Can you put a squarish structure next to a Monolithic Dome? Can you place traditional next to futuristic? Won’t the combination look odd?
Some folks might think so. But not the McLeods. In 1993 Bonnie and Bill McLeod built their hunting lodge in Blackwell, Texas: a Monolithic Dome with a 60-foot diameter, a 30-foot height, two stories, and 5200 square feet of living space that they named “Dome on the Range.”
Then the McLeods connected a two-story, octagonal structure with corners to the dome. Asked why they had not opted for a second Monolithic Dome for this addition, Bill said, “We think a Monolithic Dome looks best when it’s incorporated with other shapes.”
A hug of continuity
Bill, an architecture graduate who studied under a protege of Frank Lloyd Wright, believes that integrating a Monolithic Dome with traditional shapes can aesthetically enhance its appeal. To gain that enhancement for their dome, give it an adobe look, and provide continuity between dome and addition, the McLeods covered the dome’s exterior with a twelve-foot-high wall of native rock. They then had the addition’s exterior finished with a similar rock cover.
A craftsman, walking a wheelbarrow over the land surrounding the buildings, collected the rocks and then assembled them — like a giant jigsaw puzzle over the structures’ exteriors. Result: both dome and addition appear embraced in a hug of continuity.
Besides continuity, the rock exterior displays a collection of ornaments and knickknacks strategically tucked among its stones. There’s a map of Texas, an Aztec sundial, a running horse and sixteen gold stars. Fourteen of the stars represent fourteen of the McLeods’ grandchildren; the fifteenth is for an anticipated grandchild and the sixteenth is for a cherished family pet that died. As guests leave the lodge for their hunting sites, they touch the family pet star for luck.
That old-timey look
The McLeods like combining significant, aged articles with the technologically new to create a rustic, old-timey, southwestern flavor. In an Abilene Reporter-News feature article, Bill said, “We wanted the house to have an enduring look, and we wanted something really modern in technique but also timeless and meaningful.”
A bell tower, that in a prior life might have topped a Spanish mission, now tops the Monolithic Dome where it serves a dual purpose. Bill said, “The bell is for emergencies, but the bell tower is mostly for looks.”
A door that once graced a building at the Texas state capitol complex now provides passage between the dome and the addition. Bill salvaged the huge, heavy door and replaced its damaged areas with stained glass panels he crafted just for that purpose.
New name, same purpose
With the addition of a new structure, new exterior coatings, and a bell tower, the name Dome on the Range no longer suited the lodge. So, the McLeods renamed it Antelope Springs Ranch. But its purpose remains the same. During every October-to-January hunting season, the Monolithic Dome houses fifteen to twenty guests from all over the world.
Bill said, “We do get interesting guests. No royalty so far, and I don’t think we’ve had any household names, but we’ve had many prominent professional and business people from Germany, Israel, the Caribbean and just about every state, including Hawaii.”
Most are fascinated by the dome and its decor. “We know they like it and feel comfortable here because so many of the hunters come back the next year and bring somebody new with them,” Bill said. “And when they get here, they personally want to show the new guest around as opposed to us showing them around.”
Somewhat of a museum
“Through the years,” Bill continued, “if anything, our guests have become very attached to the lodge. We get things constantly for the lodge. They call and say, ‘I have this and I thought you should have it for the dome.’”
The lodge’s most significant gifts include an extensive library willed to the lodge by S.P. Miller, a former secretary of the treasury for the International Teamsters Union; a collection of military guns and swords donated by Chuck Stine, the youngest commander of a ship during World War II; and a rusty, old ice cream churn.
Paul Rodriquez of New Orleans sent the churn and told the McLeods that his “granddad used to run a grocery store on the Mexican side of the border near Del Rio, Texas. Kids from Texas would not cross the border except when granddad cranked up the ice cream churn. So we called it the friendship churn.” Rodriquez wanted the friendship churn to have a permanent home and not get lost. He chose Antelope Springs Ranch for that home.
“Things like that have been going on since we opened, so the lodge is somewhat of a museum,” Bill said. “We’ve been given handmade items, paintings and artifacts. One guest raises peacocks; he sent us peacock feathers. Another, from Florida, sent us a stuffed alligator.”
A much-used, secure haven
Six years after completion of their Monolithic Dome, the McLeods remain pleased with its structural performance. “This place is always full,” Bill said. “Kids, adults and dogs go in and out of this dome all the time. The dome has had very hard use and has required very little in the way of upkeep and maintenance. And-there’s the wonderful ambiance the dome provides.”
While they are pleased with the look and convenience of the new addition that includes storage areas, exercise room, sitting room, private kitchen and office, the McLeods kept their master bedroom in the Monolithic Dome. Bill said, “Bonnie insisted on that. We’re in tornado alley. Since the lodge was built, we had a small twister on top of the hill. It tore the roof off the ranch house that had to be replaced. And it tore up an airplane hangar that had to be reconstructed. And that was a small tornado. We know the strength of the Monolithic Dome and we feel safe in it.”
Note: This article was originally printed in the Roundup Journal Winter 1999