Photo by the owls go, 2004

Xanadu: Home of the Future

Photo(William A. Ackel, 1994): The home was built by inflating balloons and spraying insulation onto it, giving the homes their dome shapes.

Bob Masters was a pioneer of houses made of rigid insulation, who designed and created inflatable balloons to be used in the construction of houses. Inspired by the Kesinger House, designed by Stan Nord Connolly and one of the earliest homes built from insulation. Masters built his first house in 1969 in two-and-a-half days during a snowstorm using the balloon construction method; inflating a large balloon in the shape of each room and spraying polyurethane insulation foam around it. The house was no bigger than a trailer, but according to Masters, didn’t feel confining due to it’s high ceilings.

Masters thought these dome-shapes homes could work for others and decided to build a series of show homes throughout the United States. Tom Gussel, Master’s business partner, chose the name “Xanadu” for the homes, a reference to Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan’s summer residence Xanadu, which is prominently featured in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous poem “Kubla Khan”.

He opened the first Xanadu house in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. Designed by Stewart Gordon and built by Masters in 1979, it was 4,000 square feet in area, about the size of an average home and featured a geodesic greenhouse. 100,000 people visited the attraction in it’s first summer.

Photo(William A. Ackel, 1994): Called the “great room”, it was the largest room in the house. The large false tree supported the roof, and also acted as part of the built-in heating system.

A second house was built in Kissimmee, Florida. The house was designed by Roy Mason, an architect who was influenced by other experimental houses and building concepts which emphasized ergonomics, usability, and energy efficiency and some of his work still survives today such as “Star Castle” and the “Mushroom House”. He believed his Xanadu house would alter people’s views of houses as just inanimate, passive shelters and more as an organic system.

Walt Disney opened the Epcot Center on October 1, 1982 which prompted Masons and Masters to open a Xanadu home several miles away. The house used an automated system controlled by Commodore microcomputers in which out of the fifteen rooms the home had, the kitchen, party room, health spa, and bedrooms all used computers and other electronic equipment heavily in their design. It opened in 1983 and was over 6,000 square feet in area, much larger than an average home as it was built as a showcase. At it’s peak in the mid 1980s, the attraction was being advertised as the “home of the future” and was visited by more than 1,000 people a day.

Photo: Children using the computer in the bedroom.

The Xanadu houses were considered a failed experiment. Other architects and designers saw Xanadu as an unprofessional design because of the materials used and the odd use of colors and shapes inside the home. Many others disliked the home for it’s low ceilings, curved walls, and cramped rooms.

By the 1990s, they began to lose popularity as the technology used in their construction became obsolete. The houses in Wisconsin and Tennesse were demolished, but the Kissimmee home continued to operate until it closed in 1996. It was sold in 1997 and used as office and storage space. By 2001, the house had suffered greatly from mold and mildew due to a lack of maintenance and was put up for sale again for $2 million. The house sat for a long time, and during that time, the house suffered even further damages as vandals and vagrants destroyed much of the inside. On October 2005, the house was demolished.

Though the initial houses are gone, the idea lives on. In 1993, the Xanadu of Sedona was built in Arizona, originally designed and modeled after the Xanadu home in Kissimmee. Said to be indestructible, it uses poured concrete for the domes instead of sprayed on insulation and is networked throughout for computer and internet use. The family hopes to open the house to tours sometime in the future.

Photographer: William A. Ackel
Year Taken: 1994

Photographer: the owls go
Year Taken: 2004

Photos of what the house looked in July 1994, shortly after it closed to the public. – Xanadu Home of the Future with Designer Architect Roy Mason

Photo by Drew Perlmutter, 2012

Annie Lytle Elementary School

Photo(Far Enough, 2011): First known as Public School No. 4, it was renamed Annie Lytle Elementary after it’s long-time principal who stayed there until the school closed.

Originally named Riverside Park School, it was built in 1891 and was a small wooden school house. Due to a population increase in the area, wings and extensions were added to the building until it was considered a fire hazard.

