Key West

Nancy Klingener / WLRN

  Key West has a lot of signs denoting historic sites. Most point to events and places of significance since Europeans settled the island in the early 19th century.

For the month of March, four new signs point further back into the island's history. They are works of public art by Edgar Heap Of Birds and are part of his Native Host series.

Nancy Klingener / WLRN

Key West has one of the nation's highest rates of commuting by bicycle. But it also regularly leads the state in bicycle and pedestrian fatalities for small cities.

Now the island has embarked on a new effort to make cycling and walking safer, as well as encourage the use of public transit. Those efforts were bolstered Friday with the award of Bike Florida's first-ever Share The Road Challenge Grant.

Michael Marrero

Key West is a decidedly upscale place. Simple wooden homes sell for $1 million or more. Fancy boutiques outnumber bodegas.

But a new play written by a Key West native recaptures the rougher side of island history.

Michael Marrero started working on "Locura" 15 years ago.

"A lot of people forget how Key West used to be before all the tourists and the cruise ships," Marrero said. "As soon as tourism comes into a place and the place is gentrified, it tends to idolize what the past was and create it in a sanitary version."

Andy Newman / Florida Keys News Service

  Every year in late October, tens of thousands of people visit Key West for the 10 days of parties and parades known as Fantasy Fest.

It's the island's biggest event of the year, and it fills hotel rooms, bars and restaurants. But it also costs the city more than $280,000 for clean-up and policing.

Nancy Klingener / WLRN

  For almost a century, Key West's Bayview Park has been home to memorials to both sides of the Civil War. A pavilion honoring Confederate soldiers and sailors was built in the 1920s. In the 1930s, the state of New York installed a memorial to Union soldiers of that state who died while stationed on the island.

  Now the city is adding to that number with a statue depicting and honoring the African-American soldiers who were recruited to the Union Army from Key West.

City of Key West

  While the Miami-Dade County Commission recently asked the federal government not to place a Cuban consulate in that county, Key West officials are looking to strengthen ties across the Florida Straits.

  The island city now has two "ambassadors" to Cuba. One is former City Commissioner Tony Yaniz, who was awarded the title by two city commissioners. The other is Key West Yacht Club Commodore Robert Harvey — named by Mayor Craig Cates, who has frequently clashed with Yaniz  politically.

Nancy Klingener / WLRN

  Key West is famous for its collection of old wooden houses, mostly dating to the 19th century. The district known as Old Town is on the National Register of Historic Places.

  But occasionally a new building goes up in the old neighborhoods. Some recent new buildings, and proposed new buildings, have generated a debate about whether new construction in the historic district should blend in with the older buildings or be clearly separate.

Rob O'Neal / Florida Keys News Service

Writing contests offer all kinds of rewards,  but this one may be unique: a residency in Key West, and the opportunity to write in Ernest Hemingway's studio.

The first Florida Keys Flash Fiction contest invites writers to submit a work of 500 words or fewer between now and March 31. The winner will be selected by a representative of the Key West Literary Seminar.

Meredith Rizzo / NPR

  A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of a tattoo parlor owner and against the city of Key West's attempt to block a new tattoo business from opening in the city's historic district.

The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that tattoos and tattooing are artistic expression, protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

And it rejected the city's arguments that tattoo parlors could hurt the "character and fabric" of the Old Town area and thus hurt tourism.

Andy Newman / Florida Keys News Service

Lots of people have trouble figuring out what to do on New Year's Eve every year. Not Gary Marion of Key West — better known to the wider world as the drag queen Sushi.

"On New Year's Eve, I sit in a big, red, giant high heel and I get descended at the stroke of midnight," she says. "It will be my 19th year in the shoe."

Like most years, Sushi is making an elaborate outfit for herself for the big night. Unlike most years, she's also creating outfits for a flower girl, bridesmaids and the "ordained drag queen minister" who will be marrying Sushi and her fiance, Jeff Kusin.

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