The Cape Romano Dome House is without a doubt one of the weirdest and most unusual abandoned houses in Florida, and that’s how you can see it.
You can search a lifetime and not find a house as special as the Cape Romano Dome House. When it was first built it was on land, but today it sits around 300 offshore. Its colorful history includes sea level rise, tropical hurricanes, reefs, demolition orders, and more. While the Cape Romano Dome House isn’t in Florida’s Top 10 Destinations, maybe it should.
Do you really want to stay in a house so strange that it is called by the locals “the mad house?” The Crazy House is a real artist’s project in Vietnam and is open to both stays and guided tours.
What is the Cape Romano Dome House?
The Cape Romano Dome House is an abandoned house made up of six domed modules built on stilts. It is located on Cape Romano Island, just south of Marco Island in the Ten Thousand Islands, Florida.
- Homepage: It was built like a house for Bob Lee
- Located: Originally on Morgan Island
It was never designed to be in the water and has no landing or mooring facilities. What happened was that erosion filled the small natural channel (called Morgan Pass) between Morgan and Cape Romano and so the land was cut off from Morgan Island.
The result was that the domed house ended up on a different island from where it was originally built. But the erosion was not only confined to the connecting channel, more erosion eroded the island so that the sea entered further and now the house is sitting in the water.
Each year, they get closer to their aquatic tomb as the sea continues to walk.
Sea level rise and planned rescue
The Dome House was built in 1979 by Bob Lee – a retired independent oil producer. He was ahead of that time. He wanted a self-sufficient, solar-powered place, even though he forgot about the viability of the land he was building them on.
- Built: In 1979 by Bob Lee
- Abandoned: The house was abandoned in 1992
It had to be abandoned in 1992. By 2004, water levels had started to reach the concrete pillars on which the house was built. It was sold in 2005 to John Tosto of Italy for $ 300,000 who said:
“It’s just something I wanted from the first time I saw it. That was it.”
Tosto had plans for the house in hopes of renovating it, Lee’s advice was to build a dike to stop the erosion that was constantly eating away at the island. But Tosto decided not to, instead planning to move it with a crane to higher ground on high concrete pillars.
- Sold: Tosto in 2005 for $ 300,000
- Hurricane Wilma: Eroded the coastline and destabilized the foundations
Tosto thought it would take around 3 to 4 months to complete the project. But that was not to happen. Instead, Mother Nature had something to say about it with Hurricane Wilma before he could complete the project.
Hurricanes, bureaucracy and abandonment
The hurricane eroded the coastline and further destabilized the foundations. Tosto continued his efforts to move his house to a suitable location, but faced red tape. He had regulatory issues with the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Environmental Protection, and the Collier County Building and Code Enforcement Departments.
- Bureaucracy: Tosto ran into insurmountable bureaucracy when moving home
He simply could not produce all the necessary permits (in part due to the protected bird nesting seasons).
By 2007 the game was over and any lingering melancholy thoughts were dashed when he was ordered to demolish the house. At one point, he was even fined $ 187,000 for not demolishing it. Legal struggles guaranteed, but in the end, it was never demolished or moved.
- Demolish: It was ordered demolished, but it was never
- Reef: Today it has become a reef with abundant wildlife
In 2013 it was sitting in six-foot deep water and by that time snorkelers noticed it served as a reef and attracted marine life. Journalist Cynthia Mott remarked after diving below:
“I have snorkeled Grand Cayman, Mexico, and Fiji, but have never witnessed a more diverse and dense concentration of underwater life than the one that has taken up residence under the remnants of those domes. It was as if all of the fish and stingrays living along this part of the Collier County coast decided to spend time in one place. “
There was even a movement in 2015 to move the domes deeper where they could become a safer underwater reef, but that hasn’t happened either.
- Hurricane Irma: Two of the collapsed domes
Another hurricane, this time Hurricane Irma hit the domed house again in September 2017 and caused the two westernmost domes to collapse, four of them remaining standing.
In 2018, the Collier County Code Enforcement Division closed the domes case and ownership was transferred to the state that owns it today.
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