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Volcano house now home to higher learning
Chapman University hopes to have landmark functional by summer
NEWBERRY SPRINGS • It was described 10 years ago as a “launch pad for desert living” by the Los Angeles Times. Replace “living” with “learning” and it would describe the latest intent for the domed dwelling perched atop a cinder cone in Newberry Springs.
In one of several gifts to Chapman University, Huell Howser, the amicable host of the long-running PBS series “California’s Gold,” donated the so-called volcano house to the school last year.
As of now, it’s slated to be a homebase for study tours in environmental science and astronomy, television and film projects, writer’s retreats and other activities, said Mary Platt, the director of communications and media relations for the university.
“The possibilities are endless,” Platt said, adding that the house is an “iconic piece of architecture.”
The university’s campus planning department is currently providing general maintenance to the property, which was on the market for $750,000 only two and half short years ago.
So, why the donation from the late Howser?
“He had forged this extraordinary friendship with the university,” Platt said. “He came down many times during the last years of his life.”
That friendship was ignited after an episode of “California’s Gold” aired featuring Orange Circle, a historic downtown plaza only blocks from the campus. Jim Doti, president of Chapman University, wrote Howser a note that suggested Howser should have visited the campus as well, Platt explained.
Howser would take Doti up on his offer and become enamored with the university.
Aside from the “volcano house” donation, Howser gifted Chapman with his art collection. Also, earnings from the sale of his Twentynine Palms residence will go toward the university’s California’s Gold scholarship.
In return, Chapman University has digitized episodes of “California’s Gold” — a mutual agreement to make the show available to the world for free — and is in the process of cataloging each episode by subject.
“He was extraordinarily generous to Chapman University,” Platt said. “He wanted us to be the keepers of his legacy.”
Howser never had children of his own, Platt noted, but “he thought of our students as his children.”
Visit www.huellhowserarchive.com to view the Huell Howser California’s Gold Archive.
Shea Johnson may be reached at (760) 256-4126 or at SJohnson@DesertDispatch.com.