|"Mr. Key West" - David Wolkowsky 1919 -2018|
Key West has lost one of its truly incredible people Sunday night, David Wolkowsky, whose Born in Key West on August 25, 1919, his grandfather had opened a general store there in the 1880’s, attended the University of Pennsylvania, then built a career restoring buildings in Philadelphia. He returned to Key West at the age of 42, when his father died. He had planned to retire, but once he saw Key West’s buildings and its relatively blank canvas, he saw a world of possibilities.
vision for Key West contributed so much to the transformation from an island in in need of a “face lift” into a colorful tourist destination that draws artists, writers and so many other colorful people.
He was known as “Mr. Key West” for the way he shaped the city’s downtown since the 1960s, renovating, restoring and even relocating the weathered buildings that created a quaint downtown for tourists and a haven for artists. Wolkowsky opened the Pier House hotel in 1968, which began to draw visitors from around the country, including author Truman Capote, who noted its air of “elegant inefficiency.” Part developer and part preservationist, Wolkowsky renovated more properties than he could remember, including Ernest Hemingway’s original watering hole, Capt. Tony’s Saloon — which Wolkowsky and his sisters inherited from their father. In addition, The Kress building, an old dime store in the heart of Key West. It’s now home to both Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Cafe and the rooftop penthouse Wolkowsky had built for himself. Much of Duval Street and Mallory Square, two major tourist areas, were originally Wolkowsky creations. Wolkowsky summed up his drive to create: “I couldn’t bear to sit around and collect baseball cards,”
|Ballast Key Today|
He bought Ballast Key, which once belonged to the U.S. Navy, and a current owner he negotiated with to secure the island in 1974. Over years, Wolkowsky would built his home on the island’s southern edge. His “big metal shack” as he called it was assembled piece by piece, he carried out to the island. The four-bedroom home on Ballast is based on the Northwest Channel lighthouse, known as the “Hemingway Stilts,” that burned in 1971. Wolkowsky’s nephew, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, a
prominent photographer and filmmaker, calls it “a simple
little family retreat — eight miles off Key West.” “He put every single tree on that island,”
along with plumbing, desalination tanks, and a 550-foot dock. When asked what is out there on Ballast Key,
he said, “I brought cashmere to Ballast Key.”
Monroe County Commission voted to rename the island David
Wolkowsky Key after his death, although the ultimate decision rests with the
U.S. Board on Geographic Names. Wolkowsky
watched as the vote was taken from a wheelchair in the audience, telling
reporters in his dry manner, “I wanted to see the commission, en masse.”
|Ballast Key Home Early Picture|
He had celebrated his birthday on Aug. 25 in true Wolkowsky style: a house full of free-spirited guests, clouds of white orchids, popping champagne corks and his sister, Ruth Greenfield of Miami, a classically trained concert pianist and civil rights pioneer, playing happy birthday on the grand piano as the crowd sang along. He presided from the white couch, dressed in linen, his trademark Panama hats stacked nearby. And instead of receiving gifts, he gave them: a black pearl necklace in a jeweler’s box for each of the several dozen women who attended.
He was known for his taste that mixed high and low. In the penthouse, an expensive Art Deco-style Aubusson rug lay on a floor of polished plywood. On Ballast Key, he happily served guests turkey hot dogs and chips — with a chocolate soufflé for desert and a priceless view in every direction.
His colorful life and vision for Key West is like no other and will be truly missed here in Key West. Rest in Peace David Wolkowsky, you have earned it.