A launch pad for desert living

Times Staff Writer

Vard Wallace, a genius in mechanics who built a business selling drafting machines and airplane parts to Lockheed Corp. and other aircraft companies during World War II, had this dome in the desert constructed as a retreat for himself and his wife, Mabel.

He hired Harold Bissner Jr. of Nyberg & Bissner Inc. in Pasadena to design a home resembling the dome-shaped information center built in 1965 at the construction site of the nuclear generating plant at San Onofre. The Wallaces’ main residence was in Newport Beach.

James Miles of Las Cruces, N.M., supervised construction of the Wallaces’ dome, which took months due to heavy rains and difficulties in getting and keeping help. The house was completed in 1968, a year after the first San Onofre nuclear unit started operating.

The current owner of the desert dome bought the property about three years ago. He decided to sell the retreat, about halfway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, because he doesn’t have the time to visit it.

The dome was recently used as a backdrop for a music video.

About this house: Built on a cinder cone, the dome has tempered glass walls at ground level and is surrounded by a moat, 5 feet wide and 2 feet deep. At the apex of the dome is an observation deck. The home has 360-degree views of the mountains and the desert. The 60-acre property also includes a 4-acre artificial lake with an island. Federal land borders the property on three sides. And the nearest neighbor is a mile away.


Asking price: $795,000

Size: The compound includes a 2,500-square-foot main house with two bedrooms and two bathrooms plus a 750-square-foot caretaker’s house, where Vard Wallace had a workshop for designing drafting machinery, helicopter parts and other equipment for manufacture at his Vard Newport Inc. plant.

Features: There is a 600-square-foot sun deck over a three-car carport. The ceiling of the dome is covered with steam-bent fir. The bathrooms and utility rooms are in a 24-foot-wide column decorated with mine rock. The dome also has a conversation pit and a fireplace.

Where: Newberry Springs, off Interstate 15 or Interstate 40.

Contact: Richard Bailey, (800) 621-6750


To submit a candidate for Home of the Week, please send color interior and exterior photos (copies only; we cannot return the pictures) and a brief description of the house, including what makes the property unusual, to Ruth Ryon, Real Estate Section, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012; or e-mail