Travel back in time with Old Island Restoration Foundation's 60th anniversary home tours to some of the oldest on the island. From 3 to 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 17, and Saturday, Jan. 18, the foundation is sponsoring properties constructed from the mid-1800s and even older, all within easy walking distance of each other in Old Town and four resplendent in classic architectural styles that dominate Key West's historic district.
For instance, 416 Elizabeth St., which was built circa 1873, features the covered two-story porches that grace four houses open to the public during the tours.
This porch, in particular, has three bays with a side-front entrance, but the back porch is what dazzles. Here, the dining room and a kitchen wall open to a spacious covered deck that affords casual, yet elegant indoor/outdoor living for which the island is known.
While this is a single-family residence, several outbuildings surround the swimming pools — yes, there are more than one — to create a park-like ambiance connecting its Elizabeth Street address to Simonton Street behind.
Nearby, 320 Peacon Lane boasts five bays in its two-story front porch and also features a large lot. But a complete renovation in 2006 shifted the front entrance from the elegant 1840s porch to a central foyer that attaches what was formerly the guest house to the primary residence.
These days, the finished interior is 2,452 square feet with another 2,400 square feet of patios and porches overlooking the pool and garden.
Although preservation and architecture are the focus of OIRF's home tours, the interior designs and art collections in each house speak to the creativity and fine taste of the homeowners. Take 730 Eaton St., the lady of the house is a former anthropologist who decorates the walls of the home's unusually low-ceilinged first-floor rooms with artifacts from all over the world.
And everything from the vast barrel-vaulted ceiling of the second-story master suite to the five bays on its two-story front and side porches was built in the Bahamas in the 1820s, architecturally dismantled, then moved to Key West in 1847.
The house is so unique that it is one of only a handful of properties in Key West listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Around the corner, 912 Fleming St. takes tour-goers to another grand 2.5-story home, with upstairs and downstairs porches; with old roots in the original 1889 front structure and modern amenities in the new addition at the back.
In fact, the rear addition features the primary entrance on the north side of the house. Walk past the staircase to the spacious kitchen and living room that opens to the covered outdoor living room. Back here, bricked walkways and exotic flora lead to the swimming pool.
Then prepare yourself for the most unusual house on the January tour — the Key West Firehouse Museum. Built in 1907, Firehouse No. 3 is located at 1024 Grinnell St. and boasts a history as rich in architecture as in artifacts.
For instance, the structure bridged the transition from horse stalls to two-bay motorized steamer garage, and rumor has it that this is one of last fire stations in the country to still showcase an in-ground fire pit.
As part of the OIRF January tour, the museum of firefighting is suspending its $10 entry fee during event hours.
Tickets to all five properties are $35 if purchased in advance at oirf.org or $45 at the door of any property the day of the tour.
Tickets may be used all in one day or on both days because there is a wealth of fine old properties to see in 2020.