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Duck Key in the Florida Keys

An Information Guide to Duck Key in the Florida Keys



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Hotels and motels
Florida Keys
and Key West







































































































RESORT GROWTH : Bryan Winslow Newkirk, Gene Otto, and Morris Lapidus


Information about how the Indies House got its start and was transformed into Hawk's Cay may be found on this page under the headings listed below;





Prior to any building Bryan Newkirk, Duck Key developer, had to obtained certain baybottom lands around the island of Duck Key from the State of Florida and connect the island with the Overseas Highway. He was deeded the necessary baybottom lands and began construction of a small bridge and earthen causeway leading from the highway to Duck Key in 1952.


Newkirk then constructed a one story workshed and nursery building (1952). As the island was largely scarified from canal building and landfilling Newkirk had much landscaping to do. The nursery started with 6 acres of young trees and plants. As the plants grew and flourished they were transplanted to other parts of the island which were barren.



The oldest remaining structure and a dominant focal point on Duck Key is the resort's Administration Building which is built in a West Indian style. This charming architectural prize rests peacefully just off Duck Key Drive and the entrance to Hawk's Cay. Surrounded by a green jungle of tropical trees, palms, and banana plants, the building gives a feeling of solidity and permanence as though it must have been on the island since the days of wreckers in the Florida Keys.

Built in 1954, this patioed and balconied structure typifies the Caribbean architecture and atmosphere the builders of Duck Key were trying to create. The interior of the Administration Building's upper floor has undergone many changes from its original design, but the upper chambers still surround a narrow spiral steel stairway leading to what was once an observation deck from which guests and prospective buyers could view the island.

Visitors entered rooms shaded by plantation blinds and looked out windows which were of double hung sash construction. Fifties-style aluminum jalousie windows were not considered as they did not fit the West Indian architectural theme. The interior walls were hung with a tropical wall paper picturing vines and monkeys. Built to last and at considerable expense the building has stood the test of time.

The Caribbean theme was the inspiration of Gene Otto, a widely known Key West artist. According to Otto, all the houses were to have "earth-colored tile roofs, with wide overhanging eaves like so many older houses encountered at Key West, Jamaica and other Caribbean islands." The first private residences built all kept to the West Indian architectural theme.


An old postcard Image of the Administration Building


Text image from reverse side of Administration Building Postcard.
The apartments were used to house by prospective buyers.

More images of Duck Key from the 1960s


Gene Otto was also instrumental in the design of the Venetian Bridges connecting the islands of Duck Key. Pictured above is an old postcard showing the Harbour Island Bridge. The Plantation Bridge can be seen in the background.

From left to right : Gene Otto, Mitchell Wolfson, Gloria Swanson, and unnamed protege of Swanson



Robert Eugene Otto was born in Key West in 1900. He lived at 524 Eaton Street. Otto started using his middle name "Eugene" around the time he was given a doll that was crafted to look like him. Eugene named the doll "Robert".

Young Gene Otto became very attached to the doll. Gene and the doll Robert go to town dressed alike in sailor suits.There are a number of bizzare stories associate with Gene and the doll Robert. Many accounts report that Gene would blame the doll when something went astray in his home. Rather than accept blame Gene would often say "Robert did it".

One account tells that Robert the doll was banished to the turret room in the spire of the Otto Victorian mansion by his parents. Another story reports that some time after Gene Otto was married and having returned to his childhood home he had a room built in the spire which he had scaled down to the doll's size.

Otto House with portion of turret spire shown


As a young man Gene Otto pursued art studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Chicago and the Art Students League in New York. Otto travelled to Paris and there developed a style particular to him. In Paris he met his wife Anne (Annette Parker). They married in 1930. When Anne completed her music studies the Ottos moved to New York City. Both pursued their careers. As an accomplished pianist Anne performed at Rockefellar Center's famed Rainbow Room.

Gene Otto and Anne moved to Key West and would live in the inherited family home for the next 40 years. Gene worked at his art and Anne utilized her time with domestic endeavors. A paintings by Otto hangs in Hemingway’s House in Key West.

Gene died in 1974. His remains are buried at the Key West Cemetery. Toward the end of his life it is reported that Gene Otto was abusive of his wife. When confronted by authorities he would claim it was the fault of Robert the doll.

Anne Otto moved up north and died in 1976. Anne had rented the house and left Robert the doll in the turret room. Robert the doll was well-known by now, because of the many eerie and curious stories associated with him. Supposedly after Anne's demise relatives put Robert in a trunk which they left in the turret room.

Somehow Robert wound up at the home of a woman who lived on Van Phister Street. Robert sat on the woman's porch most days. There is an account of a strange happening with Robert's at that Van Phister Street residence.

Robert the doll in sailor suit - East Martello Museum


In 1994 Robert was given to the East Martello Museum in Key West and is a very popular attraction because of the many strange happenings associated with his past. Some museum personnel and visitors continue to believe Robert causes problems.



Over the years people have related stories that the Indies House was built as a place for gambling.

