July 16, 2016

Photo Essay: The Doomed Domes, Casa Grande's Other Ruins (Updated for 2023—Demolished)

[Last updated 1/23/23 8:47 PM PT—The Casa Grande "Domes" were demolished earlier this month.]

I went on the Rental Car Rally because I wanted it to take me to places I'd never been—or even places I'd never heard of before.

That would really be something.

Fortunately for me, this year's Rally took us into Arizona, where I haven't had any opportunity to explore since moving out West over five years ago.

And after the pleasant surprise of meeting a nudist bookstore owner, our next challenge brought us to an abandoned, other-worldly locale so typical of the desert.

Appropriately, it's called "The Domes."

At first it looks like some off-the-grid community of earth architecture...

...but actually these domes were built to be something of an office park.

California-based computer company Interconn Technology had chosen this Arizona desert spot for its new location in 1982...

...where its electronics would be assembled within this community of Thermoshell domes.

Thermoshell is a type of polyurethane foam insulation—and it, along with the domed shape and the concrete poured over a steel frame, would keep the buildings cool in the desert heat.

However, the plant never opened. No circuit board ever came off the plating line.

Because when Interconn defaulted on a loan, the bank took possession of the property...

...which then became an illegal and heavily contaminated dump site...

...and an attraction for vandals and other ne'er do wells.

You can see what attracted them here—particularly inside the domes, where the crazy acoustics of the concrete domes create baffling echoes.

And while plenty of people have left their mark in spray paint...

...the more infamous visitors to the Domes are the shadowy figures that people tend to spot lurking around corners.

Of course, in our case, they were probably just members of the other Rental Car Rally teams.

The steel frame used in the construction of the domes is long gone—and without rebar reinforcements or any kind of beams or buttresses, lots of holes have been punched through the walls...

...allowing sunlight to spill in...

...and echoes to spill out.

The foam domes are reminiscent of Tatooine... or at least Tataouine...

...and while they feel other-worldly (thanks in part to one of the structures, which is shaped like a UFO)...

...they also feel incredibly organic.

Some domes are connected to others, like insect segments or globules...

...some empty shells left over from an aborted session of cell division...

...each dome not having been fully cleaved from its neighbor.

Of course, this five-acre site was meant to be just the beginning.

These four structures were built as a kind of preview showcase for the manufacturing compound that was to be built...

...but never was.

And the foundations are still there, waiting for something to be built on top of them, wondering why so many people seem to come here—but nothing ever seems to happen here.

The town of Casa Grande, Arizona is also known for its ruins of the Ancient Sonoran Desert People, whose 650-year-old "Great House" is now a national monument.

And the Domes, which are just over 30 years old?

They're available for film and photo shoots—for a fee, of course. Update 1/23/23—This is no longer true, as the domes were demolished in early January 2023.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Under a Desert Dome
Photo Essay: The High Desert's Crystal Cave
Photo Essay: A Fairy Tale World of Sculpture, Tile and Glass

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