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Sulphur Springs Tower | Photo © 2023, www.abandonedfl.com

Sulphur Springs Water Tower

Location Class:
Built: 1927 | Abandoned: c. 1976
Status: Abandoned
Photojournalist: David Bulit

Sulphur Springs Hotel and Apartments

Constructed in 1927 under the supervision of Grover Poole, the Sulphur Springs Water Tower found its origin as a creation of Grover Poole, serving the purpose of providing ample water pressure to the Sulphur Springs Hotel and Apartments. Often referred to as the Richardson Building, it boasted a variety of amenities including 39 hotel rooms, 14 apartments and office spaces, a church, and an unknown quantity of shops and businesses. The original construction of the tower also featured a passenger elevator to carry people up the central core cylinder to the observation balcony, which provided a panoramic view of the area.

Josiah S. Richardson, a realtor and developer, commissioned the tower’s construction alongside his ambitious vision for the Sulphur Spring area. This vision encompassed the expansion of the resort spa, the establishment of an alligator farm tourist attraction, and the initiation of various other business ventures. Adjacent to the Sulphur Springs Hotel, Richardson also developed Mave’s Arcade, which occupied the hotel building’s ground floor and stood as Florida’s inaugural shopping mall.

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Josiah S. Richardson. 1927. H. C. Burgert; The Tampa Times

Sulphur Springs Tower

Nestled upon 13 acres of meadowland along the Hillsborough River’s edge, the Sulphur Springs Water Tower seamlessly melds practicality with architectural ingenuity. Its intricate adornments include ornate detailing, crenelated parapet walls, lancet windows, and gracefully scrolled footings, uniting form and function in elegant harmony.

Standing at 214 feet tall, the Gothic Revival tower is one of only two such structures remaining in Florida; the other being the Singing Tower in Lake Wales.  Its construction was overseen by civil engineer Grover Poole who is also believed to have been the designer of the building that stands today. Veering off from Lafferty’s original design, Poole designed it as a medieval tower with battlements crowning the holding tank.

Constructed of poured concrete with eight-inch-thick walls, the SUlphur Springs Tower sits on a 45-foot deep foundation blasted into solid bedrock, with a buttressed base over an artesian spring. The concrete was reinforced with steel railroad tracks brought in from north Florida. Poole wrote, “Concrete was poured into forms that were raised by yokes and jacks — 10 feet went up a day. The tower rests on rock, has a cantilever foundation, and with the buttresses will be rather a difficult job to ever destroy.”

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A sketch in the Jan. 9, 1927 issue of The Tampa Tribune by Bob Lafferty, a New York architect.
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Grover Poole in 1942 when he worked as a Business Manager for the National Park College in Forest Glen, Maryland.

The tower sits over the opening of an artesian well with pumps located under the tower itself. Another building adjacent to the tower, which can be seen in some earlier photographs, housed fluoridation and filtering equipment when the water company was supplying water directly to customers. When it was operational, it stored 200,000 gallons of water pumped up from the nearby artesian springs. The water tank occupies the upper quarter of the cylindrical tower while seven floors, one room per floor, constitute the lower three quarters.

According to legend, when the tower was filled with water to service the tourist camps along Florida Avenue, the Arcade facility, and the upstairs hotel, Richardson miscalculated the power and speed with which the water would make its way from the top of the tower to the faucets below. When the first faucet was opened, the rushing water blew the fixtures off the walls.

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Photo published in the September 16, 1927 issue of The Tampa Times showing about one-third of the Sulphur Springs Tower built. H. C. Burgert
The Flood of 1933

Financing the tower’s construction required Richardson to mortgage the entire resort, amounting to $180,000 during that period. However, the year 1933 brought unfortunate events as the Tampa Electric Company dam experienced sabotage and collapsed during the Depression. The dam’s destruction, which drained nearby cow pasture lands previously flooded during the dam’s creation, wreaked havoc on downtown Tampa. Consequently, Mave’s Arcade suffered substantial damage, leading to business failures within the arcade and ultimately causing Richardson to face severe financial loss.

Ownership under J. F. Hendricks and his estate

Following the financial loss, Richardson sold the Sulphur Springs Hotel to J. F. Hendricks. After the passing of J. F. Hendricks, his five grandchildren became the rightful heirs to the property. The arcade had a somewhat tacky reputation, a perception they were committed to altering. Despite the arcade drawing in many customers, the grandchildren were fervently dedicated to transforming it into a profitable hub. To realize this goal, they opted not to extend the leases of the existing shops, as they held the belief that modern establishments would entice fresh audiences, ultimately resulting in increased revenue.

From its inception until 1971, the water tower operated as a private water company, supplying artesian well water to residential and commercial customers. In 1971, “The Estate of J. F. Hendricks,” the owner of the water company and tower, faced pressure from the City of Tampa to discontinue water supply operations. This was a move to grant the city’s water utility company exclusive control over water distribution to the citizens.

Tower Drive-In Theatre

Opening on October 22, 1952, with David Wayne in “Wait ‘til the Sun Shines, Nellie” &and George Montgomery in “Dakota Lil,” the Tower Drive-In began operations adjacent to the Sulphur Springs Tower. Unfortunately, an aircraft warning light installed atop the tower, although later removed, posed interference with the viewing experience at the theater. The theater was demolished in 1985 in anticipation of an apartment complex that would feature the tower as a focal point. The project never came to fruition.

The Tower Drive-in marquee and entrance. The screen was on the opposite side of the building, facing south toward the river. The movie featured in this photo was “Don’t Bother to Knock” with Richard Widmark, Marilyn Monroe, and Anne Bancroft. 1952. TampaPix
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Promotional ad in the October 22, 1952 issue of The Tampa Tribune announcing the grand opening of the Tower Drive-In Theatre.
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One can still make out the outline of the Tower Drive-In. The ramp into the drive-in was reused for the current park.

The Sulphur Springs Hotel and Apartment complex was later sold to the Tampa Greyhound Track in 1974; however, the hotel and shops continued to operate until 1975. The arcade was demolished in 1976 for additional parking space for the greyhound track and acres of land were acquired by the City of Tampa. Noted on the hotel’s entry in the Historic American Building Survey, the building was deemed “fair” at the time of its demolition.

In 1989, the tower underwent restoration efforts. The restoration included pressure washing and the application of 150 gallons of “graffiti-proof paint,” generously donated by Sherwin-Williams Co., with labor contributions from Service Painting Corp.

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The description reads, “The hotel was situated near the “miraculous” mineral waters of Hillsborough River and represents an excellent example of a resort recreation facility of early 20th century. The most distinguished feature of the hotel was its first and second floor front arcade in classical style.” 1975. Historic American Buildings Survey; Library of Congress

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David Bulit is a photographer, author, and historian from Miami, Florida. He has published a number of books on abandoned and forgotten locales throughout the United States and continues to advocate for preserving these historic landmarks. His work has been featured throughout the world in news outlets such as the Miami New Times, the Florida Times-Union, the Orlando Sentinel, NPR, Yahoo News, MSN, the Daily Mail, UK Sun, and many others. You can find more of his work at davidbulit.com as well as amazon.com/author/davidbulit.

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