New Photo Show Offers View Of Key West's Historically Black Neighborhood Before Gentrification

May 30, 2019

As Key West's housing market caters more and more to the second home set, there's a new effort to preserve some of the island's multicultural history.

Mia Castillo is only 32 years old but she remembers growing up in a Bahama Village very different from the neighborhood she still lives in now.

"Gentrification has definitely taken place. When you look around the neighborhood the numerous local homeowners are no longer there," she said.

Now the historically black neighborhood is full of second homes only occupied part of the year or rented out monthly to tourists.

Castillo is helping to lead a project to preserve Bahama Village's history with a new exhibit of photos of homes and buildings, taken 20 years ago.

The photos belonged to the Old Island Restoration Foundation, where Castillo is a board member. Now they've been donated to the city of Key West as part of the Art in Public Places program.

Castillo said she hopes the exhibit will inspire more people to document and preserve the local history.

"They can see that something as small as 29 photos of people's homes, is something that's so small but it's so big and it's so important," she said.

Castillo has also recorded oral histories from people who have lived in the neighborhood for decades.

"We have a story to tell. And nobody can tell it but us," she said. "So it's very important that we tell it and we tell it right and we tell it now, before it's too late and things like death or illness take away our opportunities to share that with everyone."

The photos will be part of a permanent display at the Frederick Douglass Gym, 111 Olivia St.. That's a community center in what was once part of the island's black high school under segregation.

It will open with an event called Village With A Voice, scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday, June 1. That will include presentation of the oral histories Castillo recorded, along with live entertainment from the Bahama Village African Dance Troupe and the Bahama Village Music Program.