Tampa is a funny little city. Driving down Nebraska Avenue is like going back in time: you start with all the shops and convenience stores of the University, and gradually, the buildings start to take on that classic 'Florida ramshackle' look and the houses start to look a little more stately, boarded-up windows and all. 'Charming', you think, and wonder if now's a good time to buy in this depressed housing market (hint: yes it is). Then you reach the intersection of Nebraska and Bird, and you lay eyes on... a lighthouse?
You've just discovered one of our fair city's legends, a lighthouse for lost motorists and legendary pirates only: the Sulphur Springs Water Tower. Built in 1927 by one Grover Poole to provide fresh water to the hotels and shops of the historical heart of Tampa, it ceased to fulfill its acquatic function well before the demolition of the Sulphur Springs Hotel in 1976, and these days, it stands like a sentinel on the western fringe of River Tower Park, perplexing out-of-towners and many long-time Tampa residents as well.
Legend has it that the mythical bucaneer, Jose Gaspar, stopped there when roving the coasts of Florida and Cuba to fill up on supplies and fresh water. This would be plausible, but this part of the Hillsborough River's quite a few leagues from the Bay and at any rate, Jose Gaspar probably didn't exist outside of the yearly sumble that is Gasparilla. But all this you can read in any tourist brochure, anyway, so I won't belabor the point.
How's the view from the top of the tower? Spectacular. The tower's 224 feet high, and on a clear day, you have an unobstructed view of downtown St. Petersburg to the south and southwest. You can't access the inside of the tower, which makes this a real once-in-a-lifetime thing if you find an opportunity to gain entry. You won't be the first one to sneak inside of the tower: a generation of taggers precedes you. 'Watch out for falling pigeon shit', they warn you from long past.
Climb up about 200 feet of ladder, and take breaks whenever you get even a little tired: it's a straight plunge down, and it's not the fall that hurts --- it's the sudden stop at the end. Another 20 feet of ladder, and you're there. There's a circular observation deck, complete with parapet and crenellations. Stretch, drink some water, smoke a cigarette and admire the view, and don't be seen by city employees or the ever-circling police helicopters. If you feel like climbing another 20 feet, you can stand on the very top of the tower, where the rusted old pump still stands.
But of all the things you can see on the observation deck, one thing will amaze you the most: a small tree growing on the southeast end, nestled in the shade of the wall. Wonder how it clings to life on top of this old concrete tower, and then make your way down before city authorities figure out you're up there and slap you with a trespassing charge.