Up On The Roof

Urban Explorer Handbook 2006

click to enlarge THE BIG ONION: A minaret gets its closeup. - Valerie Troyano
Valerie Troyano
THE BIG ONION: A minaret gets its closeup.

Where: Inside the minarets on the roof of Plant Hall, University of Tampa

Public access: Close to nil. Dignitaries and visiting alums get the occasional tour of Minaret #1 (north of the main entrance), which has been cleaned up a bit. The other towers are off-limits — though rumor has it a few intrepid souls have allegedly gained access to the turrets for amorous purposes.

Element of danger: Standing atop Plant Hall can make you feel a little weak in the knees, especially when you consider what would happen if you tripped on one of the ribs in the stainless steel roof. And when you climb up inside one of the corner minarets, then perch on the window ledge just below the turret, trying not to look down at the gaping maw of the trap door you came up through — well, let's just say a good sense of balance is a plus.

Why we went: UT's Alhambra-meets-Disneyland roof ornaments have always made us wonder: Can you get inside those things? Is there office space?

What we discovered: UT Public Information Director Grant Donaldson led us down the hall from his fourth floor office, up a dark, dusty stairway — and out onto a Moorish roofscape with a 360-degree view of Tampa. "No one ever comes here but me," said Donaldson of the minaret we visited at the roof's southeast corner. Its four levels (each about 12 feet in diameter) looked pretty forlorn, but conditions used to be much worse: when workers began renovations several years ago, they found rotten timber, broken windows, pigeon guano inches deep and, in one tower, a family of white owls. (Construction had to be stopped till they moved out.) A few brave souls have visited since; a couple named "Justin M. + Heather M. 9/12/98," for instance, made it to the top and graffitied their names to prove it.

Working weekends, Donaldson says he hears visitors rattling doors in the corridor as they try to find a way up to the roof. Hint: The refurbished, larger Minaret #1 is accessible only through a (locked) door to the left of the ladies' room (#418). About halfway up is a mysterious little aerie with skinny arched windows. Donaldson surmises it might have been an apartment for one of the waiters at the old Plant Hotel. In recent times, it's been used for at least one wedding.