In the Ten Thousand Island on Caxambas Island, south of Marco Island in Cape Romano sits the Cape Romano Dome House. Constructed in 1980 by Bob Lee, a retired businessman and then abandoned it in 1992, and later sold it to John Tosto in 2005. Due to shoreline erosion, it now is approximately 180 feet offshore, and was never meant to be accessible by boat and consequently has no landings or docking facilities.
In 1978 and 1979, Bob Lee, a now-deceased retired oil producer surveyed and purchased land on Cape Romano in hopes of constructing a vacation home. He purchased four adjacent plots of land for his project.
After purchasing a barge to transport supplies, construction began in 1980. The house consisted of six stout interconnected concrete dome structures painted white. Each dome made up a different room of the house and some had two levels. It was 2,400 square feet with three bedrooms and three bathrooms. Jane Maples, Lee’s daughter said of the construction:
“Building it was the fun part for my dad, but he also loved the seclusion of living on the island; fishing, shelling and watching the weather. He loved inventing things. He invented a heat source for under the floors of our house and had an invention that would bring logs in and drop them on the fireplace that came through the wall of our den.”
She later told Florida Weekly:
“My dad thought the corners of rooms were wasted space as were the corners of the ceiling. He thought the dome ceiling gave a feeling of openness. He was right. The rooms felt very large and open.”
The concrete walls were made out of sand from the island. He then installed gutters to drain rainwater into a large tank, which purified the water. The purified water was then pumped into all of the home’s sinks, baths, showers, and all water-consuming appliances. The floors were tile and carpet and the walls were painted white. The rooms had large windows on all sides.
Not only were the house’s domes aesthetic but they were also practical. With their sturdy concrete walls and rounded tops, they provided superior hurricane protection. When he completed the house in 1982, it was valued at 1.5 million.
Originally, the house was intended as a vacation home, and they sold it in 1984 to another family. They later repossessed the home 5 years later in 1987, when that family’s financial situation declined. After this, the home became the family’s primary residence.
In 1992, they renovated the interior. When Hurricane Andrew hit there was barely a scratch on the home’s walls and foundations, but it utterly destroyed the interior.
Before the storm, there were three homes on Caxambas Island, including the Dome House. One home was on stilts and the other was a pyramid. Both fared far worse in the hurricane and neither is standing today. After Hurricane Andrew, the home was no longer habitable, and they abandoned it.
In 1994 water levels began to meet the concrete pillars holding up the home. Then in 2005, Lee made the decision to sell the home to John Tosto of Naples, FL for $300,000. Mr. Tosto later said of the property:
“It’s just something I wanted from the first time I saw it. That was it.”
His intent was 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. He decided not to and instead hoped to move it using a crane from its current location to a higher piece of land. It was estimated the project would take three to four months.
A few months after he purchased the property, Hurricane Wilma struck, eroding the coastline and further destabilizing the home’s foundation. He boarded up the home’s window openings and continued with his effort to move the house.
Over the next several years he faced many regulatory bodies that included the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Environmental Protection, and the Collier County Code Building and Enforcements Department. By 2007, Collier County ended any hopes for the home and ordered it demolished within two years. The county fined him $187,000 in November 2009 for not demolishing in the time period. They offered to drop the fine if Tosto completed the demolition. Unfortunately, he had already invested $500,000 and estimated the completion cost would be $900,000. By this time, the house’s foundational pillars permanently underwater.
The demolition never occurred and in 2013 the house was sitting in six-feet-deep water. It’s been reported by Cynthia Mott of Florida Weekly:
“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.”
In 2016, the house was approximately 180 feet offshore. After Hurricane Irma hit in 2017, two of the western-most domes collapsed into the ocean.
Photo by Andy Morflew