BY ATHENA PONUSHIS
Three Geodisic Domes rest in the middle of Manalapan. They rest on 2.5 acres. At one end, 211 feet of Intracoastal Waterway. At the other end, 211 feet of private beach on the Atlantic Ocean. No one lives there. No one has lived there since 1978.
If the converging triangles of the geodesic domes were anthropomorphic, they might say, “You built me, you left me. You bought me, you seldom visit. Here I stand invulnerable to hurricanes, intriguing to hippies — an art abandoned, a home alone.”
The domes began with one man’s dream that turned to disappointment. The property became another man’s vacation home. Now, it’s listed for sale at $6,750,000.
“Unfortunately, whoever buys it, will most likely tear it down,” said Carla Christenson, Fite & Shavell broker associate, acknowledging the land value before quickly adding, “You never know, I shouldn’t say that.”
Ms. Christenson backtracks her words, because as the listing agent for 1860 South Ocean Blvd. in south central Palm Beach County, she has shown the property to two clients interested in keeping the domes, walking them the 500 feet from the lapping sounds of the intracoastal to the crashing sounds of the ocean break.
To her, preserving the domes would be ideal. She would love for some “Willie Nelson”-type — millionaire/hippie/ artist — to come along and not tear them down. She says this wearing an aqua paisley dress fit to match the house — funky.
Ms. Christenson considers the domes her recent study, going so far as subscribing to TIME magazine online, so she may read archived articles of Buckminster Fuller — the inventor of the geodesic design.
“These domes withstand hurricanes because of their design,” Ms. Christenson said. “They’ve been directly hit by two hurricanes, but never sustained any damage because the wind wraps around it, there’s no roof for the wind to go under and rip off.”
As hard as they may be for Mother Nature to take down, Gyora Novak says the domes were hard to put up. The original owner, Mr. Novak intended to live out his life there, and build more domes. But he claims building permits were taking too long to acquire and he believes bias came into play, because as he says, he was an artist and “a bearded man.”
Mr. Novak built his domes in 1968. At the time, the Palm Beach County property appraiser valued his domes at $60,000. Here’s how Mr. Novak, now 77, recalls obtaining his permit to build — he went to see the Manalapan town manager and offered to give up his geodesic vision, posing instead to turn the property into a surfers park.
Mr. Novak says he told the town manager, “Any surfer will be welcome to use it. And the only way around it, I give you one week to give me my permit.”
According to Mr. Novak, the surfer stigma must have been worse than his beard. He got his permit. He built his domes. He lived there long enough to enjoy it, and he does not care to say any more than that. Somehow what he once called “his dream,” turned into what he now calls “that place.”
“I reject the idea of having anything to do with that place. It’s a terrible disappointment, a waste of time,” Mr. Novak said. “It’s destroyed for me. When your life’s destroyed, why come back to it?”
He will not comment on how it feels to live in a geodesic dome, because he does not wish to help the current owner or broker sell the Manalapan house — “They’ll get six or seven figures for it, what do I get?”— though on his website, gyoranovak.com, he describes the experience as, “a creative, energizing force,” or a “contemplative, elevating sensation.”
Mr. Novak now lives in a seven-dome hamlet in North Carolina.
Stephen Cohen now owns the three Manalapan domes. He bought them in 1978. He describes them as three igloos joined by two corridors. And he’s kept them original.
The main dome — blue tile floors, red fireplace, framed paintings of squid and sun, maybe nuclei, though a poster of Florida from space most encapsulates the feel of the place. Sunhats and beach umbrellas hang near a bookshelf of board games and puzzles, all evidence of vacation. Pegboard separates the kitchen, lavender cabinets, teakettle on a GE stove.
PHOTO BY ATHENA PONUSHIS/FLORIDA WEEKLY
The north dome — pink tile floors, two bedrooms, Jack-and-Jill bath, orange sink. Spiral staircase up to loft, where a fort made out of blankets lends more evidence to family vacation. Old TV’s with knobs, no flat screens. One television topped with an 8-track stereo, next to an ashtray.
