Key West’s San Carlos Institute

Part of what makes Key West such a fascinating place is its diversity. Along with its identity as a balmy island paradise, the Conch Republic also enjoys a rich Caribbean history. Founded in 1871 by Cuban exiles dedicated to Cuban independence from Spain, the Instituto San Carlos preserves not only the story of their efforts but also the artistic, literary, and musical heritage of Key West.

The San Carlos Institute has weathered many storms. Located in Key West’s historic district at 516 Duval Street, it was destroyed by fire in 1886, flattened by a hurricane in 1919, and condemned to the wrecking ball in the 1970s. It survived all of these setbacks and reopened in 1992 after extensive restoration as a multi-purpose facility housing a museum, a library, an art gallery, a theatre, and a school.

Named after Cuba’s Seminario San Carlos, Key West’s San Carlos is founded firmly on the belief that education is fundamental to independence. The school has embraced children of all backgrounds since its inception, making it one of the South’s first truly integrated schools, with classes taught in both Spanish and English. Today the Institute continues to seek the establishment of a true Cuban republic that respects individual dignity and the right of self-determination.

Prominent Cuban exiles José Dolores Poyo and Juan María Reyes first proposed establishing an organization dedicated to promoting Cuban ideals and cultural values. Cuban tobacco workers made substantial contributions from their modest salaries to support the Institute, and Cuban patriot and poet José Martí addressed a massive gathering at the Institute that eventually coalesced into the Partido Revolucionario Cubano, which planned and organized the War of Independence, freeing Cuba from Spanish rule.

Today the non-profit Instituto presents an array of artistic, musical, and literary events throughout the year to finance operations. It is open to visitors from Friday through Sunday from 12:00 to 6:00 p.m. with free admission, and groups are welcome. In addition, the Amigo program welcomes annual tax-deductible donations of $20 to meet its operational costs.

The ideals that helped found our historic island paradise are still alive here in Key West, making our island paradise perfect place to live. I have been selling Key West real estate for over 29 years, and my free relocation packet and personalized, professional service can guide you to your perfect Key West home. Contact me today by phone at Margarita Villoch, 305-304-8505, by email at, or on the web at and become a part of the Key West tradition!