Fort East Martello and its adjacent Parade Grounds, pictured from a birds-eye-view following a 9-month long Monroe County restoration and enhancement project undertaken in collaboration with Key West Art & Historical Society and supported by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, Key West’s Save A Tree, and many other individual donors. (Photo courtesy KWAHS)

High and Dry: Key West Art & Historical Society elevates then celebrates Fort East Martello Parade Grounds with November and December COAST Is Clear concerts

While some tides may be King, the oceanside parade grounds of Fort East Martello are now queen-high and dry thanks to a Monroe County restoration and enhancement project in collaboration with Key West Art & Historical Society. The newly-completed $530,000 effort, supported by the Tourist Development Council, benefactors Anne McKee, her husband the late Ross McKee, the late Margo Golan, Key West’s Save A Tree, and many other individual donors ensure that the spacious parade grounds will be useable for a variety of outdoor events, including education programs, private venue rentals, and concerts with pop-up stages, including the upcoming Thursday, November 4 free-for-locals “G. Love” concert— a prelude to the COAST Is Clear Arts & Music Festival coproduced by COAST Projects, featuring Grammy nominated headliners Black Pumas set for Saturday, December 4— and a celebration of the new space.

Or rather, an old space made new. Located at the edge of the Civil War era fort, original grounds centered on military operations and training space for soldiers who ironically, never saw combat. When the fort continued to crumble post-World War II, Society members and volunteers restored it to its original design and in 1951 opened the first museum in the Florida Keys. Three decades later, Ross and Anne McKee and Margo Golan led efforts to create East Martello Park on what is now officially known as the Fort East Martello Parade Grounds— landing space for the Society’s Papio Kinetic Sculpture Parade, launch for Zombie Bike Ride, and multiple KWAHS community events throughout the year.

The massive, 9-month project increased the ground elevation up to four feet in areas, installed drainage systems and ground swell, sod, a new irrigation system, upgraded electrical panels and added lights and utility poles and a fence around the perimeter. Additionally, over 32 biodiverse, salt-tolerant native plants and trees were planted, including Gumbo limbo, Jasmine, Frangipani, Satin Leaf, Wax Myrtle, Coral Bean, Royal Poinciana, Mahogany, Sapodilla, Mango, and Key & Spanish Lime trees whose fruit the Society plans to eventually use for a food event with a local partner to promote the history of local food production, much in the vein of their annual Conch Revival Picnic. The third and final improvement phase will focus on preservation efforts for the fort’s courtyard, which also hosts many of the Society’s family-friendly events and educational programs. 

“Projects like these rejuvenate the community’s pride in their historic properties,” said Cary Knight, Director of Monroe County Projects. “As the project reduces flooding and pooling around the Fort, it helps to preserve the building and property for future generations.”

On November 4, The Society will honor former and current donors with a private ribbon-cutting ceremony on the grounds that they’ve been so passionate about preserving. Later that evening, KWAHS and COAST Projects invite the community to a free concert with performances by hip-hop blues singer and guitarist Garrett Dutton, founder and front man of acclaimed band G. Love and Special Sauce, joined by skate-rock musician Chuck Treece and local favorite Cayman Smith Martin. Admission is free with Monroe County ID; $20 for non-locals. All concertgoers, whether free or paid, must preregister by noon on November 3 at

One month later, on December 4, the celebration continues with the 2021 COAST Is Clear Music & Arts Festival, an all-day, family-friendly event with an artist’s market, food vendors, cash bar, and live music starring Grammy nominated headliners Black Pumas and featuring national and international favorites Phosphorescent, Rayland Baxter, Langhorne Slim, Liz Cooper, and SUSTO, interspersed with performances by locally-based favorites.   

For all concert information, including special discounts offered for teachers, first responders and military personnel who purchase their tickets to the December 4 event during the festival organizer’s October “Local Appreciation Month,” visit Your Museums.  Your Community.  It Takes an Island 

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