The south dome — yellow tile floors, master bedroom stylized by a dome within a dome. The inner dome serves as a looming headboard, harboring the bath with his-and-her sinks. The “his and her” permeates the room, with his and her beanbags, his and her desks, his and her lamps, his and her corded phones. One mini-fridge.
Light bulbs near the floor accentuate the triangles of the domes. They’re cool to the touch and seem to card-house up, though they’re made of Douglas fir, covered by a reinforced concrete exterior.
All domes open to the swimming pool, an inverted dome, black-and-white checkered. All doors are sliding glass.
Mr. Cohen remembers the day he and his wife first pulled into the driveway and looked at each, before they had even looked at the house, “Right then, we knew this was for us,” he said, calling from his holiday in Thailand.
Originally from South Africa, Mr. Cohen moved to New York, thinking he and his wife would take up snow skiing. They didn’t take to it and started searching for someplace warm. They found the Manalapan domes and fell for waterskiing instead.
“We just love the house. We’re not down often, not nearly often enough,” said Mr. Cohen, whose family visits on Easter, Thanksgiving, Labor Day and the stretch from Christmas through New Year’s. “Just a day and you feel a differ- ent person, in part, it’s the house, the house has something to do with it.”
In his 10-minute international phone call, Mr. Cohen expressed how he loves the house — his wife loves geodesic domes; he loves the overgrown, native Florida grounds; he and his sons love scuba diving the ocean reefs; his grandchildren love the loft — so why is he selling it?
“I’m not,” he said, then explaining real estate agents approached him, said someone was interested, told him to name a price. “I named a high price.”
Here’s how he sums up the sale of the house, “Make me an offer I can’t refuse and I’ll consider it, but not otherwise.”
As far as Manalapan, Town Clerk Lisa Petersen said of the domes, “I’d hate to see them go, but I understand if they have to go. … If someone buys oceanfront property, they have the right to do what they wish. We understand me may lose them.”
And as the domes circle a visionary’s architecture, a resentful man’s drama, a traveling man’s respite, the one who would feel the loss the most, would be the man who circles the domes — Peter Jefferson, caretaker/estate manager of the domes since 1974.
Mr. Jefferson admits he has an attachment to the domes, saying simply, “Yes, I’ve been there so long, I’ve spent more time there than anybody else.”
He considers himself a nature person. He considers the Manalapan property a “piece of paradise” because it has been left to be natural, from the sea grapes on the intracoastal to the sea oats on the Atlantic. The domes grew on him as he worked around them.
“It’s indescribable unless you take somebody there,” he said. “The feeling of tranquility when you’re within them,” he trails off.
As easily as one man can call the domes his dream, another man, his holiday, Mr. Jefferson cannot call the domes his job. He once made the comment to a friend, “I love being here so much, I guess I really should be paying them, I get so much pleasure out of working here.
“I will miss it when it’s gone,” said the 74-year-old. “It’s part of my life. When you’ve been going somewhere so long, it becomes part of your life. I will miss being on the property.”
He calls the domes unique. He calls the domes special. “Special is just a word, but I suppose I say special because of the fond memories I have of the place.”
He would like to see the domes remain.
Mr. Cohen surprised him, all the years he’s owned the domes, he’s left it all intact, including the furnishings inside.
“Some place, somewhere there must be a person,” Mr. Jefferson said. “This will be just what they’ve wanted.”
Would he live there? He says he could not afford it.
Can he think of anyone else who could speak to the house? He says, “There really isn’t anybody else.”
But if the domes could speak, Mr. Jefferson, a man from London, says something close to what some boys from Liverpool may have said, “Don’t knock me down.” ¦
If you’re interested in the Manalapan domes listing, please call Fite & Shavell broker associate/ listing agent Carla Christenson at 307- 9966. The property is co-listed with Samantha Curry and Scott Gordon.