David Wolkowsky, 1919–2018
The developer who revitalized Key West
Wolkowsky’s roots in Florida’s southernmost key went back to the 1880s, when his grandparents—Jewish immigrants from Russia—opened a clothing store there, said The New York Times. When Wolkowsky was 4 years old “and the local economy was failing, the family moved to Miami.” After studying at the University of Pennsylvania, he pursued a career in architecture and helped rehabilitate dilapidated row houses in Philadelphia’s city center. In 1962, Wolkowsky’s father died and he inherited several properties in Key West’s Old Town. He thought he’d go home and retire, but the “relatively blank canvas” Wolkowsky found on the island proved too tempting, said the Miami Herald. He renovated the saloons Captain Tony’s and Sloppy Joe’s, former haunts of Ernest Hemingway; restored an old cigar factory; and redeveloped Duval Street and Mallory Square. In 1968 he opened the Pier House hotel, where a young Jimmy Buffett sang for drinks.
To boost Key West’s profile, Wolkowsky invited literary giants like Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote—“both of whom became good friends”—to stay at the hotel, said The Washington Post. Williams drew his portrait, and Capote once gave him handwritten drafts of his unfinished final novel, Answered Prayers, in lieu of rent. Last month, Wolkowsky celebrated his 99th birthday with a typically elaborate party. “There were orchids, champagne, and gifts of pearl necklaces for each of the women who attended.” ■