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Liberace’s museum is closed, but you can still see his stuff in Las Vegas

In an industrial plaza on Dean Martin Drive, where the buildings are made of beige corrugated metal and the businesses provide auto repair and tattoos, sits part of the collection of Liberace, one of the most flamboyant and notable entertainers in the history of Las Vegas.

It’s called the Liberace Garage and can be found at the back of the Hollywood Cars Museum. Liberace previously had a dedicated museum in a shopping center on Tropicana Avenue, but it closed in 2010 in what the Las Vegas Review-Journal described at the time as “financial ruin.”

Liberace, who was born Wladziu Valentino Liberace in 1919 and became known for using elaborate costumes and cars in his Las Vegas piano performances, created a foundation in his name in 1976 and gave it his collection of costumes, cars and art.

The museum opened in 1979. By 2012, when the foundation recruited Jonathan Warren, Las Vegas’ honorary consul of Monaco and a local history enthusiast, to join its board, it had ended its endowment and was laboring under debt, said Warren. Board members had fled.

Things have improved since then. The foundation has little cash, said Warren, who is now chair of the foundation, and survives on donated space and ticket sales. But Liberace’s collection is once again on display and the foundation owns Liberace’s intellectual property and the rights to his image. When people want to use his assets, the foundation makes money, he said.

Its collection now spans 12,000 to 14,000 cubic feet when it’s crated and a period that extends from the 1920s to the present day.

“Exhibited, that’s like the ground floor of the Smithsonian,” Warren said. He claims it’s one of the largest show business collections in the world.

At the garage, conceived in 2016, you can see photos of Liberace with Lucille Ball, The Jackson 5, Donald Trump and Queen Elizabeth II. There are glitzy pink and red tuxedos that Michael Douglas wore in “Behind the Candelabra,” a 2013 movie about Liberace’s relationship with a younger man. There are pianos, including one that Chloe Flower and Cardi B used for a performance at the 2019 Grammys.

And there are the cars, like the 1961 Rolls Royce Liberace used to make his entrance at the Las Vegas Hilton in the 1970s, when Warren said he was getting paid $300,000 a week. Some are bedazzled with mirror tile. One convertible is covered in 84,000 Austrian crystals.

Besides the garage, which is open every day and where tickets start at $19.95, the collection is also displayed at Michael Jackson’s former home, Thriller Villa, on Palomino Lane. Warren said that location is open for limited viewings. Tickets are listed at $179 online.

Liberace’s popularity has grown with millennials because of the 2013 movie, Warren said, but his biggest fan demographic is probably in the United Kingdom, where he had a television show in the 1960s. Fans there are baby boomers and members of Generation X, he said, whereas American fans were the parents of baby boomers.

Another movie or TV project may be coming in the future. Board member Slade Smiley, a cast member of Real Housewives of Orange County, said there are discussions for a documentary, film and scripted series.

Warren believes Liberace, whom he never met or saw in concert, had a major influence in Las Vegas, where he started performing in 1944.

“He was the original showman on the Las Vegas strip,” he said, and “he’s the reason the place looks like it does.”

Contact Noble Brigham at nbrigham@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BrighamNoble on X.

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