Dick Philpott of Boynton Beach, Florida wrote e-mail

"I knew Les Barrett, and I remember seeing the Indies House the first week it was opened. I was a small boy with my Father... and it seems to me that I remember him taking me up to the top floor and the room was filled with casino equipment. I remember a gaming wheel on its side. After Haydon Burns got in as Governor and he changed his mind about gambling, well... we never heard anything more about the casino. I heard that all that money went over to the islands where gambling was legal."



Newkirk formed the Florida Southern Land Company in 1956 and sold stock to raise money for the building of the Indies Inn. The Indies Inn opened in January of 1960.

Bryan Newkirk, wanted the hotel to have a West Indian theme. Lucille, Newkirk's wife, was instrumental in the selection of Morris Lapidus as the archtect for the hotel on Duck Key. Lucile while on a trip to the island of Jamaica liked the Arawak Hotel which has been designed by the architect Lapuidus. The Newkirks selected the name "Indies House" for their new hotel building, and Lapidus gave the Indies House a tropical island feel.  

The entrance to the Indies House had a flat covered portico for cars, guest reception and for the unloading of luggage. The original facade of the Indies Inn pictured below can still be seen if one looks carefully behind canvas and landscaping.

Note pattern on exterior wall pictured below. This is exterior of the lobby's famous colored glass wall.


Guests entered a spacious lobby called the Bamboo Room. Indies House literature described the lobby as,

"Of all the public areas, it is the Bamboo Room which sets the romantic atmosphere for each evening. Here, one can sip exotic drinks in an atmosphere likened to such faraway islands as Barbados and Jamaica. "

The lobby had bamboo columns, a straw thatched roof and mystic island masks focusing on the Caribbean islands. Lapidus contrasted this with modern furniture and hanging lamps of the 50s style and a shiny tile floor with a repeating chevron pattern in the Bamboo lobby.


Image of lobby from old Indies House postcard
showing the "famous colored glass wall of the fabulous INDIES INN, Duck Key, Florida."

Lapidus also designed a quaint Caribbean Card Room pictured below for the Indies House which featured modern maple wood decor and gaily coloreds matted scenes of the Caribbean Islands.


Pictured below is a portion of the Lapidus presentation drawings for the Indies House. An oval driveway is shown at the right side of drawing. The Main Lobby or Bamboo Room is colored in yellow for purposes of identification. An indoor lounge and circular bar was accessible from the lobby. The pink area shows the location of the circular cocktail lounge with an oval bar off a wide hallway leading to the octagonal dining room. As indicated below in the section called Indies Inn Additions and Remodeling the Bamboo Room, the Caribbean Room and the circular cocktail room were eliminated due to major renovation in 1984.




A 1961 article in the Miami News provides the name for the Lapidus designed cocktail loungeat Indies House. Identified as Drakes Cove Cocktail Lounge, Lapidus created a sea-like atmosphere with a mural under-water scene on the wall behind the oval bar. Colored filtered lights created unusual patterns.

The article in the Miami News described the hotel as "luxrious Indies House on spacious Duck Key". Duck Key is described as a site "transformed into five interconnected islands with sites for plush homes, hotels, and apartments. . . . strategically located near the world's most famous fishing waters. The flats around the island are teeming with bonefish."

The large octagonal dining room was identified as the "Fundo Mundo' room,which roughly translates to "American world".


Morris Lapidus gained fame as a Florida resort architect when he was commissioned to design the 560-room, 14-story Fontainebleu Hotel in Miami Beach which opened in 1954. It took Lapidus a year to convince Florida hotel man, Ben Novack who was building the Fountainebleu to give him the commission. Lapidus has never done an entire hotel before but had worked for Novack, as associate architect of the Sans Souci. Lapidus also had experience as an associate architect in the building of other hotels such as the Nautilus, the Algiers and the Biltmore Terrace.

The customary style of architecture at that time was either the box-like rectilinear building of post-war America or the classical style of architecture seen in European capitals. Lapidus would have none of that. He rejected conventional architecture and produced the concaved shaped Fontainbleu Hotel that curved in a long arch fronting the ocean beach.

The interior of the hotel ombined no less than 27 colors and had what was referred to as the staircase to nowhere. Actually the staircase led to a modest cloakroom where famous guests could leave their coats, then desend the staircase in their finery and sparkling jewelry to the estatic gaze of the crowds in the Fontainebleu lobby.

The Fontainbleu was not well received by the critics and the architectural elite. The critics went crazy. Lapidus' work was descibed as "superslock" and as far as critics were concerned the Flontainebleu was a "colossal flop". New York Times architect critic, Ada Huxtable, having seen the Fontainebleu described her feelings,

"I was depressed in direct ratio of esthetic illiteracy and hockey pretentions to the shoddyiness of the execution. I got a terrible case of the Fontaine-blues."

Yet another critic described the Fontainebleau as ''the nation's grossest national product.'' Lapidus on the other hand referred to the Fontainebleau proudly as ''the world's most pretentious hotel.''

Lapidus would later design the Eden Roc Hotel (Miami Beach) and the Americana Hotel (now the Sheraton in Bal Harbour, Fl.) So that guests would "know they were in Florida." Lapidus put live alligators in a 40 foot high terrarium in the lobby of the Americana.

