Duval Street

The first place you discover when landing in Key West is Duval Street.  It has a sort of New Orleans Bourbon Street atmosphere to it but with a definite ... you are far out to sea ... feel.

duval st 1
This is how the end of Duval Street near Mallory Square Peer looked in the 1940's, possibly 30's --notice the cars near the ship's bow.  The building on the right with a red roof (rusted iron) was still being used as a professional dive shop in 1980 when I arrived.

duval st 2
This is what the end of Duval Street looked liked when I first came to Key West.  The island in the background was called Christmas Tree island, now Wisteria Island. A buddy --Ron "Wooly Bear" Wooly, and I would occasionally swim across the submarine channel to explore it.  On one trip back to Key West, we were caught in a tide change, or at least the coast guard thought so.  They sent a speedboat, complete with an armed anti-drug-smuggling tactics team to pick us up before we were carried out to sea.  However, on the way to the naval base, I avoided embarassment and evaded my captors by diving over the side and swimming to the Keys Inn Beach Club resort just off the the right side of this photo.  If you were on the peer shown above that day, you would have seen some of the U.S. Coast Guard's finest, in their body armor with AK-47's, shouting at me as I swam to the beach.

This is what the end of Duval Street looked like by 1983.  This view of the new Ocean Key Hotel is looking southward up Duval Street.  Mallory Square peer is to the right, and Mel Fisher's Treasures of the Gold Galleons is behind it, Keys Inn Beach Club is to the left.

young amerca
This is the Young America tall ship.  My guitar playing buddy, Barry, and I, were sometimes hired to be the entertainment during dinner and moonlight cruises.  It was great fun to sing, and have the tourists join us in songs like "The Sloop John B", "Black Water" and "Sister Golden Hair".  When passing Mallory Square Peer or other tall ships, we would shoot water-balloon canonballs from large slingshots at tourists gathered for sunset.

Mallory Square Peer in 1981

In the early 80's there were no cruise ships docking at Mallory Square.  It was completely open, and drunk tourists gathering to watch Sunset often fell 15 feet into the ocean.  Among the jugglers, fire-twirlers, tattoo artists, and pick-pockets, was a pair of characters I knew --of course, locals all knew each other anyway, and one of the pair would stumble along the peer pretending to be drunk then accidentally on-purpose knock a tourists rented bicycle into the ocean.  Soon his partner would arrive willing to retrieve the bike from the bottom of the sea for a $20 fee.  They easily made $100-$200 per night at Sunset during Season --Halloween through Easter.

Mallory Square Peer Today

Birth of the Conch Republic

conch rep
I am standing off to the left near the tip of the tree branch,
beside Scott, a guy with dark hair and a thick mustache

After the federal gov't decided to crack-down on drugs smuggled out of the keys, a check-point was erected where Route 1 connects with the mainland.  Traffic jams in excess of 20 miles quikly brought tourism to a halt.  On April 23rd 1982, Mayor Dennis Wardlow and a group of Keys citizens, myself included, founded the Conch Republic and declared war on the United States.  With a single verbal shot denouncing the actions of the U.S Government, we seceded from the Union and immediately surrendered with a formal plea requesting financial aid to rebuild our newly formed state.  While it was intended as a publicity stunt to boost tourism during the short time border checks hurt the Keys' economy, ultimately the spirit of the Conch Republic lived-on and is still in evidence today.
 spongediverMy writings for the Conch Republicspongediver

I was paid by the Conch Republic, aka Tourism Board, to travel the Keys and do write-ups for marketing materials --promotional pamphlets, calendars, and historical informational guide booklets.  Sponge diving was a big part of Key West's history --click here for more.

I had a press pass for the first annual Off-shore Powerboat Races of the Keys in 1980, and took still photos from the Race Control boat alongside the NBC camera crew.

sand key
Sand Key

Sand Key was a great afternoon sailing destination to do some snorkling, spearfishing and cooking over a fire-pit.  On one trip we towed a Hobie Cat back to Key West when a vicious storm hit at sunset.  A 45 minute trip took several hours in hurricane force winds and rain, ... and then it got really bad, ... our engine cut-out.  We were like the SS Minnow and began singing the theme from Gilligan's Island.  We had a Skipper --Ben, his wife was MaryAnne, the couple from the Hobie Cat was Professor and Ginger. There was another couple on board, so they were the Howels.  Having gotten thoroughly sunburned and being a light-weight drinker made me Gilligan.

Sand Key often changes size, shape and depth as each storm rearranges the sand.  In the photo above, it is clearly high tide.  The fingers stretching out at the bottom of the photo is beautiful coral with an amazing plethora of sealife, including barracuda that become quite annoyed when silly human swimmers follow them for no good reason --something I don't recommend, anymore.

Favorite Hang-outs

A good friend tended bar at the upstairs terrace in the back of Ricks Cafe Americains.
I sang periodically with various musicians in Dirty Harrys behind Angelina's Pizzeria at the end of the alley way --you can see Angelinas and DH's signs to the left in the photo of Ricks Cafe.
Across Duval street is Sloppy Joe's, touted as Hemmingway's famous hang-out, though it actually is not.  The original Sloppy's is Captain Tony's Saloon --out of view, to the right of this shot, just off the corner.

The Bull & Whistle Pub was another popular place where a good friend took care of ... well, good friends.  You could always count on a decent band playing here. Sometimes it was The Contras, a raggae band headed by Junior, a great friend from Guyana.

The little green houses with X's are places I lived while in key West.  The one to the far left was a large home in Old Town Key West next door to Calvin Klein.  The one to the far right is on Stock Island.  The one in the middle, 3rd from left, was a haunted mansion converted into various size apartments.  The little red dot underneath the words "Key West" is where I escaped form the U.S. Coast Guad.  The green area to the far left was owned by the Navy, the beach here belonged to the CIA.  Facing inland from that beach, you could see missile silos where nukes were positioned, programmed to hit Cuba 90 miles directly to the South.   Loading of these silos with nuclear missiles was the reason why expansion of the Overseas Highway between Homestead and Key West, from one lane each direction to two, happened to be the only government project ahead of schedule at the time ... by roughly two years!  Can you say "Reagan"?  "Cold War"?  You didn't see *this* on the Conch Tour train or Old Town Trolley!


Duval Street

Southernmost House at opposite end of Duval St.

Key West