Ernest Hemingway House
Hemingway House in Key West, Florida
|Location:||907 Whitehead Street
Key West, Florida United States
|Added to NRHP:||November 24, 1968|
|Designated NHL:||November 24, 1968|
The Ernest Hemingway House, officially known as the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, was the residence of author Ernest Hemingway in Key West, Florida, United States. It is located at 907 Whitehead Street, near a prominent lighthouse close to the Southern coast of the island. On November 24, 1968, it was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark.
This was Hemingway's home from 1931 to 1939. It is a private, for-profit landmark and tourist attraction now populated by six and seven-toed cats that guides claim are descendants of Hemingway's cats. The author's second son, Patrick, who lived in the house, stated in a 1994 interview in the Miami Herald's "Tropic" that his father had peacocks in Key West, but no cats; he owned cats in Cuba. In a 1972 L.A. Times interview, Hemingway's widow Mary denounced the sale of "Hemingway cats" by the owners of the house as "An outright lie. Rank exploitation of Ernest's name." The house no longer sells cats, but does continue a selective breeding program for them.
The house stands at an elevation of 16 feet above sea level, but is still the second-highest site on the island. It was originally built by Asa Tift, a marine architect and salvage wrecker, in 1851 in colonial southern mansion style, out of limestone quarried from the site. As testament to its construction and location, it survived many hurricanes, and the deep basement remained, and remains, dry.
The Hemingways had spent the previous three years living in Key West but had rented housing, the last being a two story home at 1301 Whitehead Street. Pauline (the writer's second wife) found the Tift house in 1931, for sale at a tax auction. Pauline's uncle Gus bought it for her and Ernest, for $8,000 cash, and presented it to them as a wedding gift.
The house was one of the first on the island to be fitted with indoor plumbing, and the first on the island to have an upstairs bathroom with running water, fed from a roof rain cistern. Also notable are a built-in fireplace, and the first swimming pool in Key West, and the only pool within 100 miles in the late 30's. Pauline Hemingway spent $20,000 (equivalent in 2013 to $330,000) to have the deep well-fed pool built for her husband, while he was away as a Spanish Civil War correspondent in 1938. When Hemingway returned, he was reportedly unpleasantly surprised by the cost, and exclaimed: "Well, you might as well have my last cent." This penny is embedded in concrete today near the pool. In the "Tropic" article, Patrick Hemingway referred to this story, and others told by uncertified guides at the house, as "apocryphal".
In 1935, when the visitor bureau included the house in a tourist brochure, Hemingway hired his friend, driver, and handyman Toby Bruce to build the high brick wall that surrounds it today.
Another of Hemingway's loves was boxing. He set up a ring in his yard and paid local fighters to box with him as well as refereeing matches at Blue Heaven, then a saloon but now a restaurant, at 769 Thomas Street.
Hemingway converted a urinal obtained after a renovation at Sloppy Joe's bar into a water fountain in the yard, where it remains a prominent feature at the home and serves as one of many water sources for the grounds' cats.
The grounds of the house are maintained as a garden, with many tropical plants installed after Hemingway moved to Cuba. In Hemingway's time, the grounds, like the island, were sparse and dry due to lack of water that only came later, with the Navy's installation of a water line from mainland.
The house was originally purchased for $8,000. It was sold after Hemingway's death, empty, and without furniture or books. Although tour guides claim that certain items belonged to Hemingway, none of the furniture, books, or other items in the house, except for one chandelier, can be documented as having been owned by the author. His writer's studio in the second floor of a free-standing carriage house, and where he stayed briefly when visiting from his home in Cuba, once was connected by a second story walkway to the master bedroom. The walkway, shown in pictures from archives, has not been reconstructed.
A garage on the property was built after Hemingway's departure.
The house was in 1988 a filming location of the 16th James Bond movie Licence To Kill. In the scene Bond resigns from the secret service and then flees through the garden. In protection of M the fictional guards watch from the Key West Light across the street.
One of the many Polydactyl cats that lives on the property
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