On Center Street, roughly a five-minute walk from the western edge of campus, sits a structure resembling something between a camel’s back and a bomb shelter.
It’s closer to a bomb shelter. Built in 2007, the “Trinity Dome” is nearly indestructible, fireproof, termite-resistant and requires sparse maintenance. One thing the house isn’t immune from, however, is the curiosity surrounding its existence from USD students who cycle in and out of Vermillion every four years.
“The Mystery of Vermillion,” Kevin Meylor, the home’s builder and owner, called it. He constructed the house in 2007 for his retired parents who needed a stairless home which required little effort to retain. Amid its construction, Meylor said students always stopped to ask about the strange half-orbs growing from the ground.
“They loved the fact that it was energy-efficient, natural disaster-proof and basically made of recycled material,” he said. “It’s not creating a lot of plastics and it’s not consuming a forest, so they liked those aspects.”
Almost everyone did. Meylor said The Trinity Dome was met with “universal appreciation” from the community with the exception of one Vermillion resident who penned a letter to the Vermillion Plain Talk about its appearance (pictured below, along with Meylor’s response). Otherwise, the city was easy to work with and people didn’t mind what it looked like.
Because the look wasn’t what it was about.
Quaint and concrete
Meylor purchased the 44-by-150-foot lot for $3,000 at a county tax auction on Sept. 11, 2001 (the day the World Trade Center fell in New York — that’s how he remembers). Six years (two of construction) and $100,000 later, it held Vermillion’s second-most popular dome.
It’s is a single-bedroom, two-bathroom home comprised of concrete and rebar bent to frame it. Two years ago, an estimated 8,000-pound tree fell on the house and didn’t leave a dent past the insulation covering the outside. A meager amount of wood deters flames and termites. Meylor said it could survive nuclear warfare.
“That house will outlive anything else in town,” Meylor said. “You could pick up the house next door and drop it on the dome, and the neighbor’s house would crumble.”
The bedroom and living room sit under the first dome, the kitchen and dining room the second, and the third dome, furthest away from the street, is a garage. A single split-air conditioning system heats and cools the entire unit, the closest thing to an igloo without the snow.
Elsewhere, the monolithic dome isn’t as rare. Their invulnerability to high winds and deadly storms make them a popular housing option on the coasts. In the late 1990s, Meylor lived in a small town called Italy, Texas, as it sprung as the epicenter of the monolithic dome home movement. That’s where the idea came from.
The staple of Center Street
The Pikibens have occupied the TrinityDome since June 2017. Anna, upon finding the home listed on apartments.com, initially made fun of it.
“I was like, ‘who would ever live there,’” Anna Pikiben, a third-year MFA in costume design, said, “and then I realized it was a really nice house.”
The Pikibens gravitate towards houses of unorthodox nature, but this is by far the most unique they’ve lived in, Pikiben said. It appears small from the outside, but the interior is spacious enough for the two and their dog, Karma, to live comfortably.
“I really do love living there,” Pikiben said. “We’re artists and we like to see the value and unique things in a home.”
Since 2013, three other tenants have inhabited the house, according to Jake Skelton of Grace Property Management. Every time the address becomes available, a slew of people contact Skelton just to tour it.
Skelton’s never had an issue renting it out to both USD students and other Vermillion residents, he said.
“It’s been easy to fill because it’s so unique. There’s definitely only one here like it,” Skelton said.
And that’s why the Pikibens aren’t surprised when someone curious about the house comes to the door. Last Spring, a group of senior girls knocked on the door asking for a look inside, Pikiben said. Two Halloweens ago, Pikiben was surprised to see a father and his son entering the unlocked door, curious to see what the interior looked like.
The Pikibens don’t mind giving tours to those intrigued by the house, just as long as they knock. Anna Pikiben said. In fact, she enjoys the stories they bring.
“People are always shy and say the want to come see it. You can if you’re not creepy, I guess” Pikiben said with a laugh. “We’re always welcome to show you as long as you don’t judge the mess.”