Some things are just not meant to be, even when they are done with the best intentions. Such is the case of the mysterious domes that now sit just above the waters of the Gulf of Mexico on what used to be Cape Romano, just off the southern tip of Marco Island.
Here is where you will find the famed Cape Romano Dome House, along with the legends and stories of why these geometric dome structures are now sitting so quietly among the waves.
As the story goes, the structures were not part of an alien invasion or secret cult society, but rather the ambitious plans of a man named Bill Lee. Lee’s idea was to create a self-sufficient, eco-friendly home on Cape Romano. He began working on the project in 1980, and by 1982 he was finished.
Lee’s project was designed with much forethought. It was built to sustain hurricane winds and other elements of Florida’s unpredictable weather. Solar panels provided electricity, while the dome-shaped structures provided a pathway to a unique gutter system, allowing rainfall to cascade down into a cistern, where it was then used as running water for the home. Other innovations included heat from small fires lit inside the concrete pylons supporting the domes.
For several years, Lee and his family used the dome home as their vacation house, and even then, the family heard wild stories about the very house they lived in. In an interview with a local magazine, Coastal Breeze, Lee’s daughter, Janet Maples, told a story about overhearing locals discussing her home.
“I can remember one time, we went to the drug store on Marco and some people in the row behind me were saying, ‘Have you been by those dome houses?’ And the other one said, ‘Yeah, but I hear they guard that with machine guns!’ Somehow it got a reputation of being a scary place.”
Ironically, just two years after building his dream home, Lee sold the Cape Romano Dome house in 1984, and a series of events unfolded that would eventually lead to the home's ruin.
In 1987, the new owners came into financial trouble, and Lee repossessed the home, moved back in, and remained there till 1993. That was the year Hurricane Andrew hit Florida, but as Lee intended, his dome home withstood the storm. But, other problems with erosion on the small island eventually forced Lee to leave.
According to the website AbandonedFL.com, The Domes sat unoccupied for more than a decade until a new owner, John Tosto, purchased the property with hopes of relocating them on top of new concrete and steel piling high above the rising tide line. But before Tosto could get his plan into action, the local county government deemed the structures unsafe and ordered the domes demolished. Despite Tosto’s best efforts, he lost his fight, and his investment.
After Tosto, the homes continued to decay as the sea began to reclaim the island. Hurricane Wilma hit in 2005, with not much damage. But in 2017, Hurricane Irma hit, and two of the domes collapsed into the sea.
Today, the Cape Romano Dome Houses are a unique site frequented by boaters and tourists, and they have now become a popular place to photograph. You can book your own boat tour to see the Domed Houses while they still exist. Florida Adventures and Rentals charters boat tours, three times daily from Caxambas Park Marina, located at the south end of Marco Island.
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