Wacky gilded pyramid house in Illinois

Joshua Foer is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Joshua is a freelance science journalist and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Dylan Thuras.


Speaking of creepy Midwestern pyramids, check out the Onan Pyramid House in Wadsworth, Illinois:

The six-story-tall, 17,000-square-foot Gold Pyramid House in Wadsworth, Illinois has to be one of the most bizarre homes ever constructed. Its builders, Jim and Linda Onan explain in three nouns and two adjectives what their unique home represents: "Power, Gold, Mystery, Exotic, and Impressive." The Onans are subscribers to the seventies cult theory of "pyramid power." Their home is believed to be the largest 24-karat gold-plated object in North America.
The home is closed to tours, but I understand you can spy it from I-94, about half-way between Chicago and Milwaukee. If there's an eccentric home like this near you, please consider sharing your local treasure with the Atlas Obscura community.


  1. I wonder if they understand the irony of their surname, being perpetrators of architectural onanism.

  2. This house has been around for at least twenty five years. There’s plenty of other references to it on the Net. Back in the 80s, they opened it up for tours. Nothing too special. And while you CAN see it from I-94, you gotta know exactly where to look. It’s off in the distance and some hills and trees make it difficult to see from 94. At 55mph, you can probably get a five second view of it.

    I also remember back around 1989 or so, the owner put it up for sale for $1. Yes, $1… so long as you financed his next project. I believe it was a full wild west town. It never happened.

  3. <aside type="scriptural exegesis">

    The term “onanism” for masturbation always puzzled me, since, in the Biblical story, Onan’s sin seems to be disobedience, in the form of coitus interruptus motivated by arrogance and selfishness.

    He may have “spilled his seed on the ground”, but it wasn’t because he was masturbating.

  4. Brett Burton:

    I wonder if they understand the irony of their surname, being perpetrators of architectural onanism.

    As they decided to build this in a place called Wadsworth, I’d have to say yes, they understand.

    Wank like an Egyptian.

  5. “Power, Gold, Mystery, Exotic, and Impressive.”

    Rearrange those a bit and you get:

    “Power, Impressive, Gold, Mystery, and Exotic.”


    “Mystery, Exotic, Power, Impressive,and Gold.”

    That’s PIG ME or ME PIG. Take your choice.

  6. I’ve seen it many, many times from I-94. Always watch for it. It’s a striking building.

  7. I remember taking the tour of the pyramid when I was a kid. The interior was just as impressive as the exterior. The interior design was also based around an Egyptian theme, imagine that. Filled with sculptures and lots of other things they probably spent way too much money on.

  8. i’ve been driving past that house since i was a kid. it has to have been there for at least 20 years now. every time my family drove down I-94 we all had to try to catch a glimpse of it as we drove by. it’s just to bizarre not to stare at.

  9. I drove past that while getting lost on the way to work one morning a couple of years ago. They have big Egyptian style statues in their yard and hieroglyphics on the wall that surrounds their yard.

  10. While being carted around by my hippie parents on one of their ‘finding themselves’ excursions around the country, I had the displeasure of staying in staying in this pyramid in Salt Lake City:

    Summum Pyramid in SLC
    I was a kid, it sucked, the people that own/run the thing are a bunch of crystal hugging weirdos.

  11. The house doesn’t look especially gilded in the page Sednaboo linked to, but I suppose it could just be bad lighting. Can anyone confirm?

  12. the owners are known for openly harassing people who stop to stare… and in an interview in some local paper, they said that were confused why the house draws so much attention… i guess they have a point… i mean, my neighborhood is riddled with 70 ft. tall golden pyramids…

  13. The only pyramid-shaped building that I’ve ever been in is the Pyramid Arena in Memphis; it’s really just a standard area with a pyramid-shaped roof on it. Has an interesting history, though; it’s one of many proposed or realized schemes to develop/redevelop Memphis’ downtown and/or riverfront (Mud Island, which you might remember from Tom Cruise’s monorail chase from the movie The Firm, is another). There was originally supposed to be a sightseeing incline-railway-type ride up one edge to the pyramid’s apex, but that never opened. Ironically, it had just started to turn a profit when Memphis acquired an NBA franchise, and they had to have more luxury suites and such for the nabobs at FedEx, so they built another arena a few blocks away and now the Pyramid essentially has no purpose. Which is a real shame, as it not only symbolizes the city’s name but also serves as a sort of counterpart to St. Louis’ Gateway Arch and greets visitors coming down I-55. Ah well, look upon my works, ye might, and despair.

