'Devastated' Gold Pyramid House owners want to rebuild after fire
As Onan family members raced to escape the smoke and fire inside the iconic Gold Pyramid House in Wadsworth, they left behind a host of Egyptian artifacts -- some replicas and some real -- on display in a first- and second-floor museum.
More than 100 items were featured at one point, including a 14-karat gold tea set, statues from the Egyptian consulate, a carved yellow quartzite sarcophagus, and glass display cases containing a gold dagger, various pottery and headdresses.
What's unknown is whether any of it survived the water, soot and drywall from collapsed ceilings and walls. Also uncertain is the future of tours and public events staged on the property.
"We're not sure how much damage there is right now," family spokeswoman Yolanda Fierro said Wednesday. "We are just devastated over this."
Fierro, the event coordinator for Gold Pyramid, said she has been inside and saw "water was still dripping from everywhere," but she said the cleanup has begun.
Gurnee fire officials said the official cause of Tuesday's fire at the pyramid house on the 37000 block of Dilleys Road is under investigation. A damage estimate is unknown, officials said.
Battalion Chief Bob Heraver said painters were stripping gold paint on the exterior walls before the blaze started.
Fierro said construction workers were removing the final 20 percent of the gold paint that helped make the structure famous. She said the building was due to be repainted.
"All of our livelihoods are attached to this building," she said, turning to look across the natural spring moat at scorched black soot visible on the face of the pyramid. "I'm just glad everyone got out in time."
Owners Jim and Linda Onan were not injured in the fire. Linda Onan and a live-in caretaker were able to bring Jim Onan out of the house, authorities said. But 15-year-old Lulu, one of the two dogs that lived in the pyramid, died.
Heraver said five firefighters had minor injuries -- three suffered smoke inhalation, one injured a shoulder and one injured a knee.
He denied reports circulating that firefighters were trapped inside the house at any time. He said a mayday was called out at one point because firefighters became disoriented inside the building due to its layout.
Fire officials said fire damage was mostly contained between the interior and exterior walls on the north slope. Only items inside the pyramid were affected, Fierro said. Replicas on the compound, such as King's Tut Tomb and a 55-foot-tall statue of Ramses II, were not damaged.
The Onans built the well-known tourist attraction in 1977. The house has been featured on many national television shows, such as "Home Strange Home with Chuck Nice," "Home Made" on the Travel Channel and "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous."
The couple's son, Thomas "Rocko" Onan, said on "Home Strange Home" that it was built after his father learned pyramids were capable of producing their own special "power."
"He started to become a believer," Rocko Onan said on the 2013 show. "Next thing I noticed growing up, all these little, tiny pyramids began popping up around our house."
The first two floors of the house were dedicated to a museum, Fierro said. According to the "Home Strange Home" video, the Egyptian theme continued through the living space on the upper three floors.
The Onans brought back public tours in 2009. Situated between the Tri-State Tollway and Route 41, the 17,000-square-foot pyramid has been a roadside attraction.
"It helps put us on the map," Wadsworth Village Manager Moses Amidei said. "It's not just a Wadsworth tourist attraction. It's a Lake County tourist attraction and Illinois tourist attraction."
Fierro said guided tours had been running Sundays but will be canceled until repairs are made. Some special events, such as a bike rally, will continue but will take place in the parking lot.
"The consensus has been that we want to rebuild and reopen in the future," Fierro said. "A company that specializes in storing artifacts has been hired to come in and take pictures, clean and store the artifacts that are salvageable."
• Daily Herald staff writer Christopher Placek contributed to this report.