You’ve seen it as you drive alongside Lake Monroe: The round, fortress-like building weirdly situated on a triangular piece of land where Seminole Boulevard and French Avenue meet.
“Just what the heck is that building,” most people ask, including Sanford residents who’ve lived here 30-plus years.
The most common responses? It’s the Sanford water plant, or it’s the place to pay your water bill.
Chris Kelley chuckles when anyone says that.
“It never has been the water plant.”
Kelley would know better than anyone. Eoghan Kelley, Chris’ father, designed and built the structure in 1972 to be his architecture office.
Among his portfolio of work, Eoghan Kelley designed public schools across the state of Florida, including West Orange High School, Apopka High School, Lake Howell High School and Lake Brantley High School.
Many of his school designs were based on the architectural and educational trend of the time known as the “open school concept,” which featured buildings with geometric shapes, few windows and and open floor plan inside.
Chris Kelley said his father’s design for his own architecture office was driven by much more practical concerns: how do you build a structure on a triangular piece of land that is only one-third of an acre in size?
“My father was in a bar with a bunch of scotch trying to figure out how to come up with a design that would work on this weird piece of property in the middle of the road,” said Chris Kelley. “He pulled out some pocket change and put a quarter, dime and a nickel on a cocktail napkin. That’s how it all started.”
“I always wondered why he needed an architectural license if all it took was some scotch and a bunch of pocket change,” Chris Kelley quipped. “Who needs to go to school?”
The building has been vacant for a number of years and is now being transformed into an event venue, to be called 601 West (Facebook | Gmap). Chris Kelley says he envisions the venue hosting small concerts, poetry readings, weddings and business functions.
The main performance hall is a massive room that offers two-tiered seating and is located in the “quarter” of Eoghan Kelley’s original barroom design. Except for being rewired with professional lighting and sound equipment, the room is exactly as Eoghan Kelley designed it, including its most dominant feature: a 15-foot round table made of polished concrete and reinforced with steel.
“We can put carpet on the table and have a full band perform on top of it. That’s how strong that table is,” said Chris Kelley.
Depending on the time of day, 601 West will offer outstanding sunset views over Lake Monroe from the rooftop patio, accessed by a spiral staircase.
The venue is not yet open to the public, as Chris Kelley said he is still working with the city of Sanford to secure all of the permits. He did host a private event in May.
And while the architectural office is getting new life as an event venue, locals still perpetuate the urban legend that the round building on the lake is the Sanford water plant.
As recently as last week, someone on the Facebook group “Sanford 32771, 32773, 32746” claimed they remember going with their mother to pay the water bill at the round building.
It never happened Chris Kelley says confidently.
“We’ll take your money, but your water will get shut off,” he joked.
– by Dan Ping
Before the round building, the area looked like this