By Ron Hayes To Gyora Novak, there’s no place like dome. In January 1968, the self-described “artist, designer, innovator, poet, writer, humanist” erected three geodesic domes at 1860 S. Ocean Blvd. in Manalapan, and lived in them for the next 10 years. At the time, the county property appraiser valued Novak’s dome homes at $60,000. Now they’re for sale again. Asking price, $10.5 million.
Of course, that includes the 200 feet of oceanfront property, the 200 feet of lakefront property and the 2.5 acres in between. But swimming pools, docks and lush tropical acreage are not rare in Manalapan. Dome homes are.
Say “geodesic dome” today, and people respond in one of two ways: They say, “Ah...what?” Or they say, “Ah, Buckminster Fuller!” That’s Richard Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) — “Bucky” to his friends and acolytes. A Harvard student expelled for “irresponsibility and lack of interest.” A college professor who never graduated from college. A visionary who coined the term “synergetics.” A philosopher who announced, “I seem to be a verb.” An occasional visitor to Palm Beach. And the father of the geodesic dome. As Novak was moving into his triple-dome home in Manalapan, Fuller was approaching the eighth birthday of his own dome house, erected April 20, 1960, at 407 S. Forest Ave., in Carbondale, Ill. Fuller's home is still standing, more or less, and Cornelius Crane wants to keep it there. Corny Crane is a founding board member of RBF Domes NFP, a not-for-profit organization founded to preserve Fuller’s original dome home and win it national historic status. “There’s two aspects to geodesic homes,” Crane says. “They won’t fall down in an earthquake, because they’re not based on balanced beams, and they’re safe in a hurricane, because the wind blows around them.” Fuller dubbed the phenomenon “tensegrity” — the ability to yield increasingly without ultimately breaking. His home was constructed by a company called Pease Woodworking of Hamilton, Ohio, then assembled on the lot. Not long after, Pease was sold and re-established in Plattsburg, N.Y., as the Geodesic Dome Manufacturing Co., where Don Bedore built Gyora Novak’s domes. “We dealt very heavily with the hippie crowd, you might say,” remembers Bedore, the company’s president. “We sold a lot in Vermont. Not to communes, but close to it.” Like Fuller’s home, the Manalapan domes are 39 feet in diameter and 16 feet high. They're assembled from 60 triangles of Douglas fir, each panel numbered, bolted together, then covered by a reinforced concrete exterior. “My crew can put a dome up in a day,” Bedore says. In other words, the futuristic geodesic dome is, at heart, a form of manufactured housing. But that’s not what made them so hip in the 1960s and ’70s. Geodesic domes had a spiritual dimension. “Throughout the globe, we have endless domes at the top of important spiritual places,” Novak points out. “Go to the Vatican, synagogues, mosques. It doesn’t matter what religion or culture or historical period. That same sensation of spiritual experience exists when you live in a smaller dome. “I had people who came to the dome who were sick and were miraculously healed,” he says. “It’s an amazing experience for anybody.” In time, however, the future caught up with the home of the future. “They had a phase,” says Bedore, “but they were always in and out as far as popularity. After a while we were only doing 25 or 30 a year, so we got out in 1997.” Bedore is 77 now and semi-retired. He still has the equipment to build dome homes, but doesn’t advertise. In 1978, Novak sold his Manalapan dome homes to Stephen and Jeanette Cohen, who have owned it ever since. They declined to speak about the property. However, Realtor Elaine Edwards of Brown Harris Stevens of Palm Beach is quick to emphasize the domes’ unique character. “I hope someone will recognize that it’s special, and not just tear them down for the land,” she says. “Our goal is to find someone who would preserve the house.” After selling his Manalapan property in 1978, Gyora Novak moved to England and returned in 1997. He is 76 now, and lives with his wife on a mountain outside Franklin, N.C. — in two geodesic domes.