Monday, July 12, 2021

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - The Dome Restaurant, Falmouth


Buildings come in all shapes and sizes. There are countless uniquely designed structures all over Cape Cod. Simply taking a drive down Route 6A can open up a world of wonder and amazement at some of the newer and historic homes that don’t fit the normal mold. 

The same can be said for restaurants. Not all are built the same. In fact for years in Orleans, the Hunan Gourmet III Chinese Restaurant was actually built into the side of a hill. It has been closed as of 2021.  However, any uniquely designed restaurant on Cape Cod, current or past, must take a backseat to the Dome Restaurant, which resided in the small scientific community of Woods Hole.

Falmouth Historical Society

This one-of-a-kind establishment existed inside an actual geodesic dome.

A geodesic dome is sphere-like in shape and consists of a thin skin with a network of triangles as a frame evenly distributing stress on the dome. Spaceship Earth at the EPCOT Center at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, is one of the most famous geodesic domes on earth.

The idea of the geodesic dome was the brainchild of architect R. Buckminster Fuller. Born in Milton, Massachusetts, in 1895, Fuller developed the geodesic dome while in the navy during World War II. He saw it as a potential solution to a world housing shortage and received a patent for his geodesic dome in 1954. Fuller put his money where his mouth was by having a geodesic home built for himself and his wife, Anne, in 1960 in Carbondale, Illinois. That home still stands as of 2021.

Falmouth Historical Society

So how did a geodesic dome come to be a popular and perhaps the most intriguing restaurant ever built on Cape Cod? It was actually part of a larger project known as the Nautilus Motor Inn. The dome, called Club Dome, was simply part of the package.

The fifty-four-room Nautilus Motor Inn was designed by Falmouth resident and MIT-educated architect E. Gunnar Peterson in 1954. R. Buckminster Fuller oversaw the construction of the geodesic dome, which ended up being fifty-four feet in diameter and twenty-seven feet tall. The first free-standing dome of its kind would also prove to become another first. It would be the first geodesic dome restaurant.

Elegant d├ęcor was combined with spectacular views of nearby Little Harbor to make the Dome a unique place to dine. Many special occasions were held in this setting, including weddings, and it only made the moments more magical. The upscale 170-seat restaurant was more than just a novelty, it was a hit throughout the 1950s and ’60s. The views were matched by specialty sandwiches on the Dome’s menu: “Nobska Turkey Special” (with bacon, swiss cheese and Russian dressing on a bulkie roll) and the “Nautilus Roast Beef” (with sliced onions and Russian dressing on a bulkie roll). The Dome also served breakfast and specialized in locally caught seafood.

R. Buckminster Fuller who created The Dome(1971/

Unfortunately, over time, the owners of the restaurants noticed that the construction of the dome was causing problems. Its glass enclosure caused the interior of the restaurant to heat up much like a greenhouse thanks to the sun overhead, and it also had problems with water leakage. To remedy, this fiberglass was laid over much of the dome, obscuring the majestic harbor views that patrons loved.

For decades, the Dome was a must-see attraction almost on par with the nearby Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. It closed in 2002 and in the time since has fallen into disrepair. There have been plans to restore the geodesic dome and make it an historical attraction for visitors from as far back as 2008. The closed Nautilus Motor Inn was to be torn down as part of the plans. 

In December 2016 the 5.4-acre property was purchased for $2.9 million by a group called Woods Hole Partners.  Led by Mark Bogosian and Jonathan Janikies their plan has been first to renovate the geodesic dome.  This will be followed up be the construction of a 43-unit senior housing complex on the site of the former Nautilus Motor Inn.  It will include four affordable housing units.  

The former Dome Restaurant in 2016

As of April 2021 the plans were close to moving forward but ground had not officially been broken on the project.  For now the historic geodesic dome, the former home of a beloved Falmouth restaurant, sits decaying and unoccupied at the top of the hill.


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