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Bringing music back to Liberace mansion

Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series about the restoration of Liberace’s former mansion at 4982 Shirley St.

In August, Real Estate Millions joined an “OK!” television crew for an insider look at the Liberace mansion preservation and restoration effort by its new owner, Martyn Ravenhill. We saw glimmers of Liberace’s unique design tastes along with how dirty a foundation repair caused by two sinkholes can be. In January, we reported on its progress (no evidence of sinkholes!) albeit a long to-do list that Ravenhill shared during a private tour. Progress has been made as the mansion was prepared to host Saturday’s private party in support of Opera Las Vegas.

Come Saturday night, music will once again be heard within the walls of Liberace’s former mansion on Shirley Street. The chandeliers will be lit. Pianists will hit the ivory keys and songs will be sung. Dishes from The Showman’s cookbook will be served, as well as a signature cocktail called “Too Much of a Good Thing Is Wonderful” (a quote attributed to the piano virtuoso).

This private, invitation-only party hosted by Ravenhill for Opera Las Vegas will be more than just a party. It will showcase Ravenhill’s efforts to restore the 14,393-square-foot, two-story residence to its former glory and reflect upon Liberace’s music and memory.

Ravenhill purchased the private residence in a lackluster state out of foreclosure in August 2013 for a mere $500,000 with the intent to restore and preserve the home in honor of The Showman, who lived there part time from the mid-’70s until his 1987 death. The project’s focus switched gears when two sinkholes were discovered under its expansive master suite wing where, without repair, it would likely collapse within 18 months. After fixing the foundation, the focus returned to preservation and restoration and doing it “the right way.”

Music in the Air

“It is my hope to tastefully restore the home to what it once was. It is going to take time and it is a work in progress,” said Ravenhill, a businessman from the United Kingdom and a longtime Liberace fan.

“… We have done a lot already for the gala event for Opera Las Vegas … The house is ready, and we will have Liberace’s pianos on display and lots of music. We’ll offer (attendees) a taste of Liberace by showing the home, some of the things from the Liberace collection (courtesy of the Liberace Foundation) and even food created by Chef Michael Boyle using recipes from Liberace’s cookbook.”

The invitation-only event will raise funds for the nonprofit opera company with proceeds directed to its June 12 and 14 production of “Madame Butterfly” at the Judy Bayley Theatre at UNLV.

“We feel very privileged because Opera Las Vegas is the first group to be received by the Liberace Mansion,” said Nancy Dailey, an opera board member and its director of development. “Martyn is bringing it up to snuff and during the event the house … will become awake again with people in elegant attire, the music and activity. At that point, it will start to live again.

“From a history-buff perspective, I believe that we have this residence, a resource of this community, and it is being taken care of again. I feel very good about coming together and honoring Liberace in this way.”

Music will be heard throughout the mansion from five pianos situated in various rooms and played by Philip Fortenberry, Broadway and concert pianist and artist-in-residence at the former Liberace Museum; Martin Kaye, who portrays Jerry Lee Lewis in “Million Dollar Quartet” at Harrah’s; Jacob Tolliver of “Million Dollar Quartet” and an “American Idol” contestant; Las Vegas pianist and composer Danny Wright; and internationally renowned pianist Spencer Baker. Additionally, Opera Las Vegas musicians will perform, and The Platters will appear.

Celebrity co-hosts are Robin Leach and Gloria McDermott, and James Sohre will serve as master of ceremonies. Memories of Liberace will be shared by Myron Martin, CEO of The Smith Center for the Performing Arts; philanthropist Cindy Doumani; magician and musician Johnny Thompson; and David Siegel, Westgate Las Vegas developer and owner of the former Las Vegas Hilton.

Community Coming Together

The mansion is not open to the public because it is a private residence, which has generated interest in Saturday’s private party.

“The people of Las Vegas have been interested in what I am doing and in protecting this 54-year-old house … They have been so supportive, generous and they want to help. They believe in what I’m doing,” Ravenhill said.

Ravenhill says that he is surprised by the publicity surrounding his purchase and restoration efforts in which he has spent more than $1 million. A result, he says, is increased community interest and understanding of the desire to preserve and restore what Ravenhill considers a part of the Las Vegas entertainment history.

The publicity has led to offers to help. An example emerged from the Jan. 4 Real Estate Millions’ story, which encouraged community members with stories about the mansion to contact Ravenhill, along with a comment that he was looking for a “stuffed” (taxidermy) peacock for the home’s famed Moroccan Room.

People with taxidermy peacocks contacted Ravenhill, and the offer to borrow the peacock that Liberace had displayed in that very room for Saturday’s event was made by the local Posner family.

“Lance Posner was actually a pianist who played here and he had the peacock. When his son (Mark Anthony Posner) asked for a stuffed peacock, he gave it to him. They read the article, and they called the construction director (overseeing the restoration project) saying that they had the stuffed peacock,” Ravenhill says. The message got to Ravenhill, and now this taxidermy peacock will be making an appearance at the private event.

Eclectic Design Choices

Party guests may also notice the features that are “found only in the Liberace Mansion” and reflect Liberace’s eclectic tastes.

■ After passing through the black fence adorned with the recently repaired decorative swirled gold L’s, attendees will enter through black double doors with decorative carvings covered in gold leaf that at one time hung at the Governor’s Mansion in New York.

■ Its grand curved staircase came from a can-can bar in Paris.

“It was built in one piece, and then brought here for $75,000. I still have not found the receipt to see how much the staircase itself cost,” Ravenhill said.

■ Mirrored walls and bars feature etchings similar in style to that of English illustrator Aubrey Beardsley and musical notes and the resemblance of Liberace.

■ The eight marble pillars were imported from Athens, Greece.

■ The master bedroom’s ceiling mural depicts the Sistine Chapel that reportedly took two years and cost $1.3 million for Stefano Angelo Falk (a descendant of Michelangelo) to complete, while the master bath ceiling mural features cherubs, clouds and an image of Liberace.

■ A floor-to-ceiling mirrored fireplace and a mirrored bar in the master bedroom.

■ The master bath features a marble tub with 14-carat gold swan fixtures situated under a chandelier and mirrored ceiling.

■ The dark wooden floors found at the second-floor bar were acquired from a bar that was closing in California.

■ The atrium-style Moroccan Room, where Liberace would entertain guests after performing shows, features copper tiles from Africa that originally cost $170,000.

“It’s very difficult finding replacement tiles. I had a contact in Tangier (Morocco), and he found a supplier who could make the tiles for me,” Ravenhill said, which reflects the challenge of finding authentic materials for restoration projects.

It is Ravenhill’s hope that Saturday’s party will be just the first where the music and the legacy of Liberace can be shared.

For more information, visit the Liberace Mansion Facebook page. Party information is also available on the Opera Las Vegas Facebook page.

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