27 August 2009

Sitting on top of the world

I called on a new client yesterday, a couple who were moving from London to a retirement community in Clearwater, FL. This is kind of unusual in these modern times. Through the second half of the 20th century, Florida was THE place to retire. The climate was perfect and life was cheap.

Well, the climate's still perfect, but life here is anything but cheap. 15 years ago, the cost of living in Florida caught up with the costs in rest of the country. 10 years ago it surpassed most of the country. Florida's no longer the retirement haven it once was and the demographics have shifted dramatically.

My potential clients this morning are moving into a vestige of Florida's heyday as a retirement Mecca. It's a 6,000-resident complex called On Top of The World. The place has to be seen to be believed, I cannot imagine that anything similar exists anywhere else on earth. For the life of me I can't find any information on who built it or why, and though I've only been in the complex once or twice, the place haunts me.

Not in a bad way, but the entire complex is such a kitschy throwback I have a hard time believing that it's not a tourist attraction. The idea of the place is that it's intended to be a trip around the world circa 1955. The developers took barracks-like, three story, cinder block apartment buildings and added a a different, "international" facade to each one. Each building is more fantastic than the last and what absolutely kills me is that the ideas conjured by the facades are those of a middle America with no interest in seeing the actual countries involved. It's a World's Fair as imagined by Edith Bunker. I can't get enough of the place. From everything I see and hear, the place is a welcoming, vibrant community and frankly, the architecture has to keep people in a good mood.

This is a satellite photo of the whole complex.

And here's the main entrance. It's like Epcot Center meets Versailles for lunch in Athens.

What follows are some Realtor photographs I scrounged up. Can you tell? Ugh. I will go back to On Top of the World on a photo safari one of these days. Somebody has to document this place. So excuse the lousy photography and join me in a trip around the world...

The Viennese Villa

The Royal Dutch

Roman Byzantine


Modern Age



English Tudor

Emerald Isle


Corinthian Kabal


Bavarian Chalet



American Gothic

Astounding. It's astounding. Every square foot of the place is a-stounding.


  1. That is absolutely hilarious! I'd love to get in there and take pictures. Edith Bunker...thanks for the first laugh of the day!

  2. It's not terribly far from where you will be in October. There's no security at the gate so waltz on in. THE PLACE HAS TO BE SEEN.

  3. It's Disney meets Sun City meets Motel 6.

    Why must we torture our elders so?

  4. Who knows? But in this case at least, the elders seem to like it.

  5. Edith Bunker; oh you are so cute Paul! I'm a elder and in my opinion 'that ball' (the world) has to go. Oh it is so tacky, tacky. -Brenda-

  6. Oh Brenda. Since about a third of the residents at On Top of the World are in fact Canadian, I blame Canada for this one...

  7. Canadians possess an above-average sense of humor. They have to, with the southern neighbors and all... ;)

  8. Better watch it Kelly, you spelled humor and neighbor like an American.

  9. Which building are your clients in -- the British for the memories, the Punjab for an Imperial kick, or somewhere else entirely!

  10. It's funny you should mention an Imperial kick. As I was driving around there yesterday I was struck by how of the names retain their colonial names. There's a Rhodesia Avenue and of course the Punjab. The China-themed ones have the word "Cathay" worked into them. It's an interesting throwback. And hey, considering that there are 6,000 seniors in residence, you could set up CAPS shop on site!

  11. No Italian anything that I can find. But remember when this place was built and who it was built for. It wasn't too long ago Italians were a stigmatized people, strange as that sounds.

    Besides the Tuscan Villa is the default mode of every builder in Florida today, so the rest of the area is making up for the omission of the Top of the World's developers lo those many years ago. Ugh.

  12. Oh you are cute! :) -Brenda-

  13. "Better watch it, Kelly. You spelled humor and neighbor like an American."

    Hey. I've been here 10 years; I'm fully fluent in both American and Canadian West Coast dialects.) ;)


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