It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a flying cake? To commemorate National Cake Day (tomorrow, Nov. 26), we thought we’d explore Lakeland’s most famous cake – the Publix birthday cake water tower. While you can’t take a bite out of this cake, you can enjoy a slice of its history.
Nicknamed “hydrocake” by its engineering firm Hydrostorage, Inc., the tower’s construction was completed nearly 38-years ago in 1982. The water tower was a marvel of steel fabrication and 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 - the President of Publix from 1974-1984 – and Publix’s founder, George Jenkins, in 1983. At the meeting, an edible, micro-scale version of the hydrocake was featured in the form of a real birthday cake.
As Publix expanded its industrial compound with its dairy and bakery facilities, a new on-site water system was required to meet the company’s growth. The cake tower concept was the brainchild of Joe Blanton and sought to transform the design of the conventional water tank.
Although the hydrocake cake may look like it is hovering in the air, it is one hefty construction. The tower scrapes the sky standing at 146 ft. and 6 in. with three-tiers and 11, 8 ft.-tall candles that illuminate the night sky. Composed of 2.25 million pounds of steel atop 170 cu. yd.s of concrete, the tower can provide 250,000 gal of water per minute.
Each of the 10 candles symbolizes 5 years in Publix’s then 50-year history with the middle, 11th candle representing the company’s future. The candles add 1.37 tons to the tower’s weight at 250 lbs per candle. And, because the Publix cake tower is so alluring, it has solidified a place in pop culture which can be seen in the Need for Speed Heat’s Palm City map, according to a Reddit user.
Generations of Lakelanders have enjoyed the iconic cake tower while traveling on the New Tampa Hwy. Whether it be the whimsy of the tower’s tiers or the flames from the candles that flicker, its nostalgic imagery is engraved into Lakeland’s historical memory as a reminder of the progress, innovation, and ingenuity of Swan City.