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David Wolkowsky, Developer Hailed as ‘Mr. Key West,’ Dies at 98


David Wolkowsky, a visionary developer and preservationist who helped remodel Key West, Fla., from a roistering former Navy city right into a bohemian haven and a vacationer vacation spot, died there on Sunday. He was 98.

His demise, at Decrease Keys Medical Heart in Key West, was confirmed by the photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, a nephew.

Mr. Wolkowsky was recognized domestically as “Mr. Key West” for his position as a catalyst within the island’s revival. In recasting it as not solely a trip haven but additionally an artists’ colony, he befriended literary figures like Ernest Hemingway, Gore Vidal and Judy Blume bamboo-topped two-bedroom trailer to Truman Capote, who wrote his unfinished remaining novel, “Unanswered Prayers,” there.

Jimmy Buffett obtained a few of his first gigs taking part in for drinks within the Chart Room bar at Mr. Wolkowsky’s waterfront Pier Home lodge, the place he additionally featured the reggae star Bob Marley.

By 1993, Islands journal credited Mr. Wolkowsky, a local of the island, with “almost single-handedly converting Key West into America’s most distinctive tropical resort.”

He purchased and restored the island’s unique cigar manufacturing unit and the Cuban ferry docks subsequent to Mallory Sq.; helped rescue Captain Tony’s and Sloppy Joe’s, saloons of Hemingway fame; revitalized the previous outlets alongside Pirate’s Alley; and remodeled the steamship workplace into Tony’s Fish Market.

Mr. Wolkowsky’s purpose was to “preserve the past by making it work for the present at a profit,” he advised The Miami Herald in 1969.

Picture
Mr. Wolkowsky in 1990.Credit scoreTimothy Greenfield-Sanders

He employed the architect Yiannis B. Antoniadis to design waterfront lodging round Tony’s restaurant, which he named the Pier Home in 1968 and which Renee d’Harnoncourt, a former director of the Museum of Fashionable Artwork, described because the “most unusual motel design in America.”

In 1974, Mr. Wolkowsky purchased Ballast Key, an uninhabited 24-acre outcropping eight miles off Key West, for $160,000 and there constructed the southernmost non-public dwelling within the contiguous (kind of) United States.

In August, the Monroe County Fee voted to rename the island David Wolkowsky Key after he died.

David William Wolkowsky was born on Aug. 25, 1919, a grandson of Jewish immigrants from Russia who had moved from New York to Jacksonville, Fla., after which to Key West, the southernmost Florida key, within the late 1880s. There they opened a males’s clothes retailer on bustling Duval Avenue.

His father, Isaac, ran the household retailer. His mom, Freda (Yubas) Wolkowsky, was a homemaker. When David was four and the native financial system was failing, the household moved to Miami, the place he grew up.

His closest fast survivor is his sister, Ruth Greenfield.

Mr. Wolkowsky was on a pre-med observe on the College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia when he grew to become fascinated about structure and determined in opposition to drugs as a profession.

“I wasn’t cut out to be a doctor; I was cut out to see a doctor,” he advised Michael Adno in an article, “This Man Is an Island,” printed this 12 months in The Bitter Southerner, a digital e-newsletter.

After graduating in 1943, Mr. Wolkowsky served within the service provider marine; moved to New York, the place he had a $25-a-week job as a flooring walker on the Lord & Taylor division retailer (“I wasn’t very good at my job,” he recalled); after which returned to Philadelphia. There he started a modest restoration enterprise below the title of David Williams. His initiatives close to Society Hill and Rittenhouse Sq. in Heart Metropolis received accolades from City & Nation journal in 1955.

After inheriting property in Key West’s Previous City when his father died in 1962, Mr. Wolkowsky harbored visions of a lifetime of leisure. However he was solely in his 40s and failed miserably at retirement.

“I couldn’t bear to sit around and collect baseball cards,” he advised The Herald in 2012. “If you’re not involved and enjoying what’s around you, you might as well get back in the book, like a leaf, and close it.”

The place others noticed an economically depressed and hurricane-ravaged six-square-mile island with subpar seashores strung with barbed wire to protect in opposition to invading Communists from Cuba, Mr. Wolkowsky envisioned one thing completely completely different: the renaissance of a group.

The keys to unlocking its potential had been its tropical climate, Hemingway mystique, charming structure and kooky locals, who assembled each day at nightfall to salute the sundown.

Mr. Wolkowsky would software round city in certainly one of his flashy vehicles, together with a cream-colored Excalibur; serve friends turkey scorching canines and chips; and observe the adage that giving is best than receiving. (At his party in August, he introduced a number of dozen girls with black pearl necklaces.)

“I was lucky to have an uncle with a world-class wit, a private island and a 1926 Rolls-Royce, on which I learned to drive,” his nephew Mr. Greenfield-Sanders stated by e mail. “The other side of him gave annually to local teachers and was the greatest visionary that Key West will ever know.”

For a time Mr. Wolkowsky lived atop the previous Kress Constructing on Duval Avenue, above the Margaritaville cafe, the place he stated he felt safer than he ever had as a result of he had rented the higher flooring to the Key West Parole Board. Nonetheless, somebody stole a prized possession: handwritten drafts of “Unfinished Prayers” that Capote had rejected and given to him in lieu of hire.

One other souvenir survived: his portrait, drawn by the playwright Tennessee Williams, who had moved to Key West. Scrawled throughout it, in French, is an inscription suggesting Mr. Wolkowsky’s standing as a visionary. Williams wrote, “The unknown: It’s the eyes.”



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Updated: September 26, 2018 — 10:31 pm

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