The La Concha Hotel is located at 430 Duval Street in Key West and is a 160 room hotel said to be haunted by a man who lost his life after falling into an empty elevator shaft. It is also said to be home to the haunted gift shop. Guests of the hotel have reported feeling someone tap them on the shoulder, but when they turn to see who it is they find no one there. Despite the fact that La Concha was approved as a Holiday Inn franchise, this lurking spirit has proved to be an enduring nuisance to guests. While some people may not like the idea of spending the night in a place that is said to be so haunted, there are others who relish the chance to add this additional experience to their Key West vacation.
In 1925 when Carl Aubuchon looked to Key West for investment potential, he saw travelers arriving by ship or by train and a lack of first-class accommodations to serve them. He immediately started construction on the La Concha Hotel. To celebrate the grand opening on January 22, 1926 which was to coincide with the 14th anniversary of the train's arrival, a lavish dinner and dance was held with special guest Martha Lane who was then starring on Broadway in the smash hit "The Chiffon Girl". Lane introduced the newest dance craze to Key West, the "Charleston".
According to a press release of the day, La Concha's owners spent $768,000 to build the hotel, plus $130,000 on furnishings. At seven stories high it was, and still is, the tallest building in the civilian sector of Key West. It featured marble floors, private baths, an elevator, and other luxuries new to the Key West hotel scene. Each of the one hundred guest rooms had been artistically and exquisitely furnished by expert decorators and designers. A number of rooms were connected to adjoining rooms by baths, a novel feature at the time. Even rooms without baths were complete with hot and cold running water. Other amenities included telephone booths, a haberdashery, bakery, bank, ballroom, and lush carpeting. For $3 a night one could stay in a room with a semi-private bath, for an additional 35¢ you could buy a steak dinner.
Opened to great acclaim, it was no surprise that the hotel was an immediate success with all of the wealthy industrialists, visiting dignitaries, and high society that graced the hallways. In fact, the president of Pan American World Airways, Juan A. Trippe, announced the beginning of service between Key West and Cuba in 1927, and he then located the first office in the hotel. This luxury hotel was also visited by other notable names of the day including royalty, presidents, and Pulitzer Prize–winning authors. Before moving to his home near the lighthouse, Hemingway stayed and wrote at the La Concha where he referenced the hotel in his novel "To Have Or Have Not", Tennessee Williams completed the award-winning play "A Streetcar Named Desire" while in residence here, even Al Capone and his cronies have stayed within these walls.
When the stock market crash hit in 1929, Key West was hit hard and suddenly it went from one of the richest cities in the United States per capita, to one of the poorest. In 1930 due to financial difficulties, the hotel changed ownership and it's name became "Key West Colonial". Although the start of construction on the Overseas Highway improved the flow of visitors to the area, business still continued to seriously decline. Then the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane swept through the Keys destroying parts of the new highway and the Key West extension of the East Coast Railway which was one of the island’s major arteries, and Key West was once again cut off from the mainland.
Following World War II the La Concha, greatly decayed, staggered on through the middle of the twentieth century, and for the next 30 years the hotel would fall victim to age and newer, glitzier hotels and resorts. By the early 1980's, the only part of the hotel still open to the public was the kitchen and the famous rooftop bar, perhaps the hotel’s most notable feature as its seventh-floor wrap around observation deck offers a bird’s-eye view of downtown Key West, and is one of the best places to view the sunset. The remaining rooms had been boarded up and were now occupied only by pigeons and the occasional vagrant. That all changed when architect Richard Rauh was hired to save the faded gem. Working only from old photographs, interviews of longtime residents about what the hotel had once looked like, and stripped layers of wallpaper and panels, his crew painstakingly restored the La Concha to its former glory. The multi-million dollar, award winning project re-opened in 1986, this time with a new coral-pink exterior replacing the drab mustard-yellow look it once sported.
Like the island itself, La Concha had weathered many changes and had undergone numerous face-lifts. The hotel had been restored, reopened, and had recovered from its fall, but one New Year’s Eve a waiter who had been cleaning up after a party had pulled his cart full of dishes down the hallway on the 5th floor and was patiently waiting on the elevator. As the elevator doors opened and the bell sounded, he backed into the elevator pulling his cart in with him. Unfortunately the elevator had malfunctioned and the car stopped at the floor above him. He stepped into an empty elevator shaft and fell to his death. His spirit seems most active on the fifth floor and to no surprise, around the elevator. Many guests have reported hearing his scream followed by a deafening crash, while others have seen the young man in the elevator perhaps trying to complete his task.
This seven story hotel has also been the scene of many suicides as some 13 people leaped to their death from the rooftop observation deck, and some of these spirits may also remain. A lawyer who leapt to his death in 1992 after being accused of embezzlement can still be seen pacing back and forth contemplating. One gentleman who took the leap in 2006 reportedly downed a glass of Chardonnay before doing so. Since then, patrons have reported their glasses of Chardonnay were sometimes suddenly jerked from their hands by some unseen force. Could the spirit of a former employee be trapped within these walls for all of eternity? Is the La Concha home to several unknown guests who have remained on long past their check out date?