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Hurricane Ian destroys Florida’s ‘dome home’

They stood sentinel in the blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico: a chain of white domes raised on columns that the viewer thought looked like igloos or jellyfish or some sort of sci-fi creature.

Built by an amateur inventor in the 80s to be self-contained, solar-powered and hurricane-proof, the an unusual retreat was once valued at $1.5 million, envisioned as part of a neighborhood of getaway homes on the white sands of Cape Romano near Marco Island.

Nature had other plans. Beginning in the early 2000s, hurricanes and erosion eroded the land where the Cape Romano Dome House stood. That year, it was hundreds of meters from the shore – an otherworldly local landmark that attracted a flood of tourists who arrived by boat.

Now the domes have been lost to the sea. When Hurricane Ian swept through southwest Florida last week, they were destroyed. In the photos taken by the local bombing companies, there are only a few columns barely sticking out of the water. The much-mythologized house succumbed to the very forces it was meant to resist, becoming a symbol of the region’s enormous loss.

“It was going to happen eventually,” said Brian Slager, who lived in the house from 1989 to 1991. in Florida and I’ve lived long enough to know that if Mother Nature wants to take something, she takes it.

Ian dealt a devastating blow to the region when it made landfall near Fort Myers as a Category 5 hurricane. The death toll rose to more than 70 on Tuesday and is expected to continue to climb. Homes along the storm’s path were flooded to their second stories, stripped of their roofs or reduced to nothing but concrete, wood and debris.

In comparison, the long-empty dome house represents a lesser loss.

“The abandoned house that was blown away is a lot less disappointing than the people whose house was destroyed,” Alex Demooy of Breakwater Adventures told the Naples Daily News.

Yet its destruction still struck a chord. Treasure Seekers Shell Tours posted a Facebook reel showing what was left of the chain of domes, writing that they had loved showing it off during the tours and were “SO sad” to report the destruction.

A RIP Dome Homes group has sprung up on the social media network, gaining over 500 members within days. Visitors shared an avalanche of tribute photos and memories. One woman wrote that the domes had been one of her family’s favorite places. When her husband passed away nearly a year ago, that’s when they decided to give a memorial toast.

“That way we could always ‘visit’ him in one of our happy places,” she added.

What has become a treasured monument began as one man’s dream. Bob Lee was a Tennessee resident who retired early after a lucrative oil career, according to a 2013 Florida Weekly article. He loved southwest Florida and set out to build a beachfront vacation home almost untouched Cape Romano, accessible only by water.

Lee was imaginative and inventive, always tinkering and dreaming up new innovations. He was also, as his daughter Janet Maples told the Coastal Breeze, “long before his time.” The house, for which he bought land from four different owners, was made of cement blended from island sand and filled with foam for climate control.

It was made up of domes, so rainwater ran down the sides and into a cistern for use in showers and washing up, grandson Mike Morgan said. It was not the only advantage.

“The design of the main structure is very wind resistant as there are no sharp edges or flat surfaces for the wind to catch on,” Morgan told Coastal Breeze. “That was another thought process my grandfather had when he built them.”

When Slager first spotted it, he thought, “Oh my God, what a fabulous place this is.” He wondered who it belonged to: someone rich and famous? He ended up living on the property years later, hired to watch over it by a man who bought it from Lee.

It was a nature lover’s paradise, Slager said, with just two houses as neighbors. They were also unusual – one in the shape of a pyramid and the other on stilts. He remembers “many adventures” from that time: once riding around a boat full of women, another time seeing his dog chasing after a Florida panther and coming back the next day, “his tail was wagging as if nothing had happened”.

On Marco Island, he said, local lore had the odd-looking house used by government agents or guarded by machine guns: “The stories were all over the island.”

The Lee family eventually repossessed the property and lived there again, until Hurricane Andrew knocked out the windows and damaged the interior in 1992. In 2005, a man named John Tosto bought the place for $300,000 with plans to renovate and move. house farther from shore, according to the Naples Daily News. Then Hurricane Wilma hit.

It was the beginning of the end, significantly eroding the beach. Two years later, Collier County declared the property uninhabitable; hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines would follow for Tosto.

Maples told Coastal Breeze she remembers a time “when it was actually an exhausting walk to the beach.” But over the years, the shoreline has moved further and further away from the domes. The other two houses have long since been washed away by the sea. The neighborhood, if there had been one, would have disappeared too.

“Flicking through historic photos, the shifting ground makes the domes appear to have slipped into the sea, until today they are totally surrounded by water,” Cynthia Mott wrote in the Florida article. Weekly. “Cap Romano has had a facelift and the houses in the dome have had a new courtyard.”

For some, it was a sign of climate change. Jayantha Obeysekera, research professor and director of Florida International University’s Sea Level Solutions Center, told E&E News in 2019 that this is “a very telling example of how climate change and rising sea ​​level will affect us in the future”.

There was talk at one point of manually sinking the domes as a natural reef, the Naples Daily News reported. But that didn’t happen. Many, including the director general of the regional tourism agency, did not want him to leave. The house had long since begun its second life as an object of ocean wonder, photo backdrop, and tour stop.

Nikki Webster, an Orlando resident who runs travel blog Brit on the Move, came across a photograph of the domes online and visited them in 2019. She chronicled the trip on her blog, calling it an “experience exhilarating”.

“It reminded me of when I saw the pyramids,” Webster said in an interview. “It’s like they appear, and you’re just like, ‘Whoa, what is this?’ ”

She urged people to visit, always with a warning: “I’ve told everyone that I know this is a very short piece of history,” she said, “that the sea ​​will claim”.