For Whom The Air Cools: Ernest Hemingway's Key West Home To Get AC

Sep 24, 2014

Soon-to-be-cool cat: The Ernest Hemingway Home in Key West has been approved for air conditioning, 163 years after it was built. The museum's famous cats still have to live outside.
Credit Monroe County Tourist Development Council

The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is already hugely popular with visitors -- but soon they'll be able to stroll through the writer's Key West home in more comfort, especially during the sweltering subtropical summer.

The house, built in 1851, is now set to have air conditioning installed for the first time. At the moment, stand-up fans offer the only relief.

Key West's Historic Architecture Review Commission approved the measure Tuesday evening. The home's owners say they need it to help preserve the items inside, which include first edition of the writer's works and antique furniture.

"This is not a typical air conditioning system," Peter Pike, the architect for the project, told the commission. The high-velocity system will use small devices, about two inches in diameter, to discharge the cool air from an air handler in the basement.

"I don't know if you guys realize, but the Hemingway Home has a full basement," Pike said. Such a feature is a rarity in Key West.

Key West's historic oversight is so strict that city staff specified -- and the review commission agreed -- that the vents covering the air conditioning should be painted the same colors as the walls and the lattice covering the rooftop compressor lattice should be painted to blend with the roof structure.

The house was built by one of Key West's early shipwreck magnates, Asa Tift. It was built without electric power or running water. Ernest Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline, bought it after their return to the U.S. from Paris. Hemingway left in 1937 when his affair with Martha Gellhorn began; Pauline Hemingway made the Whitehead Street house her home until her death in 1951.

As well as being in the Key West historic district, the Hemingway Home is individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark, one of 43 in Florida and three in Key West. The other two are Fort Zachary Taylor and the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Ingham.