Perched on Top of a Volcano

Beautiful, unusual saucer-shaped dome home in Mojave Desert awaits new owner
Fridays On the Homefront
The Volcano House, which recently went on the market, is a beautiful
saucer-shaped home with a colorful history built on top of an extinct
volcano in the Mojave Desert. Photos: Lance Gerber
Fridays On the Homefront
Atop its rising volcano setting.
Fridays On the Homefront
View inside the living room.

For only the third time ever, the so-called 'Volcano House,' a mid-century modern masterpiece in California's Mojave Desert, is on the market—but maybe not for long.

"It's going extremely well," said listing agent Brady Sandahl of Sotheby's International Realty, stating that despite requiring verification of available funds, six of the more than 50 requests to view the property since listing had been granted. "It's been a busy couple of days."

The Volcano House is as beautiful and unusual as it is remote, a saucer-shaped structure atop the cinder cone of an extinct volcano near—well, not near anything, except barren desert. Its address is 50541 Silver Valley Road in Newberry Springs.

The spectacular site was selected by Vard Wallace, a successful aircraft engineer and inventor who patented the first skateboard (albeit one with pole-mounted steering). For the house design, Wallace commissioned the talented and prolific Harold Bissner Jr.

Born in 1925, Bissner is a second-generation Pasadena-area architect who is reportedly still active today with his son's firm there. In 1967, the year before Wallace hired him, Bissner and partner Harold Zook designed an historic restaurant on Route 66 in Arcadia that still stands with its 16-sides, non-operating windmill, and folded-plate roof. The building was a Van de Kamp's bakery, and public outcry over a proposed demolition resulted in its restoration as a Denny's restaurant

Like the Eichler architects, Bissner favored post-and-beam construction, although he also liked designing 'pole houses' supported by telephone pole-like logs. Wallace asked him to design a house similar to the recently constructed, circular reception building at the San Onofre nuclear plant.

A concrete fireplace is the focal point of the dome home, but a major attraction is the 360-degree observation deck accessed by numerous glass sliders, with sensational views of the Newberry Mountains and the expansive western Mojave. An on-site well feeds a man-made lake on the property.

Upon its construction in 1970, Wallace and his family owned the house for 30 years before selling to British developer Richard Baily. Three years later, it was purchased by the ultimate aficionado of California oddities, Huell Howser.