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November 11, 2016. – (Key West, FL). Architect Bert Bender to Discuss Custom House Restoration at Key West Art & Historical Society’s Distinguished Speaker Series

The majestic, red brick building located near the seaport’s edge hasn’t always looked so dignified. After sitting abandoned for close to 30 years, it was purchased by the State of Florida’s Land Acquisition Advisory Council in 1991 then leased to the Key West Art & Historical Society for use as a museum.  This is where Architect Bert Bender stepped in. Join Bender on Monday, November 28th, from 6:00pm-7:00pm, as he discusses the Custom House Restoration in the Helmerich Learning Center at the Custom House Museum as part of The Society’s Distinguished Speaker Series.

Bender and his associates became affiliated with the Custom House during the building’s initial restorations, a project that became ranked as Florida’s number one preservation project and considered to be a “model of how good preservation is undertaken by the State Division of Historic Resources,” says Bender.  Bender will share stories and details of the building’s 9-year, 9-million-dollar restoration as well as the restoration currently underway to help preserve the building— and the historic contents within it.

Key West Art & Historical Society met up with Bender to offer you this special preview of the evening’s presentation:

The Society: What draws you to your work on the CH?

Bender: The Custom House is an iconic building. Its significance is not just local, but statewide. Our focus throughout the 41 years of our firm’s existence has been historic preservation. The work that we have done for Key West Art & Historical Society have been among the most important projects that we have completed. The Custom House, the Key West Lighthouse and Light Station, and East Martello are highly significant local treasures. The Custom House is the crown jewel of that effort.

The Society: What has been the most enjoyable facet of it for you?

Bender: Watching the community interact with the building and the museum activities that go on there is the highlight for me. Historic buildings are meant to be used.

The Society: Why do you think it’s important to invest in preserving this building?

Bender: How we treat our historic buildings is the legacy that we leave for future generations. This applies to all historic structures, but the Custom House is unique in its architecture and its history. The building is significant statewide as well as locally.  How we treat our historic resources in general and this iconic structure will determine how future generations view us as a society.

The Society: How have the last 3 years of “recent” renovations differed than the ones you did from previous 9-year restoration project?

Bender: The original 9-year restoration recovered a lost jewel by removing inappropriate additions and enclosures of the wraparound porches. We actually had to reconstruct entire portions of the building that no longer existed. That effort was a true restoration, returning the structure to its early 20th century appearance and configuration. The recent work is preservation and includes upgrades to fire sprinkler systems, mechanical systems, computer systems, and electrical systems. Some of this work, including repairs to the 23-year-old roof, comprised maintenance. This effort is what a good steward should be doing.

The Society: How do you feel The Society is doing in its job as steward to this landmark, historic location?

Bender: I cannot think of a better steward for this building than Key West Art & Historical Society. They have shown through their dedication and continued efforts in maintaining and preserving the building to be the perfect steward.

The Distinguished Speaker Series are part of a twice-monthly program that highlights the abundant history and cultural assets of our islands through informal lectures, sponsored by The Helmerich Trust, Key West Marriott Beachside Hotel and the Marion Stevens Fund. Tickets are available online:  $8 for members, $12 for nonmembers.  For more information, contact Adele Williams, Programs & Education Director at 305.295.6616 x 115 or visit KWAHS.ORGYour Museums.  Your Community.  It takes an Island.


Bert Bender of Bender & Associates Architects, P.A., who headed the Custom House restoration of the 1990’s, and is heading the six-phase restoration undertaking currently underway, will discuss “The Restoration of the Custom House” as Key West Art & Historical Society’s Distinguished Speaker Series guest on Monday, November 28th at 6pm.