By the 1920s, Key West had become a major port and tourist destination. Affluent travelers could journey from New York to Key West on Henry Flagler’s railroad and have their rail car transferred to a ferry for the short trip to the gambling and entertainment palaces of nearby Cuba.
Key West had been riding high on the crest of wealth and prosperity at the turn of the 19th century, but it lacked sufficient hotel accommodations.
Carl Aubuchon recognized the need for first class accommodations and started construction on the La Concha in 1925. After a short-lived labor strike, the hotel opened its doors on January 22, 1926.
The modern, “fire proof”, La Concha Hotel was an immediate success catering to industrialists, visiting dignitaries, celebrities and high society.
The owners had spent a then-remarkable $768,000 to build the hotel plus $130,000 on furnishings. Room rates were listed at $3 per night and a steak dinner was available for an additional $0.35. Life at the hotel was good.
With the stunning crash of the stock market in 1929, prosperous Key West suddenly became one of the poorest cities in America. By the end of the Great Depression, Key West had declared bankruptcy and gone into federal receivership.
Within six months of the crash, the floundering hotel was sold and renamed the Key West Colonial Hotel. Locals continued to call it the La Concha.
Many things have been written about the La Concha, but one noteworthy literary reference from Harry Morgan comes to mind. Harry is one of Ernest Hemingway’s Depression-era, rum running characters in To Have and Have Not that makes reference to La Concha’s landmark tower as he sails from the island.
Tennessee Williams took up residence in the hotel after receiving a poor response from publishers in New Orleans for his newest book in 1947. He spent two years reworking his writings and soaking up the unique characters in Key West. Upon completion of A Streetcar Named Desire, he moved from the hotel and purchased a home on the outskirts of town.
Over the years La Concha has seen its ups and downs but an enduring favorite amongst locals and visitors alike are the views from the bar on the seventh floor.