Monday, March 05, 2007
(1920s photographs of Coral Gables water towers courtesy Florida Photographic Collection, State Archives of Florida)
Last month, the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority sold a water tower to the Santa Rosa Island Authority for one dollar. Aside from the price, you might ask "why?" if you knew the water tower isn't even being used anymore. But for people in Pensacola Beach, it's not just some public utility, it's the beachball, a local landmark.
Pensacola Beach isn't the only place in Florida with a distinctive water tower, or even the only one with a beach ball. Plant City has a big strawberry water tower. MGM Studios has the "Earful Tower" (a bad pun with mouse ears). These towers refer to something distinctive about a town or place, a way of showing pride or identity in a highly visible way.
Some water towers were used to advertise new developments in the 1920s. Coral Gables built two water towers (see photos above), then clad them in Spanish/Mediterranean garb to blend with the rest of the town's architecture. One of the towers was damaged and not repaired after the 1926 hurricane, but the other (the Alhambra) is still there. The Sulphur Springs water tower in Tampa was built by a real estate developer named Josiah Richardson. This is the tall, white castle-like tower you see just to the west of I-275 north of downtown Tampa. It's been cleaned up recently, and is part of a city park-in-progress.
Not all cities keep their old water towers. They are, after all, big tall metal things that rust and cost a lot of money to repaint, and may not be big enough for the needs of growing communities. In 2005, Dania Beach took down a ~60-year-old tower. Fort Lauderdale, Victoria Park, Poinciana Park, and Miami Beach all took old towers down in the 1990s. The pink Miami Beach tower is now an artificial reef out in the Atlantic. However, in 2006 the Apollo Beach Chamber of Commerce made a deal with a telecommunications compay to repaint and fix up a 1960s water tower in exchange for permission to install antennaes on it. This preserved a local landmark and the water tower stands in the place of yet another cell tower.
Painting water towers sometimes leads to controversy. In 2000, local artist Tom Stovall painted a mural on the Seminole, FL water tower. In 2005, the water tower became the focus of a debate, when it was suggested that the mural should be painted over. But public sentiment was in favor of Stovall's birds, as Seminole residents felt it was something unique for their community ... and a great way to give directions somewhere.