The Last of the Xanadus
Xanadu was a white-domed home of the future, with franchises in Kissimmee, Florida, Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, and Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The Xanadus promoted an environmentally sensitive sci-fi lifestyle, offering a peek at Tomorrow's do-it-all domiciles. Xanadu championed a novel method of home-building -- wet polyurethane foam sprayed over gigantic balloons to form the frame of this low-cost, energy-efficient structure. As J. Thomas Gussel, proponent of foam construction for the layman explained, "It's like turning over a Styrofoam cup and living in it!"
Today, the last Xanadu is deserted. Stains mar the exterior foam curves; the communications spire and dish have disappeared. The property is for sale.
Early 1980s: Our first visit
With the new EPCOT and the Black Hole of Tourism whirling scant miles down the road, Xanadu's creators may have reasoned that this Home of the Future was the perfect "impulse stop" for incoming or escaping vacationers.
Cheery geodesic billboards of the future beckoned. Xanadu's whiteness glared in the Florida sun, on a patchily developed strip of Hwy. 192. We visited Kissimmee's and the others at major tourism meccas.
"Xanadu," purred an attempted sexy HAL-voice, "the home... of the future." The voice emanated from a handheld wireless telephone distributed to each visitor at the entrance. The only problem was that it got jammed by any electrical interference in the room. Like when your camera flash recharged. Visitors were told the equipment was on the fritz "for the first time ever," the day we visited. Two weeks later, we revisited and were told the same thing.
The rooms upstairs were like caves, with three foot ceilings. The stairways were cramped corkscrews, and the overkill of promotional electronic gadgetry trumpeted mismatched video/stereo components. Naturally, we liked this place.
Early 1990s: Progress Check
Already, the Future was passing by Xanadu at a fast clip. Gatlinburg's foam home had gone under, and the Dells version was struggling, adding jokey robots and pricey souvenirs in the gift shop.
In Kissimmee, knobby electronics accessories and DOS computers that raged in the '80s were starting to look like Third World office hand-me-downs. The waterfall spa was dry and covered with a sheet of worn Plexiglas; the ferric oxide in the video fireplace tape was so old you had to look twice before you realized something was on the screen.
The handheld walkie-talkie tour guide had been dumped in favor of an introductory video and "self-guided tour." On your way out the door, you passed a booth where a guy tried to sell you discount tickets to other area attractions.
Adding insult to injury, the Black Hole had decided to build a nearby futuristic community called Celebration. Not the long-anticipated metroplex of energy-efficient foam homes, but a tastefully eclectic community recalling the design styles of small town America, circa 1920!
1997: Xanadu for Sale
Kissimmee's Xanadu held on into 1996, if we are to believe a brochure delivery person at nearby Jungleland. The Dell's model tanked a few years earlier, the property now dominated by a Mini-golf log flume. In Kissimmee, scores of neighboring movie motion rides and adventure-themed dinner shows offer a more accurate vision of the future than any upside-down Styrofoam cup.
2005: Future Arrives Without Xanadu
In early October, 2005, Kissimmee's Xanadu was bulldozed to make way for future development -- likely not another "Computerized Home of the Future."
The attraction's demise lured us down into our video vaults to resurrect some fuzzy VHS clips recorded back in Xanadu's glory years.