Living

Historic Key Limeade gets a fresh new look

The eight-decade history of the Key Limeade building on Plantation Key faded with the years, slowly ebbing away behind locked doors and layers of road grime.

Now, one of the first restaurants in the area sports a new coat of paint with artistic flourishes, the result of efforts by volunteers with the Islamorada Community Character Committee.

"Now it looks like a fresher and nicer place," said Bill Fountain, a developer and the committee chairman.

"It's all about getting people to think about Islamorada's community character," Fountain said. "It's not just 14 crazy people out there slapping paint on a building that doesn't belong to us."

The revitalized appearance, with new plantings, proved so attractive that would-be customers have stopped in quest of Key lime pie.

"We had to put up a closed sign," said project manager Judy Hull, committee member and executive director of the Islamorada Chamber of Commerce.

The village of Islamorada has a contract pending to buy the one-acre property at mile marker 86.5 from its out-of-state owner for $800,000 for a use as a sewer pump-station site. The deal hinges on whether the Village Council moves forward on sewer construction plans later this month.

The building "was looking run down without much scenic appeal," Hull said. "We went out and used good ol' elbow grease. Everybody really got into it."

Barbara Weingardt and Kathy Clements used their artistic skills to add whimsical touches like flowers, a patient pooch and napping cat.

"To them, it was an irresistible empty canvas," Hull said.

The July 24-Aug. 1 project included a massive property cleanup in addition to painting and landscaping. A two-day sale of nearly 500 bougainvillea plants raised money for supplies.

On Sept. 12, the organizers will hold a picnic "as an old-fashioned thank-you to all those who came out or did something to make it happen," Fountain said.

The Limeade building began life as Tift's Restaurant, built in 1928, according to real-estate listings.

Shirley Faye Albury, who grew up on Plantation Key, remembers eating at Tift's as a child in the early 1940s.

"There wasn't much else around," she said. A family relative, "Aunt Annie" Maloney, was a renowned cook who worked with owner Charlie Tift.

The building was later sold to the Uhler family and became the Key Limeade business, offering "World Famous Key Lime Pie" made from locally grown fruit.

Two sisters ran the business for many years but the roadside building has been closed for more than a decade. The estate of Mary Ann Uhler is selling the property.

The Community Character Committee took on the project to remove what amounted to "an unkempt, negative billboard" in Islamorada, Fountain said, and to serve as an example.

"We want to encourage people to consider what they might do to their own property," Fountain said. "We're not trying to pick on anybody or be code enforcers.

"This is basically a group of small-business people trying to do something positive," he said.

For information on the Community Character Committee, go to www.IslamoradaMovingForward.com

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