Critics described Lapidus's Miami Beach hotels as "boarding house baroque," " gauche, " "emblems of tail-fin chic," and "pornography of architecture". The Miami Herald humorously commented "probably not too disturbing to people who have lost their eyesight."

Hotels designed by Lapidus in the United States, the Caribbean and Europe are listed below:

Boatel (New Port Richey, Fl.)
Causeway Inn (Tampa)
Tampa International Inn (Tampa)
Indies House (Duck Key, Fl.)
Sheraton Motor Inn (New York)
Summit Hotel (now the Loews - New York)
Sterling Forest Hotel (Tuxedo Park, NY)
International Inn (Washington)
Americana Hotel (San Juan)
Ponce De Leon Hotel (San Juan)
Fortuna Beach Hotel (Fajardo,P.R.)
Arawak Hotel (Jamaica)
Aruba Hotel (Aruba)
Chicopee Motor Inn (Chicopee, Ma.)
Interkontinentaler Flughafen Hotel (Zurich)
Swiss Air Hotel (Zurich)


Lapidus' buildings, critics have commented recently, have deservedly become popular American landmarks. His innovation designs and use of color, lighting, and fabric are now accepted staples of American architecture, and the influence of Lapidus can be seen in such modern-day Las Vegas hotels as Caesar's Palace, and the Luxor, hotels which provide fun, luxury, and fantasy. In the past, architectural publications and critics in the press were dismissive of his art. Once described as a designer to the "great mass of people who don't know the difference between architecture and Coney Island", today Lapidus is hailed as a "Mid-Century Modernist".



 The Indies Inn and resort look radically different from what a visitor saw some 40 years earlier. The hotel and resort have changed many times during that period. The original building had only 100 rooms, and a swimming pool and salt water lagoon for swimming.

Shown above is a panoramic view from a 1962 postcard showing the resort, pool and lagoon.


After the work of Newkirk and Morris Lapidus, the Indies House experienced additions and modifications. From 1963 to1971, the Indies House and Island changed ownership five times. Between 1978 to 1983 the hotel expanded to 160 rooms and changed ownership twice more.



Postcard of artist rendering of Indies House in the 1970s.

The expansion to 160 rooms occurred in 1976 when owner Herb Cameron added a 60 unit wing to the Indies Inn. Later that year he added a fifth story roof top restaurant. The construction of the restaurant met with resistance from the adjacent residential community. Although the restaurant was completed, subsequent litigation and agreements caused the restaurant area to be changed into 4 penthouse accommodations.



Herb Cameron chose the name Indies Inn and Yacht Club for the resort. The Indies Inn became a happening place. The image below shows an ad which appeared in a Miami newspaper. The ad portrays the Indies Inn as the place where many good looking girls come to stay on the weekend.

"We're not going to tell you that every good looking girl in Miami splits for Indies Inn every weekend. But we . . . get our share. And then some. Not to mention all the single guys who come because they know."

And the price was right.

"$50.00 and you can bring your own roomate for only $20.00 more. That includes room for two nights, Sipwreck Dinner, Smorgesbord, Champagne Brunch and three complimentary drinks."


In 1983 the Indies Inn is bought by the Barrington Group and closed for almost a year for renovations. The resort renamed Hawk's Cay was completely remodeled and made into a destination resort complex with 178 rooms, a conference center, all resort amenities, expanded tennis facilities, and a refurbished marina. The nine hole par 3 course designed by Trent Jones was removed to make room for a resort expansion approved in 1986.

Although Lapidus' love for the curved line can still be seen in the octagonal dining room which exists to this day, much of his original design disappeared with the renovations of 1984 and renaming of the hotel as the Hawk's Cay Resort.

Above: The old portico was given a radically different look with the use of more wood and a peaked roof.

Postcard image of the Indies House portico 1960s


The Barrington Group (Hawk's Cay) had the lobby broken up into smaller partitions, tropical mahogany furniture added and more than 80 French doors utilized in the decor. The indoor bar, Bamboo Room amd Caribbean Room were done away with and replaced with a bar and Cantina Restaurant built next to the pool.The new owners brought in one thousand trees and plants for landscaping. Concrete around the circular pool/basin was removed and replaced with tons of sand to create the swimming and sailing lagoon. A salt water dolphin pen by the lagoon was built and permits obtained for a dolphin training facility.


1999 Hawk's Cay Village

The 4000 square foot convention center was expanded.

Between 1999 and 2002, the Resort's facilities were again expanded with the addition to the rental pool of several hundred family style "conch" houses identified as Hawk's Cay Village. A 10,000 square foot conference center was also added together with 3 new pools and the Indies Club Recreation facility. A Spa facility was added to the Indies Club in 2002.

The villas of Hawk's Cay Village were built by Pritim Singh and sold to independent investors and and are not resort management. Most owners have place their units in the resort's rental management program.


The resort is sold to the Northview Hotel Group. Northview expects to undertake $27 million for renovations and improvements of the Indies Inn and grounds. Individual villas will be upgraded also as part of the overall packaging and branding of the resort which could bring the entire expense for the upgrade to around $40 million.


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Duck Key, Florida 33050