The Flying Saucer and the Strip Club
The large silver flying saucer on the roof of the Odyssey Strip Club in Tampa FL is a familiar landmark to passers-by. Most people think the UFO is just a marketing gimmick, but in reality, it’s a relic of a futuristic housing design from the 1960s.
For those who don’t know, I live in a converted motorhome and travel around the country, posting photo journals of the places I visit. I am currently in Florida for the winter.
Tampa Bay is world renowned for its sunny climate, warm water beaches and exotic tropical landscapes. But there’s another attraction here that attracts many tourists but is less talked about in public – Tampa Bay is one of the strip club capitals of the United States. We rival Las Vegas for the number of strip clubs and “adult entertainment” establishments.
One of them is Odyssey 2001. Located on Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa, it offers the usual confection of strippers, lap dancing and soda (but no alcohol – it’s illegal to serve alcohol). booze in an all-naked club). Additionally, people passing by Dale Mabry can instantly recognize the large silver flying saucer on the roof of Odyssey, which is a well-known local landmark. Most people think it’s just a marketing gimmick (its interior serves as a “VIP lounge” for wealthy customers). In reality, the Odyssey UFO is a holdover from an idealistic 1960s effort to design a futuristic home.
The 1960s were a time of optimism in a world that had just emerged from the carnage of World War II. The global economy was booming, there was a flood of technological marvels such as computers, touch-tone phones and space travel, and the future looked like an endless wave of optimism.
In Finland, the hardships and horrors of war had faded and the country was prosperous and confident. With ever-increasing disposable income, Finns began to look for ways to fill their leisure time, and one of them was skiing.
And that gave Matti Suuronen an idea. Suuronen had once been a member of the Finnish national volleyball team, but was now an architect. In the early 1960s, his company was tasked with designing a ski lodge that was inexpensive, quick to build, and easily located even on remote mountain sides. Suuronen also wanted his design to reflect the times, with cutting-edge technology and a “space” theme.
So he opted for a circular dome shape that he had previously used for a grain silo. The materials he will use are emblematic of the 1960s: sheets of polyester plastic reinforced with fiberglass. This would be molded into 16 pie-shaped slices which were transported to the site and bolted together, giving a floor area of just over 500 square feet with movable internal walls. The entire structure, shaped like a flying saucer (and featuring the iconic row of round windows), rested on four pre-installed concrete support pillars. It was 26 feet wide and 16 feet high, with an entrance designed like an airplane hatch with a built-in staircase that folded down for entry and exit.
The built-in layer of polyurethane foam insulation and the electric heating system kept the whole interior warm even in the freezing Finnish winters. If necessary, the parts (or even the entire finished structure) were light enough to be transported over rough terrain by helicopter and dropped where the best skiing spots were.
Then Suuronen went further. Believing that his design was inexpensive, easy to build, and suitable for a wide variety of climates and terrains, from tropical seaside to mountains, he began selling the idea as a “home of the future,” branded, to aptly, as the “Futuro House”. It sold for about $14,000 (about $125,000 in today’s dollars) fully installed and assembled. At first it was marketed to the avant-garde and chic as a state-of-the-art vacation home, but was later touted as a response to the housing crisis faced by the poor and underdeveloped. An ad declared it “Ideal for the beach, skiing, mountain areas and commercial uses”.
But, alas, the Futuro House never took off. When the first was sold, near Lake Puulavesi in Finland, neighbors complained to the local government, saying it was ugly and ruined the naturalistic setting of the lake. Banks, unsure of the concept and especially the durability (or lack thereof) of lightweight plastic materials, were reluctant to grant him mortgages. Many building codes have been specifically rewritten to prohibit it. And in the mid-1970s, rising oil prices led to an increase in the cost of producing plastic, which also forced Futuro to raise prices. Already, the burgeoning environmental movement was leading people to view “plastic” not as the marvelous super-material of the future, but as a contaminant and an ecological disaster.
In the end, less than 100 Futuro houses were sold worldwide. Most of them were used for business purposes, including a few bank branches. Some ended up in mall parking lots as curiosities. Today, about 60 of the structures remain in various states of repair, in locations ranging from Russia and Japan to South Africa and (mostly) the United States. And one of them is on the roof of the Odyssey strip club.
In the United States, production and sale of Suuronen’s design was licensed by the Futuro Company in Philadelphia, founded in 1969. They in turn marketed the finished homes through a number of dealers and showrooms dotted all over the country, and one of them was in Clearwater FL, just north of Tampa.
In 1971, the manager of this Futuro franchise, Jerry DeLong, was one of the partners who opened the 2001 Odyssey strip club in Tampa, in a building that was once a bar. And as part of their “space” theme, DeLong moved one of the display models from its Futuro dealership, placing it atop the roof of the club. It has become the club’s VIP lounge where, for the price of $200 for 15 minutes, guests can receive “private dances”.
After a few years, however, the Miami mob took over the club, and DeLong sold his interest and left. But his UFO home remains there.
Only one other Futuro House still exists in Florida, atop a nondescript little house in Pensacola.
NOTE: As some of you already know, all of my journals here are draft chapters for a number of books I’m working on. So I welcome any corrections you may have, be it typos or places that are unclear or factual errors. I consider you all my pre-publication editors and proofreaders. 😉