Florida History: The Cape Romano Dome Homes

Last weekend while boating though the Ten Thousand Islands with some friends, we discovered the Cape Romano Dome Homes. Despite growing up in South Florida, I had never heard of them - our friend Mika had however, and we decided to investigate.

Strong currents and the fact that most of the buildings no longer have floors kept us from boarding the retro-future craft, but their story is almost as unique as their design.

These five pod-like structures are steeped in local lore - everything from a former cult commune to a shrine to intergalactic beings - but the buildings were actually designed and built by a former oil producer named Bob Lee. In 1980 Lee purchased land on Cape Romano  with the goal of developing a secluded and self-sufficient vacation home for his family. He bought a barge to ferry materials to the island and did much of the construction himself. Lee felt corners were “wasted space” and favored the rounded design. His innovations extended beyond the eccentric bubble design, as the residence was solar powered, collected rainwater from the roofs and were warmed by lighting fires between the pylons supporting the structure.

The Dome Homes were built to withstand hurricane strength winds, but unfortunately could not withstand the nature of a barrier island. Over the decades, Cape Romano shifted with time and tide. The once sturdy ground beneath the home gave way to changing shorelines and was eventually consumed by the gulf. They now lay about 180 feet from the southwest corner of the island - standing just above the waves due to their elevated construction.

Although repurchased in 2001, property taxes and prohibitive construction costs have delayed any renovation indefinitely. For the time being, the Dome Homes will live on as wildlife sanctuary and will likely fully commit to life at sea as an artificial reef.

Until that day, they still stand just above the waves, like an artifact from a future that never was.

Vintage photographs via Kristian Maples