The City of Key West, Florida

The Southernmost City in the Continental United States


History of HARC

Key West citizens have been aware of their unique architectural heritage for decades. During the Depression, funds from the Federal Emergency Relief Administration were used to restore and emphasize Key West's indigenous architecture, historical background and intangible charm.

In 1959, the destruction of the Caroline Lowe House by fire and the decay of the Geiger House (restored as the Audubon House) generated the interest which led to the formation of the Old Island Restoration Foundation, which currently operates the Oldest House.

Caroline Lowe House

In 1963, the Florida Legislature granted the authority to the City of Key West to create an architectural review board. The board was not established at that time, however.

In 1965 (and amended in 1969), the Florida Legislature passed a law to allow the Key West City Commission to establish the Old Island Restoration Commission (OIRC). The OIRC was charged with the responsibility for “the preservation of historic the Old Section of Key West.” To achieve this goal, the City Commission could provide the OIRC powers, which included architectural review over any new construction or alteration to structures within the Old Section. The legal boundaries of this area may generally be described as follows: from the harbor on the west side of the island, to White Street, to Angela Street, and to Whitehead Street, and excluding Duval Street from Eaton to Angela streets. The City Commission accepted the powers granted by state law and created the OIRC.

The destruction in 1968 of one of Key West’s most architecturally significant buildings, the Convent of Mary Immaculate, helped to focus the community’s attention on the need for a strong local preservation regulations.


In 1972, the Historic Key West Preservation Board was established by the State Legislature. Among its powers, the Board was authorized to "draft a historical plan of development for the City of Key West and surrounding area, recommend to the governing body of the City of Key West the creation of an historical district or districts." The same act authorized the City Commission to:

  • Establish historic districts;
  • Name an architectural review board; and
  • Define the procedure for the review of building plans for any building to be erected, renovated or razed which is located or to be located within the designated historic districts. The City did not utilize this authorization as architectural review was being provided by the OIRC.

In 1976, the Governor and Cabinet designated certain portions of Monroe County, Florida, as an area of Critical State Concern. Subsection 5 of section A of Rule 22F-8.03 stipulated that one of the prime objectives of the designation was the "protection of the historical heritage of the Florida Keys and the Key West Historical District." Subsection (a) of subsection 5 indicated that "a management and enforcement plan and ordinance should be adopted by the City of Key West, providing that designs and uses of development and reconstruction within Key West Historical Preservation District shall be compatible with the existing unique architectural styles and shall protect the historical value of the district." Essentially, designation of Key West as an area of Critical State of Concern meant that the local cultural resources had statewide significance.

Several survey projects here undertaken to document the historical, architectural and cultural resources in Key West. In 1967, the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) surveyed eighteen significant Key West buildings, providing architectural drawings and photographs. In 1974, the Milo Smith and Associates firm was hired by the Historic Key West Preservation Board to evaluate Key West's historic structures. The Smith team surveyed 1,270 structures, noting thirty-nine primary buildings (3%), and 369 (28%) secondary structures.

In 1976, the Florida Division of Historical Resources (then the Florida Division of Archives, History and Records Management) contracted with the Historic Key West Preservation Board to complete a comprehensive inventory of historic, archaeological and architectural sites. The 1976 Survey resulted in the completion of over 3,000 Florida Master Site Files. The individual sites met local and state criteria, and generally met National Register criteria, as follows:

  • The site must be 50 years old. (In Key West, all buildings surveyed appeared on the 1912 Sanborn Map); and/or
  • The site must be associated with historical events which made a contribution to Florida's or Key West's history; and/or
  • The site must be associated with the lives of persons significant in Florida's or Key West's past; and/or
  • The building must embody distinctive characteristics of a type, period or method of construction without major exterior alterations.

The results of the 1976 survey were compiled in the Cultural Resource Survey Report published by the Florida Division of Historical Resources. The documentation resulted in the 1983 listing on the National Register of Historic Places of a new Key West Expanded Historic District. The new boundaries extend the original district to include the area between Whitehead Street and Emma Street and eastward from Angela Street to Waddell Avenue, and extending to Reynolds Street.

In 1984, the Key West Naval Station was listed as a separate National Register District with 23 historic buildings.

The Old Island Restoration Commission continued to serve as the City's architectural review commission. Its name was changed in 1986 to the Historic Architectural Review Commission (HARC).

In 1986, the OIRC Guidelines were revised and strengthened, and the Secretary of The Interior's Standards and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings were adopted by city ordinance. Subsequent changes reflected in this publication were developed by HARC with the assistance of State Preservation Grants.

In 1998, the historic structure survey was updated and reported in City of Key West, Florida Historic Sites Survey funded by a grant from the Bureau of Historic Preservation Division of Historical Resources, Florida Department of State.


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