After a devastating 2018 fire, Gold Pyramid House rises from the ashes
Describing the Gold Pyramid House in Wadsworth as one of a kind is an understatement. Trying to explain the grand structure surrounded by a moat in the northeast part of Lake County is another matter.
"You have to see it to understand it," said Monica Lundeen, event planner for the curious attraction that long has endured as a place for one man's obsession with all things Egyptian.
Visitors would get a sense of what was to come by the towering presence of a 55-foot tall statue of Ramses II at the entry to the compound on the 37000 block of Dilleys Road.
But public access to the site ended after a devastating fire in July 2018 left more than $3 million in damage to the 17,000-square-foot home/museum modeled after the Great Pyramid of Giza. Tours were canceled, and a museum featuring an abundance of items, including furnishings, artifacts and paintings -- some real, some replicas -- was closed.
"We just kind of shut down to regroup," said Yolanda Fierro, executive director of Gold Pyramid Brands.
Now a comeback is on the horizon.
Besides the return of a well-known attraction, the reopening represents a son's commitment to preserving the dream of his father.
"His dad's his hero but he's the secret hero behind all of this," Fierro said of Jim Onan Jr. "He knows that this represents what his dad wanted."
The first floor has been rebuilt and split into a conference/meeting and party spaces. A gold coating has been applied to dozens of concrete sphinxes, which have flanked the entry road as sentries since the home was built in 1977.
A replica of King Tut's tomb, a separate attraction on the 11-acre grounds, also is set to reopen.
"King Tut got a facelift, and all the sphinxes got covered," Fierro said.
Private tours are available and public access on Saturdays will begin July 9, accompanied by an outdoor concert by Blues Family Robinson.
"It's been a long-standing recognizable and iconic structure in Lake County and has attracted curious visitors over the years," said Maureen Riedy, president of Visit Lake County.
"We are anticipating a strong summer tourism season and this unique attraction adds to the county's appeal as a popular tourism destination."
Jim Onan was a contractor who installed concrete driveways and built garages, well known for local advertising with the slogan "Nobody but nobody can beat an Onan garage."
But his biggest project was yet to come.
"It started with him reading a book on the power of the pyramid and the fascination with the energy pyramids had," Fierro said.
Onan built an 11-foot replica in his yard, and little models were scattered about the house. When he and his wife, Linda, began looking for a new home, she suggested he build a pyramid to get the models off the kitchen table.
"You don't say that to a builder who can build anything," Fierro said. "He was very precise that the foundation had to be true north to gain that energy."
The home was built on an island in an old gravel pit between Interstate 94 and Route 41. Construction started in 1977, and the Onans moved in 1982. It was designed and decorated to reflect the ostentatiousness of wealthy Egyptian pharaohs, according to a promotional brochure. The color gold is omnipresent.
Besides the energy, which Fierro said at times made the hair on her arms stand up, a natural spring was uncovered. The mineral rich water for several years has been processed and sold in bottles. More recently, it's being distilled and used in a premium vodka.
The six-story structure originally was covered in reflective gold coating, causing distant drivers to squint and pilots to use the home as a reference point.
Word about the curious pyramid got around.
"He (Jim Onan) decided to open it to the public, and thousands of people showed up," Fierro said. "He wanted people to be able to see a part of Egypt without going there."
The home later was featured on many national television shows, including "Home Made" on the Travel Channel and "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous."
Public tours were discontinued for a time but returned in 2009. A 4,000-square-foot tent was erected in 2017 and used for car shows, fundraisers and other events.
The last 20% of the gold roof covering was being removed in advance of repainting in 2018 when insulation in the north wall ignited, Fierro said. Much of the resulting damage was caused by water trickling through six floors, but only items inside the pyramid were affected. Thousands of pieces remain in storage, she added.
The second floor is being rebuilt as a residence, and longer-range plans are taking shape.
"We're taking it floor by floor because it's a work of art and ideas keep coming to us," Fierro said.
A plan to convert the gift shop on the property into Pharaohs Pub also is in the works.
Jim Onan has Alzheimer's disease and requires constant care.
"That's why Jimmy is keeping it going -- because his dad cannot," Fierro said.
From time to time, the family brings Jim Sr. to the site.
"He can't talk, he can't move but he knows what's going on," Fierro said. "You can see a tear."