Built over 100 years ago to house a volunteer militia company known as the Island City Rifles, the historic Armory building has played many diverse roles in Key West’s history. The prominent yellow building on the corner of White and Southard Streets was originally constructed in 1902 “to serve Monroe County and Key West as housing for arms and men”. Since then, the structure has played muse to many of the island’s artists, writers and historians. Today it serves as the base for the growing creative campus at The Studios of Key West.
The History of the Armory
This 1903 Armory was described as “an unusual wood-frame building. The Italianate-style turn-of-the-century Key West Armory incorporates a tall parapet as well as towers and cupolas.” The architectural style has been referred to as Renaissance Revival, Baroque, and Victorian Gothic.
Key West was an important Union Base. Volunteer troops that helped defend Key West from the Confederates were known as the Key West Rifles and then, in 1888 as the Island City Guards. The Armory was built for their descendants, the Monroe County Militia/438th Company C.R.C. Florida National Guard. It housed these troops and their armament. The Armory served as a training facility in World Wars I and II and later became a community center.
Monroe County contracted John T. and A. Bruce Sawyer to build the Amory in 1902, as designed by T.F. Russell: “to make, erect, build and finish, in a good substantial and workmanlike manner, an Armory Building upon a lot in Key West., situated at the corner of White and Southard Streets.” Construction costs were less than $9,000. The State of Florida later refunded the money, which was used to build County Road, now known as Flagler Avenue. Restoration efforts began in the 1970’s prior to the building’s lease to Monroe County. Management of the State owned Armory was turned over to the Historic Florida Keys Preservation Board in 1994.
In the 1890 census, Key West, the wealthiest City in Florida, was a thriving seaport. Sponging and cigar production were at their peak. As such, this was one of the few Armories built in the South during this period as most States had little funding following the Civil War. Key West was an important Union Base. Volunteer troops that helped defend Key West from the Confederates were known as the Key West Rifles and then, in 1888 as the Island City Guards. The Armory, completed in 1903, was built for their descendants, the Monroe County Militia/438th Company C.R.C. Florida National Guard. It served as a training facility in World Wars I and II and later became a community center.
The Key West Armory is the only historic wood frame government building in the City. The building is Victorian with Italianate elements such as an arched clearstory entrance, long two over two windows with pediments, cornice and corbel features below the eaves, and twin, six-sided pointed turrets. Alterations to the building have been minimal. The main entrance leads to a lobby with stairs at each side and double doors that led to the drill hall. A large archway in the center of the room provides support for the high ceilings. Second floor balconies run along the sides of the hall. Today, the Armory is the home of The Studios of Key West.