These Dome-Shaped Structures in Florida Were Once a Luxury Vacation Home But Were Returned to the Sea by Hurricanes

L. Cane

In 1980, oil producer Bob Lee had an ambitious idea. He wanted to build a modern, self-sustaining Florida vacation home for his family to enjoy. Although Bob saw part of his dream realized, things didn't turn out as he'd planned. What was meant to be a vacation home turned into a landmark surrounded by water and was eventually claimed by hurricanes. These odd-shaped structures were called the Cape Romano Dome House, and they used to be a tourist attraction.

The Beginning: Before Bob began constructing the home on Morgan Island, he built a model on property he owned in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Construction began on the Florida home in 1980.

The Early Results: The Florida home was a white-painted concrete structure of six interconnected domes. It boasted 2,400 square feet and had three bedrooms and three bathrooms. A solar system provided hot water, and one could only access the eco-friendly home by boat.

Hurricane Andrew and the End of the Lee Family's Ownership: In 1992, Hurricane Andrew tore through Florida. Although the home's structure remained intact, the windows did not, and the home's interior was damaged. In that same year, the Lee family abandoned the home, but it would eventually have another owner.

The Tosto Ownership and the Erosion: Bob Lee eventually sold the home to John Tosto in 2005, but by that time, erosion had begun, and water began to meet the concrete pillars at the bottom of the home.

Lee suggested that Tosto erect a sea wall to slow the erosion, but Tosto felt he could move the structures with a crane instead.

Hurricane Wilma: Tosto hoped he would have time to stabilize the home, but Hurricane Wilma had other plans. When Wilma hit the island in 2005, the home continued to destabilize, and water continued to surround the domes.

Although Tosto continued to try to save the home, he faced many hurdles, and ultimately the project was abandoned when he was ordered to demolish the home in 2007.

Hurricane Irma: By the time Hurricane Irma hit in 2017, the domes were surrounded by water, and the destruction that came with Irma meant that two of the domes collapsed.

Wildlife Reefs: Following Irma, the domes turned into reefs for wildlife. In 2013, Florida Weekly reporter Cynthia Mott wrote that she'd snorkeled at the site and discovered it was serving as a reef. She wrote:

I've snorkeled Grand Cayman, Mexico, and Fiji, yet have never witnessed a more diverse, crowded concentration of undersea life than what has taken up residence under the remnants of those domes. It was as if all the fish and rays living along that part of the Collier County coast decided to hang out in one location. To make the sight even more remarkable, swirling like iridescent tornado clouds around the gathering were millions of shimmering, silver baitfish."

The domes also served as a landmark for many who visited Cape Romano Island. The site was part of boat tours in the area, and some visitors previously said they wanted to see the structure before the water claimed it forever.

Hurricane Ian: This massive hurricane was the final straw for the domes. A recent Instagram post shows them under water.

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