Digging for Shells: Restoring Weeki Wachee Mermaid Theater

July 9, 2014


Photograph courtesy of the State Archives of Florida.

One of Florida’s hidden treasures will be on display once again after renovation efforts are completed at the historic Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.

Beginning later this summer, Florida’s Division of Recreation and Parks will start renovating the roof of a 4,000-square foot “seashell” – the man-made theater that plays host to visitors at the park’s legendary mermaid show. The renovation efforts will focus on removing the wooden shingles that have covered the theater’s roof since 1974 and bring back to life the original roof that looks like a giant seashell.

“Weeki Wachee is one of Florida’s most unique cultural resources,” said Donald Forgione, director of the Florida Park Service. “It is very exciting that this restoration will bring back the famous seashell roof for this and future generations to enjoy.”

The theater, originally built in the 1950s, was considered a marvel of precast concrete and steel construction. The theater’s roof is comprised of concrete barrel vaults that form the shape of a giant seashell. This roof was visible to motorists along U.S. Highway 19 until the mid-1970s. That’s when the previous owners decided to cover the shell with a curved wood structure that fit in with the park’s new South Pacific theme.

The seashell roof has sat buried from view ever since.

When the decision was made to re-roof the theater, which was in need of repair, the original plan called for a simple replacement of the wooden shingles. But as staff planned that renovation, they decided that the historic seashell treasure hiding beneath that wooden roof was simply too special to continue to obstruct it from public view.

Workers will instead carefully remove the wood shingles and then install a new, fluid applied membrane over the existing barrel vaults. The goal is to once again expose the glowing white seashell and allow it to return to its right position as a beacon for the park’s mermaids and once again play a role in Florida’s living history.

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