History of Sunset Key Island
As much as 30 percent of the landmass known as Key West was built by dredging or "filling" sand and coral rock trucked in from farther up the Keys. Entire areas like Trumbo Point, Fleming Key and Sigsbee Park are completely manmade.
It was business as usual in 1965 when the U.S. Navy had a need to dredge their harbor on the southwestern point of Key West known as "the Mole" - to create a depth of 36 feet for diesel submarines patrolling the Southern Atlantic. The Army Corps of Engineers started the project by pumping fill onto Wisteria Island, then moved the 15-inch dredge pipe south to begin filling on what was a sandbar at the time.
As the island of Wisteria continued to grow, the Navy designed plans for a fuel tank depot on the location named Tank Island (now Sunset Key). Further dredging produced an island of some 10 million cubic feet of "fill", with a height of 22 feet in its center, which for a short time was the highest land in the Keys. (Solares Hill in Key West rises 16 feet, while most of Key West is less than 5 feet above sea level.) Once Tank Island was leveled it was 27 acres with an average height of 9 feet above sea level, which is the shape today.
Though 12 tanks were originally scheduled for construction, only two were completed (each 80 feet in diameter and 40 feet tall). They were surrounded by special dikes for fire control and protected by an elaborate foam fire suppression system. Due to changes in Navy plans, the dredging was discontinued, Wisteria Island was never connected to Tank Island and the fuel tanks were never filled with fuel. (Once, the tanks were partially filled with water to prevent their destruction by a hurricane.)
The plan was to pump fuel from the island through 8 and 10 inch pipes laid on the harbor bottom which connected to a land-based network of pipes at the Navy owned "Pier A" and "Pier B" (now the Westin Marina).
The large granite rocks you see on the south shore of Sunset Key were brought from North Carolina by train to Miami, then trucked to Fort Taylor and barged to the south shore of Sunset Key.
The Navy allowed Tank Island's Australian pine trees to grow in effort to partially hide the tanks. For years, boaters near shore saw only pine trees and the Navy's "Keep Out, No Trespassing" signs.
In 1986, the Government Services Administration held an auction and sold Tank Island and other acreage along the harbor, know as Truman Annex, which extended from the Navy mole to where the Westin is today.
The two fuel tanks on Tank Island were dismantled in 1988, cut into strips, cleaned, crimped and barged to an artificial reef site in 200 feet of water south of Key West. In 1994 the mainland acreage and Tank Island were purchased and the island was promptly renamed Sunset Key. Construction began on the mainland for the 178 room Westin Resort, Marina, a 400 space parking garage, and retail business sites along the waterfront.
To begin development of Sunset Key, the island was cleared of pine trees and the land laid bare in preparation for future building. The new owners were able to utilize the fuel lines installed across the harbor by the Navy by inserting smaller pipes inside those fuel lines to carry water and sewage. Fiber optic cables were laid for telephone lines and cable television, and armored electrical cables were laid alongside the pipes. The bundle of pipes and cables were protected by a layer of 2-inch rock, which was covered by 200 articulated 8ft. by 40ft. concrete mats, to provide the latest and safest of modern conveniences to the island.
Homes and home sites range from $1,700,000 to more than $6 million, depending on the size and location. Buyers can choose from four Key West-style plans or use their own, provided they meet the architectural guidelines and are approved by the Architectural Control Committee. Island services include a great beachfront restaurant and bar called Latitudes, The Spa at Sunset Key, a tropical zero-degree entry pool, a beautiful beach, fitness room, gift shop, tennis courts and it is serviced by its own Fire Station. In addition, 24-hour launch transportation is available from the Westin Marina which is only 10 minutes away.
If you're not sold yet, come for a vacation and stay at Sunset Key Guest Cottages. A deluxe resort with 40 one, two three and four bedroom cottages, complete with kitchens, living/dining areas, and deluxe bathrooms, sits on seven well-landscaped acres of the island, and will give you an idea of life on Sunset Key.