by Katie Hendrick | July 26, 2017

Floridiana: Home Sweet Dome

In Ten Thousand Islands, throngs of curious adventurers look for the mysterious Cape Romano Dome Home—which its original resident couldn’t fathom seeing ever again

For decades, a smattering of Star Wars-like igloo-shaped structures off Cape Romano (just south of Marco Island in the Ten Thousand Islands) have attracted throngs of gawkers and inspired numerous rumors. Aliens? Cults? Government secrets?

The Dome Home, once perched on the beach, was taken over by the surrounding waters; Photography by Joey Waves

The Dome Home, once perched on the beach, was taken over by the surrounding waters; Photography by Joey Waves

The truth was decidedly less salacious but equally sensational. In 1980, the late Bob Lee, a retired oilman from Gatlinburg, Tennessee, constructed a self-sustaining beach residence. An avid inventor with a background in geology, Lee created concrete domes from the (now underwater) island’s sand. Troughs collected rainwater that passed through filters and rested in tanks beneath the buildings. Solar panels powered ovens, ceiling fans, refrigerators, satellite televisions and even a hot tub.

 

“We were not roughing it,” recalls Lee’s daughter, Janet Maples, who made frequent visits from Tennessee. The spherical shape minimized wind impact and provided an airy ambiance. From big arched windows, the Lee family observed manatees, porpoises and turtles.

The original owner's photo of her home in its intended glory; Photography by Margaret Lee

The original owner’s photo of her home in its intended glory; Photography by Margaret Lee

The property that sprung from the mind of a forward-thinking genius changed hands a few times before facing its ironic fate—erosion, exacerbated by Hurricane Wilma, overtook the beach and damaged the domes’ foundation. In 2007, the Collier County Code Enforcement Board deemed them uninhabitable. “Daddy knew it would happen and urged the first buyer to build a seawall,” Maples says. She can’t imagine ever returning to the area. “It would just be too sad.” For now, however, the Cape Romano Dome Home remains a cool Florida destination, reachable by boat or kayak, delighting those who make the journey with stalwart pillars that still uphold the arches and caps.

 

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