Growing up in Fort Myers, I was fortunate to have parents who owned a boat. We would spend weekends out on the water, eating on Little Shell Island, and motoring up and down the Gulf of Mexico. When we were making it an all-day affair, we would head down to Collier County and look at the three odd houses perched on Cape Romano. The most famous was and remains the Dome House.
I didn’t appreciate my youth living on a canal where manatees swam and seahorses grew until I left. I guess that’s the age-old adage. Many years later and well into my adult life, I was able to spend the day on the water sailing past Cape Romano. While the Pyramid House and the Stilt House are long gone, the Dome House remains.
Bob Lee made his fortune in the oil industry which led to his ability to retire at the age of 44 and become an inventor. He envisioned an eco-friendly home where his family could vacation. The home would be off the grid and powered with renewable energy. He first built a prototype on his property in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
In 1978, Bob purchased four lots on Morgan Island in the Ten Thousand Island chain south of Marco Island, Collier County, Florida. The island was pristine, unlike the rapid development taking over Marco.
Bob decided to build a home linking 6 dome structures all perched on cement stilts. Bob bought a barge, a flat motorized water vessel that easily transports equipment, and ferried over steel forms (molds) and 2 concrete mixers. He mixed the concrete with freshwater and built the domes. Bob installed under-dome heating via fire; the walls were insulated with foam. Dell Jones installed solar panels. Along the bottom of each dome was a gutter system the collected rainwater which was filtered for use.
If the house seems rustic, you’re wrong. It was actually quite lavish. Pinterest has a large collection of images. Carpet and tile were laid for flooring. There was air conditioning, satellite TV, and even a hot tub. It was the perfect vacation getaway.
The 2400 square foot 3-bedroom and 3-bathroom house was completed in 1982. Bob along with his wife Margaret and family enjoyed two years at the house. In 1984, Bob sold the property to George Wendell. Caretaker Brian Slager moved into the house. By 1987, the house was back in Bob’s name, and the family made it their primary residence.
John Tosto of Naples purchased the lots in 2005 for $300,000. He sought to develop and protect the home. Bob encouraged building a seawall; however, it was too late. The island was eroding beyond conservation.
Mother Nature has not been kind to the island chain. All three houses had generous beach sand buffering them from the water. Over time, erosion and natural weather phenomena took away the sand. In 1992, the category 5 Hurricane Andrew destroyed the interior of the Dome House. By October 2005 when Hurricane Wilma churned past, the sand was eroded further. Two of the 6 domes fell on September 10, 2017, in Hurricane Irma.
After several years in court battling the land use of the Dome House, the State of Florida now owns the land while Tosto owns the structures. The house sits in the water and has become part of the Rookery Bay Aquatic Preserve. It is a destination for tourists and urban explorers. Sea creatures and birds have made it their home. Nature has reclaimed what was always hers.
The house is viewable only by water. As the erosion continues, there are growing fears for the safety of boats attempting to anchor or to sail close. Hire a licensed boat captain or company to sightsee. Never attempt to trespass.