September – October 2013
Former lieutenant governor displays his eclectic collection of Nevada memorabilia.
BY ERIC CACHINERO
Surrounded by a life-size Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, the original vault from the Genoa Courthouse (removed after a fire decimated the town in 1910), and a miniature replica of the Apollo Space Shuttle, Lonnie Hammargren thoroughly enjoys playing tunes on his piano.
Technically his instrument now, the jewel-encrusted white piano originally belonged to famous musician and vocalist Liberace. The piano shares a home with Evel Knievel’s former motorcycle, a giant model of the Statue of Liberty’s hand and torch, and a seemingly endless treasure trove of peculiar knickknacks and relics.
According to this retired politician, neurosurgeon, and honorary consul for Belize, he has been working tirelessly to protect “what’s left of Las Vegas,” he says. Hammargren and his wife, Sandy, moved to their Las Vegas residence in 1971. Their collection of memorabilia grew until the original building was filled and needed to expand into two more homes. The couple now shares a 14,000-square-foot, three-story-high complex connected by bridges, tunnels, and a functioning railroad.
Referred to by three titles (Castillo del Sol, the Hammargren Home of Nevada History, or the Principality of Paradise), the place resembles a museum more than a home. It’s filled wall to wall with objects Hammargren has gathered from across the globe. His collection contains many unique pieces of Nevada history, including various signs from now-closed Vegas casinos, the rollercoaster that used to sit atop the Stratosphere, and the aforementioned Genoa Courthouse vault.
As a seasoned jack-of-all-trades, Hammargren has expertise in everything from state government to aerospace medicine for NASA. When he arrived in Nevada in 1971, he was one of only two licensed neurosurgeons in the state and has since completed thousands of operations. Spending much of his career as a boxing surgeon, Hammargren says he has operated on more boxers than anyone in the world. From 1988 to 1994, Hammargren served as a member of the Nevada System of Higher Education’s Board of Regents. Soon thereafter, he was elected lieutenant governor of Nevada, serving from 1995-99.
If Hammargren’s already impressive résumé wasn’t enough, he is also an avid astronomer, and if you ever get the chance to venture inside the central tower of his music room, you will find his massive telescope—one of the largest in Nevada.
Each year on Nevada Day, Hammargren opens up his one-of-a-kind abode for public tours, giving attendees a chance to see many would-be-forgotten Nevada relics. If you’re interested in a private tour of Hammargren’s property, call 702-451-8444 or e-mail him at [email protected].