Inspired by a lecture by architect and theorist R. Buckminster Fuller, Gilbert Bailey built himself a geodesic dome on Utah Street in Kenner in 1981.
Sitting just off Interstate 10, the house’s unique design soon made it one of Kenner’s most recognizable buildings.
Since Hurricane Katrina, however, its increasingly dilapidated condition has drawn a whole new kind of attention.
The 3,200-square-foot building, unoccupied since early 2005, sits with its windows boarded up and its roof covered in black sheathing and pressboard patches.
The city’s code enforcement department has cited Bailey more than 40 times in the last 10 years for problems including rot, high grass and bees.
On Thursday night, the Kenner City Council scheduled a hearing for Jan. 22 to discuss whether the building should be torn down.
Bailey, who now lives in Jacksonville, Florida, is returning to the New Orleans area on Monday to meet with Kenner officials to find out how much time he’s got to fix up the building or sell it to someone who will.
He said his first choice would be to repair the house and keep it, but that he would sell it rather than see it torn down.
“I want to rehab the house, but right now I’m in the process,” he said.
Aimee Vallot, Kenner’s code enforcement director, said the fact that the building is unique makes it worth saving, if possible, but that it needs to be brought into compliance just like any other house.
Bailey said a string of unfortunate and ill-timed events brought the house to its current state.
About eight months before Katrina, he became ill and was unable to care for himself. He left the house at 3009 Utah St. and moved to Minnesota, where he could live with relatives and get medical treatment.
Bailey said his illness, which he declined to specify, ravaged not only his health but also his finances. By the time he left for Minnesota, he had lost his homeowner’s insurance coverage because he couldn’t pay the premiums.
When Katrina swept through the area, the building’s roof was destroyed and the house was gutted.
Bailey said he was unable to get any federal or state grant money to fix up the house because he had renewed his driver’s license in Minnesota right after he moved and couldn’t prove he lived on Utah Street.
He said he did spend $25,000 to reinforce the frame and the roof and has tried to keep up the house as best he could. He said his health has improved and he’s working again, now with his son, and has a Florida contractor’s license. He’s still trying to improve his credit to the point where he can get a loan to repair the building, he said.
“This has taken a lot out of me, and I’ve been every day praying and trying to get my health back,” he said. “But my son and I are making money.”
Bailey said he decided to build the house after he attended a lecture at LSU by Fuller, the visionary futurist architect who popularized the geodesic dome.
“I was very impressed by the structural nature of the dome concept,” he said.
Bailey bought the plans and materials from Riverside, California-based Monterey Domes and built the house.
His interest in the dome’s architecture led to a business opportunity: Monterey Domes needed a dealer in the area, and Bailey was interested.
He said his customers were mostly in Mississippi, eastern Texas and Florida, but he also was ready to build or sell to anyone in the metro area.
Bailey said he has gotten a few phone calls since putting up a “for sale” sign and had a friend put the house on Facebook.
But the house — gutted, without wiring and heavily damaged — needs about $90,000 worth of work, he said.
“I guess it’s just the cards that I’m dealing with,” he said.