The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum is a 501 (c) (3) accredited, not-for-profit organization existing to research, interpret, and exhibit the maritime history of Florida and the Caribbean in ways that increase knowledge, enrich the spirit, and stimulate inquiry.
About / Our Building
Key West Naval Storehouse – 200 Greene Street, Key West
For years the United States Navy has been inextricably linked to Key West. Because of Key West’s strategic location in the Caribbean waters and its natural deep water harbor, Key West became an optimal site for coastal defense through the Word War I era. Currently it remains a port-of-call, a valuable strategic port for the fleet and a major air training area.
How old is our building?
The preliminary plans for the construction of the Naval Storehouse began in 1902. However, construction on the building did not start until 1908 and was not completed until 1910 at a cost of $54,791.
What was the building before it became the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum?
Before becoming the home of the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society, this building played a vital role in the naval presence in Key West, Florida. The U.S. Navy originally constructed the building in the early 1900s as a “Storehouse for Supplies and Accounts.”
What is the Architectural style of the building?
Neoclassical style architecture.
Who designed it?
The Penn Bridge Company from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania was awarded Contract No. 1348 for Storehouse for Supplies and Accounts, U.S. Naval Station, Key West, Florida, on January 25, 1909. Industrialist Timothy B. White founded the Penn Bridge Company in 1868. White was a pioneer in the construction of iron bridges in the Northeast. The Penn Bridge Company originally operated out of New Brighton Pennsylvania constructing bridges and other large metal structures such as lock gates for canals. By 1878, the company moved to Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, an industrial community at the time. The press referred to Penn Bridge Company as, “One of the most flourishing and thriving industries in the Beaver Valley.” It’s no surprise then that when the Navy specified a building with steel frame for Key West, a company specializing in iron and steel bridges responded, as the techniques for steel buildings evolved from bridge building.
How did it go from a Naval Storehouse to a Museum?
After the end of the Vietnam War in the early 1970s there were widespread military cutbacks resulting in the navy pulling out of Key West. The historic heart of the naval station, including the storehouse, came under the management of the federal government’s General Services Administration (GSA). In order to house his rapidly expanding commercial salvage business, Mel Fisher leased the storehouse from the GSA during the early 1980s.
In 1985, the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum attempted to purchase the storehouse, however the GSA refused to subdivide the property. Finally in 1986, after years of debate, the GSA sold the entire Truman Annex property to a developer for $17.25 million. Soon after Mel entered into negotiations with the new owner, resulting in the purchase by the Fisher salvage company of the storehouse on June 19, 1987.
Following Mel’s death in 1998, the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum began negotiations to purchase the building as a permanent home. The purchase by the museum was completed in December, 2000.
How does the museum use the building today?
After the Naval Storehouse was completed it was the most technologically advanced structure in the city. The steel structure of the building made it suitable to the museum’s operations including our conservation laboratory. In addition to providing sound footing that allows us to display 4,000+ pound canon and other heavy objects, the strong steel structure supports the housing of enormous water tanks in required to store artifacts brought up from the ocean floor during treatment. The building strength permits us to perform the conservation and restoration process of artifacts in house by our own conservator and volunteers.