Former neurosurgeon and Nevada lieutenant governor Dr. Lonnie Hammargren was out of town two months ago when he got a call from his wife, Sandy.
"She told me we'd had a tsunami at the house," Hammargren said. "It turned out my big acrylic tank had burst open and flooded the backyard."
On Sunday , the public will be able to view the damage to the 10-foot-by-20-foot tank when Hammargren says he will resume his annual tradition of opening his home to the public in honor of Nevada Day.
The home is actually three adjacent houses, two of which are packed with Hammargren's eclectic treasures, including scale models of Stonehenge; larger-than-life sculptures and signs from demolished Las Vegas landmarks; Redd Foxx's car; several trains; and a full-scale model of a dinosaur skeleton looming over Liberace's staircase.
The tradition has been on hold for the past two years for a variety of reasons, including health issues, a busy travel schedule and objections from neighbors in Hammargren's quiet Paradise Crest subdivision. The biggest factor was Clark County, which was trying to bring some of Hammargren's more outlandish structural eccentricities in line with building codes.
Hammargren responded to the county by adjusting the problematic structures while attempting to have his home declared a museum, a proposal that eventually came before the Clark County Commission. The requests were denied unanimously in a packed county commission meeting with passionate voices on both sides of the issue speaking out.
"Most people think I lost at the commission and could no longer hold my open houses," Hammargren said. "That's just not the case . All I lost was making my house into a museum."
Hammargren's attorney, Dirk Ravenholt, cited a discussion among the commissioners regarding regulations on the number of people a resident could have at a party. It was concluded that there weren't any legal limits.
"We have a constitutional right to assemble," Ravenholt said. "Whether that's for a political event, such as Nevada Day, or a holiday, they can't prohibit that."
Open house visitors on a return trip might be astounded by the changes to the constantly evolving collection, but none is as jarring as the damage to the tank that has been a prominent feature almost as long as Hammargren has lived in the home. Viewed from the Teddy Roosevelt room, the tank created the illusion that the room was underwater. Hammargren surmises that 40 years of exposure to the sun may have weakened the tank, causing the rupture.
"It was built around 1969 for a dolphin show at the original MGM (Grand), which is Bally's (Las Vegas) now," Hammargren said. "A young woman named Kim Renee use to swim in it with a dolphin doing a sort of sensual aquatic dance."
Renee returned to the tank and reprised her act sans dolphin for Lonnie and Sandy Hammargren's wedding 22 years ago, which was filmed for "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous." Renee was unaware that Hammargren had removed an inner layer of the acrylic tank and cut her head on an exposed protrusion. Hammargren said that somewhere in his collection he has a videotape of the event. Apparently, Renee holds no ill feelings about the occurrence.
"I tracked her down through the Screen Actors Guild," Hammargren said. "She was the treasurer at one point. She's going to come out for Nevada Day."
Other guests he has invited to his Nevada Day open house include the crew members of "Tanked," a new Animal Planet reality show that follows the work of Las Vegas-based Acrylic Tank Manufacturing. Hammargren is hoping they might be able to repair his tank.
His open house guest wish list also includes the stars of "Pawn Stars" and staff members from Rick's Restorations. The downtown Las Vegas business behind the History Channel show "American Restorations" is working on several pieces from his collection. He has yet to receive RSVPs from any of the reality show cast members.
Former showgirl Betty Bunch did RSVP and hopes to promote her new autobiography "High Heels and Headdresses: Memoirs of a Vintage Vegas Showgirl."
Even when celebrities don't show up, neighbors have complained that Hammargren's open houses cause crowding and parking issues in the normally quiet neighborhood. Others have claimed that the approximately 4,000 visitors the event commonly draws drop trash and trespass on private property, taking shortcuts across lawns and damaging things such as sprinkler heads.
"We've tried to accommodate the neighbors by having volunteers go and clean up the neighborhood afterward," Hammargren said. "If there's damage, I can take care of a few sprinkler heads, but you've got to remember that we usually celebrate Nevada Day on the same day as Halloween, so not everyone is here in the neighborhood for my open house."
Two of the more vocal opponents to Hammargren's public events have recently moved from the neighborhood, and another has declined to speak on the issue this year.
Hammargren said he has made handshake deals with local shopping areas regarding parking, and he hopes to have shuttles running to the two shopping centers on the east side of the corner of Flamingo and Sandhill roads.
Hammargren is requesting that visitors donate $10 for admission. The funds will go to the Living Grace Home, a charity benefiting homeless pregnant teens.
The property at 4318 Ridgecrest Drive -- which goes by a number of names, including The Hammargren Home of Nevada History, Castillo del Sol and the House of Hammargren -- is set to be open to the public from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday . Live entertainment is planned to start at 1 p.m. Hammargren said proclamations honoring the stars of "Pawn Stars," "American Restorations" and "Tanked" will be read and presented during the open house. For more information, visit nevadadays.org.
Contact Sunrise/Whitney View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 380-4532.