When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time with my cousins and if we happened to be driving on Interstate 275, we would often pass a certain landmark that looked to me like a tall, white castle turret. Every time we saw it, we would ask, "What's that tower for?" and my Uncle Tom would tell us it was a drive-in movie theater.
The first few times we asked were probably really to refresh our memories, but the next 458 times we asked were because it was tradition to ask. And because it was funny. I think it was funny in part because we were fascinated by the story and maybe partly because we thought he was just pulling our little legs. But, true to form for my very wise uncle, he was right.
Of course at first the Sulphur Springs Water Tower, as it's called, was just a water tower. When it was operational, it stored 125,000 gallons of water pumped up from the nearby artesian springs. The upper quarter of the tower is occupied by the water tank, while seven floors with one room each constitute the remaining three quarters of the tower. It's a 231-foot tall building with eight-inch thick walls and it has a buttressed base on solid rock. It was designed to look like a medieval tower with slit windows and battlements crowning the holding tank.
Then in the 1970's it became the Tower Drive-In theater, of which my uncle spoke. I don't know if it's because he said so, whether teasingly or not, but I always imagined that the movie projector was inside the tower. That would have been cool. But I also imagined that when we moved to Florida shortly after my seventh birthday that we'd be living in grass huts on the beach, so let's leave my imagination out of this.
In 2002, a large drug store chain wanted to build on the site but there was a public outcry big enough to stop it. Instead, the City of Tampa bought it and had it cleaned up, which was no small task considering it had been sealed shut and left to nature for more than ten years. Can you say pigeon potty, cockroach heaven, and yes, even an eel had found its way inside.
It is now a part of River Tower Park, where in recent years there have sometimes been free concerts given by The Florida Orchestra or free movies shown by The Tampa Theatre. The tower remains as an historical landmark and for some, like me, as an iconic reminder of the past, childhood, history, and memories.