The Studios of Key West has settled perfectly into its three-story building at the corner of Eaton and Simonton streets, so why does the elevator inside have a lighted button labeled “4?”
Press that button (or let a nearby kid do it) the next time you’re in the popular community arts hub, and watch what happens.
The elevator doors open brightly onto Key West’s newest highlight, literally.
The Studios recently opened Hugh’s View, an unexpected rooftop venue with an unparalleled view that features a stage, sound system, soft grass-like turf, benches, two bar stations and a perimeter lined with flower pots reminiscent of an elegant English garden.
“We hope the rooftop will feel like a public space for all of Key West to enjoy. It’ll be open free of charge during the day whenever the galleries are open, and as often as it can be during the sunset hours, which are just glorious,” said executive director Jed Dodds. “In the first year it’ll be carrying an extra programming load because of COVID, and we’ve got an amazing schedule of concerts and plays lined up. Our plan for this winter is to shift everything we’d normally do in the indoor theater up to the roof, so it’s really coming together at the perfect moment.”
Dodds said the idea for a rooftop space was always part of the vision for the building and its 2015 renovations, but Hurricane Irma interrupted those plans.
“Then we got a major grant from the Monroe County Tourist Development Council in 2018 that put us back in motion. Architect Michael Miller designed the space beautifully and we received an outpouring of support from our supporters, a year of construction, and here we are,” Dodds said.
The $2 million Hugh’s View venue covers about a third of the overall roof and can accommodate about 100 people.
“By winter we think we’ll be able to seat up to 40 safely, with proper distancing,” he said.
Key West residents and community patrons Jeff and Rosi Ware helped spearhead the rooftop project in honor of Jeff’s father, Hugh Ware, who died in 2014 at age 91 after spending a month or more in Key West for each of his last nine years.
Hugh Ware was a Royal Air Force pilot in World War II, “as well as a true English gentleman with a brilliant sense of humor and a talented gardener,” Rosi Ware said of her father-in-law, recalling the time “Hugh asked (burlesque performer) Tatah Dujour how she makes her tassels spin in opposite directions. She offered to give him a lesson.”
Jeff and Rosi Ware used the inheritance Hugh left them to launch the rooftop project, which required the installation of 60-foot beams to ensure proper support on the roof.
“Hugh is all over that rooftop,” Jeff Ware said. The couple scattered some of his ashes in the construction site and in each flower pot at Hugh’s View. A memorial propeller from an RAF plane, and its insignia, are on display on the roof. “We’re so pleased. It looks magnificent and we just know Hugh would be so pleased,” Rosi Ware said.