Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Sun
Saturday, April 26, 2014 | 9 p.m.
For years, the Hoopers traveled the world, taking photos of beautiful women for Playboy and other publications, always to return to their beloved home in Las Vegas.
It had been love at first sight. There was a pool surrounded by a wall, allowing privacy for shooting, and a half-acre of land that had the potential to become a studio. One walk-through and they made an offer.
That’s why on Saturday, the Hoopers felt like lottery winners as they watched roughly 60 people with the Air Force finish major repairs on the place they’d called home for the past 40 years.
“If I hit the lottery, this is what I’d do!” photographer Robert Scott Hooper, 77, said with a laugh.
The Hoopers’ house in a downtown Las Vegas neighborhood was one of 20 homes Rebuilding Together Southern Nevada chose for the annual rebuilding event. The organization is a local affiliate of Rebuilding Together, a nonprofit group that provides free home repairs and accessibility modifications for low-income homeowners.
The nonprofit worked with about 1,200 volunteers from various community organizations for the event to repair houses in the Las Vegas Valley.
The Hooper house was the largest project it took on this year, with volunteers starting work almost a month prior.
The couple had put everything into their home, so when the recession hit, it was a struggle to stay, said Theresa Hooper, 62. A career in photographing girls came with amazing perks but not a lot of cash, the couple said.
"All of us really wanted to help them,” said Cynthia Baca, executive director of Rebuilding Together Southern Nevada. "They are the ‘old Las Vegas.’"
Baca said the nonprofit worked to leverage all possible resources, including additional grant money, to repair the house, which is also home to Theresa Hooper's 84-year-old mother. The Air Force adopted the house as one of the event’s community partners, making it possible to do costly repairs that would have been out of the nonprofit’s price range, she said.
The new roof alone would have cost the Hoopers at least $13,000 without the Air Force’s construction expertise, Baca said.
It was a perfect fit because Robert Scott Hooper had served in the Air National Guard for six years.
“The more we did, the more we wanted to do,” said Master Sgt. Joshua Lamy, a volunteer.
Lamy said it was great to work on a home that the couple so clearly valued.
The Hooper home has character — after all, a Playboy centerfold was shot in the backyard.
Over the years, the couple swapped the house’s 1960s decor — white carpet, smoked mirrors, flocked wallpaper — for a Mexican villa look.
It looks expensive but didn’t cost them much.
They saved materials from job sites and took time when work was slow to lay tile and add personal touches, such as a concrete fireplace that uses a water pipe to form the chimney. Theresa came from a family that worked in construction, so the know-how came naturally.
The house is their life, particularly since they ended up building the studio they envisioned when they bought the property. They are currently using it to work on a coffee table book called “AutoErotica: The Book of Curves” that showcases high-quality shots of women with both classic and high-tech, modern cars.
The studio came out of what Theresa Hooper refers to as the first time the couple got lucky like they did with finding help from Rebuilding Together — when her husband survived a rare brain infection in the ’90s.
The couple made finishing the studio a priority because they were unsure what Robert Scott Hooper's abilities would be.
It’s a house that balances work and life in the same space — something the Hoopers have been doing for decades, with Robert taking photos and Theresa working as his photo stylist.
They expect to live in the house for the rest of their lives, making the improvements the nonprofit provided — at no cost — important, Theresa Hooper said.
“There is something about Vegas that keeps you here,” she said. “We’re stuck here. We couldn’t afford to leave, but what a great place to be stuck in.”