In 1915, Duval County voters passed a $1 million bond to build more than a dozen new brick school houses. The school built over the site of the old Riverside Park School was first known as Public School No. 4, before it was later renamed to Annie Lytle Elementary School, after it’s former long-time teacher and principal. Built by Florida Engineering and Construction Company, construction started in 1917 and was designed by architect Rutledge Holmes, one of many architects who moved to Jacksonville after the Great Fire of 1901 and who’s work can still be seen today throughout the city, such as the Professional Building and the Holmes Block.

Photo: The photo shows the school while it was active.

It was completed in 1918 and cost over $250,000 to construct. Overlooking Riverside Park, the grand brick building had many beautiful features such as columns at the school entrance, a very large auditorium, high ceiling classrooms, large windows, and a large fireplace in the cafeteria. The classrooms were located on the second floor, while the administrative rooms, library, lunch room and auditorium were located on the first floor.

In the 1950s, the construction of I-95 and I-10 isolated the school, leading it to it’s closure in 1960. Sometime after, the building was used as office space and storage for the for the Duval County Public School System before it was condemned in 1971. There are stories that it was rented out to a Catholic school in the late-60s or early-70s, but there is no evidence to confirm this.

Photo: Annie Lytle Elementary School not long after closing.

On October 29, 1999, Foundation Holding Incorporated purchased the property in order to build “Lytle Place Condominiums” in its place, but due to public outcry and pressure from multiple historic societies, Jacksonville approved historic landmark designation in 2000, halting any plans for demolition for the time being.

Abandoned 40 years ago, time has taken it’s toll on the old school house. Signs of vandalism can be seen throughout, as almost every inch of the interior walls are covered in graffiti and garbage is littered about. In 1995, there was a fire which lead to the roof of the auditorium to cave in.

The school is frequented by many teens and is known to the many residents of Jacksonville as the local haunt, famous for the rumors and legends that surround it. Of the many legends associated with the school, my favorite would be the story of the janitor who took kids down into the boiler room and burned them alive, until one escaped and blowing up the boiler room in the process, causing the east wing to catch fire….which just makes me think someone saw Nightmare on Elm Street too many times.

Photo by Drew Perlmutter, 2012
Photo(Drew Perlmutter, 2012): A fire in 1995 caused the roof of the auditorium to collapse.

Photographer: Far Enough
Year Taken: 2011
Website: Flickr

Photographer: Drew Perlmutter
Year Taken: 2012
Website: Flickr

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Public School Number 4 engulfed in flames

Photo by Tantrum Dan, 2007

Popash School

Photo(Tantrum_Dan, 2007): The schoolhouse was built in 1912, replacing the previous school which opened in 1898.

The town of Popash began in the 1950s, establishing a post office in 1979 and the New Hope Baptist Church soon after. The town got it’s name from a tree that grows in Florida that locals couldn’t identify. Some thought it was a poplar tree while others thought it was an ash tree, so the two were combined to form Popash. The town was primarily a cattle and farming community, with the school session timed to let out with the strawberry season from December to mid-March.

In 1886, the coming of a railroad to the small town promised a big future. However, the railroad bypassed Popash for the nearby town of Zolfo Springs, where a year later, the post office would be relocated to. From then on, the town Popash slowly faded.

A school was established in 1898 and was replaced with a two-story brick schoolhouse in 1912. W. J. Jackson being the first supervisor of the school. The functioned until it’s closure in 1948, and by then, the town of Popash could have been considered a ghost town.

Photo: A view of the school during it’s operation; circa 1925.

Popash School, as with many abandoned schools, was thought to be haunted, where children’s laughter was said to be heard if you were really quiet. Some people claim it used to be a hospital and the haunting are caused by children during a fever epidemic; though this is not true. Others claim the school was built on the site of a previous wooden school which had burned down, claiming the lives of many children; though this is not true either.

The school saw a lot of vandalism after it’s closure, mostly kids looking for a good scare. The property which the school sat on was owned by the Pace family, who used the property for parking staging trucks and tractor trailers. In 2008, a barbed wire fence was erected to keep vandals away from the school as well as the trucks parked nearby.

In January 2009, the school was demolished.

Photo(Tantrum_Dan, 2009): The school was demolished as the owners had a business on the property.

Photographer: Tantrum Dan
Year Taken: 2007 – 2009
Website: Flickr

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