Cliffdome — Then and Now
Cliffdome — Then
In 1978, Monolithic’s president David B. South and Judy, his wife, built Cliffdome. The home is perched on the cliff of the South Menan Butte in Menan, Idaho overlooking the Snake River.
Cliffdome was the largest Monolithic Dome home ever built at that time. It is 75-feet in diameter, 28 feet tall, two and a half levels, 8000 square feet of living space and 1500 square feet of attic space.
In those days, the Souths had six kids at home, so the need for a lot of space was obvious, but secondary to the reason they decided to build as BIG as they did. David wanted a practical demonstration of the Monolithic Dome’s potential. He wanted the world to see that the domes could be big and versatile, as well as strong and energy-efficient.
Up until then, David and his brothers, Barry and Randy, had built a couple of houses and many storages, but he knew they could do more. He wanted to show people that Monolithic Domes could be built as schools, churches, gymnasiums and more.
So the Souths got to work. They designed, inflated, finished, moved into and began enjoying their new home in October 1979. Its features included an indoor garden with a pond and a banana tree; eleven living room windows (6′×5′) with a fantastic view of the valley and river; and an upstairs, volleyball-court-size gymnasium. A den, two bathrooms and five bedrooms, each with its own vanity, sink and walk-in closet surrounded that gymnasium.
In addition, Cliffdome’s main floor had a laundry room large enough for two washers and two dryers; a generous sewing room; a library/music room; a second living area; a master bedroom and bath; a half bath.
Space for Everyone
With a house that size, everyone had his or her own space — at least for a while. Over the years, many people temporarily came to live at Cliffdome, including Judy’s mom, daughters with husbands and kids, cousins, and friends. In 1983, when this dome reached its occupancy pinnacle, 15 people called Cliffdome home.
Growing Up In A Dome
I am one of the first people to be able to say, “I grew up in a Monolithic™ Dome home.” We moved into our dome home in 1979. I was five years old.
I was so overwhelmed by the novelty of the home; I thought I had found wonderland. There was a small gymnasium for roller-skating. We even had an indoor garden complete with a dwarf banana tree which bore fruit in 1984.
During the ten years we lived in the Monolithic™ Dome, I learned a lot about R-values, passive solar structures, PSIs, and other dome-related data. It was a great experience for me. Imagine a world of domes. It would conserve about 75% of the energy it now uses for simple heating and cooling. There would be millions of dollars saved in natural disaster relief. Monolithic™ Domes are wood-free and therefore fire-safe.
My favorite dream about this world of domes is that everyone would have the inherent feeling of security which a Monolithic™ Dome provides. As a child I always thought there were monsters in the closet, but in my bedroom, it felt like my house would put its big dome arms around me and protect me from whatever was out there. I never had concerns about safety from the elements, either. During the harsh Idaho winters we never worried about snow-load or roof-collapse. We were there during an earthquake and a small tornado. I remember the night the tornado came. We kids were thrilled and excited to have such a calamity going on around us because we felt safe and secure. We would have “storm” parties on those nights.
If you build it …
From its beginning, when David and his brothers began construction, tours were given of Cliffdome. David told me, “It attracted school and church administrators, politicians, engineers, architects and Looky Lous from all over the world. In all, more than 4000 signed the guest tour book during the 12 years we lived there. And these visitors came to Cliffdome in spite of its remote location. It was a mile away from the nearest paved road and 15 miles from the closest small town.”
Eventually, David moved his company to Texas and the family reluctantly moved out of Cliffdome.
Cliffdome — Now
In 1992, Linda and Eugene Kelsey were looking for a retirement home, on the river, with a great view. One day, Eugene drove up the dirt road, crested the halfway point and fell in love with the burbling waters and valley sparkling below him. Then he saw Cliffdome — and was unimpressed. But he so loved the view, he decided to give Cliffdome a try.
Some things change —
After so much rough-and-tumble living, when the Kelseys bought, Cliffdome needed a facelift. Its wooden deck had deteriorated and its carpets were worn. Linda and Eugene built a gorgeous new deck; replaced the old, yellow linoleum and brown carpet; discarded the carpeting in the second living room, painted its concrete floor and turned it into a game room; converted the sewing room into an office; and displayed Linda’s collection of some 400 cookie jars throughout the dome.
and some things never do.
But not everything has changed. You can still hear the sound of laughing children in Cliffdome. Kids and grandkids come and stay. When they’re not playing basketball in the gym, they sit on the deck and watch the river or play pool in the game room.
Eugene now says he has fallen in love with the dome. “No one else has a home as unique as mine,” he told me. He figures his electric bill is about the same as it would be if they had purchased a 2000-square-foot home, as they had originally planned.
During our conversation I told Eugene I was one of David’s daughters — five-years-old when we moved into Cliffdome. He said he thought he could make me homesick: “I’m sitting on the deck watching the bald eagles fly up and down the river.”
Note: This article was originally written and published in December 2003