Old Navy Commissary (Gato Cigar Factory)
Backstory and Context
Key West, Florida’s cigar manufacturing industry was beginning to come to prominence in the mid-1870s and The Gato Building played a central role. With the arrival of Cuban immigrant Eduardo Gato, cigar making flourished and soon became the biggest manufacturing business in the city. Employing more than 1,200 workers, the original 1871 Gato Cigar Factory building, also located on this site, was a 3-story wood-frame structure, 150 feet wide by 300 feet long. In 1915 the original building was destroyed by fire. Construction of a new fireproof factory was started in 1916 and completed in 1920. This building represents an early attempt at creating a hurricane resistant, fireproof building in Key West. The decline of the cigar-making industry eventually forced the closure of the Gato Factory. In August, 1942 the U.S. Navy, took over the building through condemnation proceedings and converted it to a dormitory and cafeteria. The building was converted to a commissary in January of 1950 and served as such until closing in November of 1989. One of only three standing Key West cigar factories, the building was transferred to Monroe County in 1998 through the Historic Surplus Property Program. Today the building provides offices and a small exhibit space.