The history of Publix’s Cake Tower

Lakeland’s iconic cake tower — the hydrocake — has been a roadside attraction for generations of Lakelanders. Do you know its history? Keep reading to learn how the tower came to be and how heavy it really is.

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Photo courtesy of Publix

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a flying cake? If you’ve ever wondered what’s up with the giant cake water tower on New Tampa Highway (near Silver Moon Drive-In), get ready to sink your teeth into an interesting story.

The Publix birthday cake water tower, nicknamed “hydrocake,” was the brainchild of Publix President Joe Blanton. As Publix expanded its industrial compound with its dairy and bakery facilities in the late 1970s, a new on-site water system was required to meet the company’s growth. To meet the need and create something unique, Blanton sought to transform the design of the conventional water tank — and the hydrocake was born.

The marvel of steel fabrication was completed in 1982. At the time, it was considered the only structure of its kind designed in the shape of a birthday cake. The Steel Plate Fabricators Association acknowledged Publix’s hydrocake for its exceptional engineering design with a plaque dedicated to Joe Blanton and Publix’s founder, George Jenkins, in 1983.

Although the hydrocake may look like it’s hovering in midair, it is one hefty construction. Let’s take a look by the numbers:

  • 147 ft. That’s how tall the tower stands.
  • 250,000 gallons of water are provided per minute.
  • 2.25 million pounds of steel and 170 cubic yards of concrete make up the tower.
  • 11 candles grace the top, third tier. Each candle is 8 ft tall.
  • 1.37 tons. That’s how much the candles weigh at 250 lbs each.

Each of the 10 candles symbolizes five years in Publix’s then 50-year history. The middle, 11th candle represents the company’s future.

With generations of Lakelanders having enjoyed the iconic cake tower while traveling on the New Tampa Highway, it’s safe to say the tower has solidified a place in pop culture. Its nostalgic imagery is engraved into Lakeland’s cultural memory as a reminder of the progress, innovation, and ingenuity of Swan City.

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