  14. i grew up just south of the Onan Pyramid. its situated on a giant gravel bed in what is otherwise typical Midwestern grassland/farmland. i don’t believe the pyramid is gold plated anymore. Onan constructed a canopy at one point to protect the gold and fend off prying eyes (there have been a few small plane crashes rumored to rubber necking), the canopy was destroyed during a tornado and i believe the pyramid has been painted since. there is also a massive statue in front of the complex with a giant pile of gravel at its feet. the gravel pile was added to ‘meet’ city code of maximum sign height. the best view is on dilley road.

  15. As a kid, my parents drove past this thing all the time on our trips to see relatives in Kenosha. I’d always crane my neck to find it, but I was never committed enough to pinpoint an actual location – it was more fun to catch a glimpse of it through the tree unexpected as I stared out the window at the passing scenery.

    It’s fun to see it on this site, now…like Brigadoon finally pinned down. But not as Scottish.

  16. It’s got a moat! Looks like a place Ozymandias from the Watchmen would live in. I heard they bought the gold leaf from some upscale aluminum siding salesman and ‘e gypt ’em in the end. ;D

  17. I grew up right near the Onan pyramid house. Locals have a discernable “WTF?!” attitude towards it.

  18. I lived about 1/2 mile from this building in the late 1980’s in what was known by some as the Salt Block house. I cannot attest to its powers, but I was non-onastic at the time. I had three girlfriends who visited often and kept my semen level pretty low.

  19. This reminds me of a “Pyramid Church” (as we called it) that was in South Jersey. It was torn down a year or two ago, though. It was always broken down looking from what I can remember. We peeked in one of the windows once, and saw some strange looking dolls…

  20. I have seen this house inside and out, Dilley’s road has the best veiw. Onan’s owned a lumber yard in waukegan IL, and some construction outfits and land developements. They built this after retiring from the business.

  21. Does anyone know what the Onans do for a living? This stuff must cost dosh. How do they combine their weird lifestyle with whatever money making enterprise they’re into?

  22. yup, as a kid I took a tour at this ridiculous house at some point during the mid-80’s. Lots of black tiger statues and the ilk, and a kitchy Egyptian-themed gift shop. Their garages were a series of smaller “baby” pyramids.
    It was always on the way to 6 Flags, and definitely a little skeez…

  23. Can’t forget the massive pyramid in the Osho center in Pune, India:


    Can’t speak for “pyramid power,” but it was a truly wonderful space to meditate in..I spent many, many, many hours there.

    I work at a small school out in the countryside of a Korean Island..I ran into a friend in my little farming town, and she took me to her house. What do you know! Connected to it was a large, finely constructed, and beautifully serene temple tucked in among the agrarian countryside. So, I guess there must be pyramids everywhere ;)

  24. Error 403 – Forbidden

    You tried to access a document for which you don’t have privileges.

    Wish I could say that helped.

    Interestingly, did come across Moxxor’s pyramid scheme:
    http://www.moxxleader.com/faq/index.php action=artikel&cat=5&id=22&artlang=en

    Of course, I read that as MacSARS pyramid scheme…

  25. My family has been friends with the Onans for years. I still go drinking and fishing with two of Jim’s sons, good people. They are still in the trades. I think my dad was a member of the same Masonic Lodge, he also worked for the city as a building inspector and was the one who told them how to bring the two statues in front up to code by dumping two piles of gravel to cover their feet and change the height basis.

  26. I too grew up right near this. (I wonder if I went to HS with some of the posters here.) But I knew the Onans mostly for their ubiquitous advertising for new garage doors.

  27. If anyone recalls, Onan’s pyramid was actually featured on the 80’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not hosted by Jack Palance.

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