and espresso machines. Eye-catching new event space and outdoor areas completes the renewed atmosphere of refined Floridian splendor, truly delivering luxury for our time.