Wednesday 20 October 2021

Key Largo: From Brothel to Cultural Center

The property was the winner of the 'Save Our Heritage' contest, which grants ¢200 million colones for the restoration of the building located in front of the Morazán park

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QCOSTARICA – The building that housed the Key Largo adult entertainment center, in the heart of San José, will have a new facet: it will become a cultural center, that includes a restaurant.

The cultural center project would also have a restaurant and enhance its architectural features. Rendering: Ministry of Culture

The building, located next to the Morazán park, was the winner of the “Salvemos Nuestro Patrimonio” (Save Our Heritage) contest, which each year grants ¢200 million colones (US$330,000 dollars) to the restoration of a building with a heritage declaration.

The idea is that the building, built in 1887, will house art workshops, cultural and artistic events, as well as the dissemination of gastronomic art, social responsibility projects, private events, and other family entertainment activities.

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Mariela Murillo and Daniel Hidalgo are the architects who promoted the proposal from an idea of ​​the owners of the property.

Rendering: Ministry of Culture

According to Murillo and Hidalgo, the owners wanted to transform the building into a place to “promote culture and art in the central area of ​​San José, create spaces for entertainment and support for national artists, generate itinerant spaces for socialization and artistic appreciation, and develop projects of social action”.

The Murillo and Hidalgo project won out of 27 proposals for structures located in six of the seven provinces (none from Puntarenas).

Rendering: Ministry of Culture

Transforming this property requires a major intervention, as the passage of time has been relentless.

The advantage, according to the winners of the contest, is that the various tenants maintained it in “fair to good” conservation, making major repairs several times.

“There is gradual damage caused by the lack of ventilation and natural lighting. The attached constructions generated a blockage that increases the internal humidity level of a house that has always been characterized by its good ventilation and natural lighting,” explained the professionals.

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This is part of the work to be done.

  • Improvements to the electrical system: installation of fire detection and electrical installation according to current code, internal and external lighting that highlights architectural details.
  • Rain system repair: eavestroughs, downspouts, manhole boxes, flashing.
  • Restoration of wood in frames, doors, and windows.
  • Second level slab waterproofing and marble veneer.
  • Structural reinforcement in the southern annex, dating from 1960. This space is for future dance and theater workshops.
  • Repair and restoration of wooden ceilings painted by hand and affected by humidity.
  • Stair maintenance.
  • Construction of a multipurpose room in the west area. This would eliminate the impact of previous intervention.
  • North hall opening, (annex made in 1995). This annex is in front of the Morazán and will serve to improve ventilation.
  • Reconditioning of bathrooms, according to law 7600.
  • Improvements in mechanical installations.
  • Internal and external painting.
  • Landscaping redesign to reduce humidity.

“We hope to renovate an important area of ​​the city center that has been degrading and, however, has very valuable heritage; educational, commercial and tourism institutions,” highlighted Sylvie Durán Salvatierra, Ministra de Cultura y Juventud (MCJ) – Minister of Culture and Youth, when making the announcement.

Rendering: Ministry of Culture

The qualifying jury was made up of Carolina Pizarro Hernández, architect representing the office of the MCJ; Adrián Jirón Beirute, independent architect; Ileana Granados Poveda, architect representing the Federated College of Engineers and Architects of Costa Rica (CFIA); Federico Cartín Arteaga, independent urban planner; and Diego Meléndez Dobles, architect director of the Center for Cultural Heritage.

The history

For the last few decades, the property was infamously known locally and internationally as a social gathering place in San José, where single men, principally from the United States could meet local women.

Key Largo was one of San Jose’s top “social gathering” place
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The Key Largo Bar was also one is one of the original pickup bars for Costa Rica, started by David Brewer, a retired Los Angeles, California, policeman who also owned the Gran Hotel Costa Rica and a string of other properties.

The infamous Hotel Rey in the background

The property was later purchased and operated by the same group who owned and ran the infamous Hotel Del Rey.

In 1998, the property was declared by the Government of Costa Rica and Incorporated as Architectonic Historical Patrimony of Private Character according to Executive Decree No. 27490-C.

According to the file of the Centro de Investigación y Conservación del Patrimonio Cultural Costa Rica (CICP) – Center for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage, the house was built in 1887 with brick on the first level and French wattle on the walls of the second floor.

Historical photography: Ministry of Culture

The property has architectural details and ornaments of the Victorian style, according to the trend of the time.

The winning architects noted that there are attachments that are still preserved: imported mosaic-veneered floors with custom detailed geometric patterns, intricately detailed and hand-painted wood first-level ceilings, door and window moldings, detailed wooden staircase. carvings and stained glass.

Initially, it was the home of the agricultural businessman Víctor Manuel Herrán Bonilla, whose initials remain on the gate of the main door, 130 years later.

Shortly afterwards, it was sold to the coffee businessman Óscar Rohrmoser.

Its third owner was the merchant Arnoldo Andre Wessel, who in 1907 sold it to Cecil Vernon Lindo Morales, a banana merchant and high official of the United Fruit Company.

This property was built at the end of the 19th century (1887) facing the south side of what is now the Morazán park. Historical photography: Ministry of Culture

Some people know this property by the name of Casa Lindo.

The Lindo family was the owner for more than 30 years until, in 1941, it was sold to Max Gurdián Rojas e Hijos SA, a company that rented it to the Conservatory of Music of the University of Costa Rica, during the 1950s, until the 1970s.

It was then leased and home of the infamous Key Largo bar and nightclub, a business that remained in the building until 2020.


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