The World Famous Cape Romano Dome House Wont Be Here For Much Longer! See Them While You Can!
“Bob Lee, a now-deceased retired oil producer, spent much of the years 1978 and 1979 surveying and purchasing land on Cape Romano in hopes of constructing a vacation home.He eventually purchased four adjacent plots of land for his project.
In 1980, Lee began constructing the home, which was a white-painted concrete structure. He purchased a barge to transport supplies for the building. The house consisted of six stout, interconnected dome structures, which made up the rooms of the house, and some of which had two levels. It was 2,400 square feet and featured three bedrooms and three bathrooms.
Before erecting the Cape Romano structure, he built a full-scale model on land he owned in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The Tennessee dome house is still standing. Lee was known for engaging in his own projects, and designed the house to run on solar power and be self-sustaining. The concrete walls were made out of sand from the island. Gutters were installed which drained rainwater into a large tank, which purified the water, and then pumped it into all the home’s sinks, baths and showers, and water-consuming appliances.The house’s domes themselves were not only aesthetic but practical as well, their sturdy concrete walls and rounded tops providing superior hurricane protection.The house was completed in 1982, and was valued at 1.5 million. The floors were tile and carpet, the walls painted white, and the rooms had large windows on all sides. Mike Morgan, Bob Lee’s grandson, said about the house’s sustainability:
“My grandfather designed it so that when the rain would hit the domes, all the rainwater and the morning dew would wash down into a gutter system that he built around the domes. That would all lead into a 23,000 gallon cistern under the center dome. The water would run through filters and that’s what we would use for showers and dishwashing; things like that. The house was totally self-sustaining. He had several solar panels for power along with backup generators if it was cloudy for several days. The Solar systems were installed by Dell Jones, a solar contractor in Ft. Myers. The Amcor Solon 120 liter thermosyphon solar water heater provided the hot water, the photovoltaic system was a hybrid system with a gasoline generator, a large 24 volt lead acid battery with hydro caps (catalytic converters) and Arco solar modules. The refrigerator was a SunFrost high efficiency refrigerator run by the 24 volt battery bank. The inverter was a combination of the older Vanner and a new Trace Engineering inverter installed by Dell. In addition upgrading the appliance loads Dell installed the new lighting, at the time was state of the art compact fluorescent lamps.”
The home was originally built as a vacation house for Bob Lee, his wife, Margaret and their children, including a daughter, Jane. Jane Maples, née Lee, told Coastal Breeze News about the local attention and controversy the house attracted during its early years.
Two years after its completion, in 1984, the Lees sold the house to another family. After that family’s financial situation declined, the Lees repossessed the home in 1987, after which point it became the family’s primary residence. Bob and Margaret Lee lived there, Jane, their adult daughter, her daughter, and Mike Morgan, their grandson, also lived there during the early 1990s. Jane remembered those years:
They renovated the interior, and stayed there until 1992. That year was marked by Hurricane Andrew, which left barely a scratch on the sturdy home’s walls and foundations, but utterly destroyed the interior. Mike Morgan, the grandson, noted:
Before the storm, there were three homes on Caxambas Island, including the Lee residence. The other two, one, a house on stilts, and the other, a pyramid house, fared worse in the hurricane. Neither are still standing, although the hurricane was not the final blow. The Lee family abandoned the home in 1992 as it was no longer habitable.
By 2004, water levels began to meet the concrete pillars holding up the home.
In 2005, Bob Lee sold the house to John Tosto, a Naples resident, for $300,000. He later said about the property:
Tosto intended to renovate the home, and Lee advised him to construct a sea wall to end the erosion that had been ebbing away at the island for years. Tosto decided against this, however, instead hoping to move it, using a crane, from its current location to a higher piece of land on the island on high concrete pillars. He estimated the project to take three or four months.
Unfortunately, a few months after purchasing the property, Hurricane Wilma struck, eroding the coastline and further destabilizing the house’s foundation. Tosto boarded up the home’s window openings and continued with his effort to move the house. He faced many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Collier County Code Building and Enforcement Departments. He was unable to produce all of the necessary permits, partially due to the hindrance of protected bird nesting seasons.
In 2007, the Collier County Code Enforcement Board finally ended Tosto’s hopes for the house, ordering the structure demolished by the owners within two years on the grounds that it was unsafe. Tosto had presented an engineer’s certification stating that the house was reparable at the time, but the board still voted against him, citing his lack of proactive measures to protect the house in the past. In November 2009, he was fined $187,000 for not having the house demolished by the proper time. The county offered to drop the fine if Tosto completed the demolition. By 2009, he had already invested $500,000 in the project and his estimates put the cost of completion at $900,000. At that time the house’s foundational pillars were permanently underwater.
He spoke about the project:
At that time, the house was still officially abandoned, but with occasional visits by teenagers and fishermen. The demolition never occurred.
By 2013, the house was sitting in six-feet-deep water. That same year, Florida Weekly reporter Cynthia Mott wrote in an article that while snorkeling at the site, she discovered the ruins now served as a reef, with diverse marine life. She remarked as follows:
“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.”
By 2016, the house was approximately 180 feet (55 meters) offshore.”
We depart from Caxambas Park Marina at the south end of Marco Island. Caxambas Park is a beautiful water access point located at 909 Collier Ct. This location includes a four-acre park, ample free parking, restrooms, concessions for sale from sunscreen to food and allows easy access to the northern Ten Thousand Islands or Gulf of Mexico.