The River Tower Festival is a grass roots effort to create a non-profit revenue stream for the restoration and preservation of the Sulphur Springs Water Tower and improvements to the surrounding River Tower Park.
Sulphur Springs Park was an amusement park established in the early 1920’s about 7 miles north of the city at the time on the Hillsborough River. It could be reached by trolley. The central features of the park, according to a 1924 Tampa Tribune article, were “the famous flowing spring and bathing pool; there is also an alligator farm, with thousands of live alligators of all ages on display”. “Canoes are available at the park for little journeys up the beautiful Hillsborough River”.
The Sulphur Springs water tower has been a part of Tampa’s history since 1927. It stands 214 feet tall and was built on top of an artesian well. It was designed by Grover Poole, commissioned by Josiah Richardson; the owner and developer of the Sulphur Springs Arcade. Richardson’s dream was to build an entertainment empire featuring a Ferris wheel, a hardwood dance floor, a swimming pool and a gazebo set amid the area’s Sulphur Springs. He started with the Springs Hotel and Arcade, which was featured in Ripley’s “Believe it or Not” as a city under one roof. The first indoor mall housing a hotel, barber, pharmacy, etcetera. His dream was well on its way and near completion when Richardson realized he didn’t have the drinking water needed to supply the area.
He then mortgaged his property and borrowed the $118,000 needed to build the tower. Tower construction was announced in January of 1927 took one year to complete with construction around the clock at times. In January of 1928, a powerful revolving searchlight was placed on the new tower and the light had a radius five miles.
Sulphur Springs was later flooded by the TECO dam break of 1933, destroying the Arcade. Richardson could no longer pay the interest on the $180,000 and lost his 100 acres in 1934 in foreclosure to C.D. Daniels. Sulphur Springs never recovers. In 1976 the arcade was demolished and replaced by a parking lot.
The water tower was used as a water source until 1971 when the city became the main water supplier to the area. From 1952 until 1985 the 12-acre tower site became the home to the Tower Drive-In Theater. The drive-in was demolished in 1985 when the city condemned it. The tower became forgotten and taken for granted. It became a sight of graffiti and deterioration for the next decade.
In 1989, when developers were considering the site for a hotel resort, it was repainted by Service Painting Corp with paint donated by Sherwin-Williams. The development never came to fruition, mainly due to opposition by preservationist and in 2005 it was purchased by the city. The city then installed lights to illuminate the tower. Nothing has been done since.
It is now 2019 and we love our tower. It is a great landmark for our city in which no other city has, due to its originality. It is a part of our city we need to embrace and restore. This year marks 30 years since the tower has been given any love. Watch for information coming soon on how you can help us Preserve Our Tower Tampa.