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Kona’s Onion House

The Sydney Opera House Meets Stonehenge |


hey said it couldn’t be built. Later, they said it couldn’t be repaired. Yet the Onion House stands proudly today in South Kona as a living work of art and innovative architecture. Thanks to the vision of two people—owner Elizabeth von Beck and architect Kendrick Bangs Kellogg—this one-of-a-kind structure began in 1959, when Elizabeth commissioned Kellogg to build her a home in a sleepy little fishing village along the Kona coast. The niece of the founder of the McCormick Spice Company, Elizabeth was determined to create an enduring work of art influenced by Polynesian culture. Elizabeth’s love of the Pacific Ocean and its people was almost inborn. In 1887, her father sailed with the first scientific expedition to map and study Easter Island (Rapa Nui). The sea captain later shared his adventures in this faraway, exotic land with his daughter, who always felt an affinity with the Pacific islands.

separate vision in designing and creating the Onion House. Kellogg called it the “House of Shells,” and today, many people comment that it reminds them of the iconic opera house in Sydney, Australia. Because of its extensive rockwork the April 1991 issue of Hawaiian Island Home, described the Onion House as “the Sydney Opera House meets Stonehenge.” When Kellogg presented Elizabeth with his original blueprint, she was completely entranced and told him on the spot to build it. No contractors would touch the unusual project, claiming it could not be done because it had so many unorthodox features, including a lack of right angles. So Kellogg decided to build it himself. He moved his young family to Hawai‘i Island and lived there for two years while undertaking this seemingly impossible project.

Circa late 1960s Circa late 1960s

KeOlaMagazine.com | September/October 2013

The Long Road to Completion

Ken Kellogg was not yet 30 when Elizabeth contacted him after admiring a house he designed in San Diego that was inspired by his mentor Frank Lloyd Wright. The Onion House was Ken’s third project. “Ken was an idealistic, young visionary, who wanted to create original living spaces in harmony with the natural environment,” Elizabeth’s niece, Beth McCormick explained. “My Aunt Elizabeth needed to live in a piece of art, and she saw in Ken the ability to create what she wanted.” The Onion House represented Kellogg’s creative breakaway from Lloyd Wright. Although the famous architect’s influence exists in both feeling and construction, Kellogg expressed his own

By Barbara Fahs


Profile for Ke Ola Magazine

September-October 2013  

September-October 2013