Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015 | 2 a.m.
Lonnie Hammargren is a memorabilia collector with a good story to tell. And he has no plans of slowing down, even though he hinted as much last year.
A retired neurosurgeon and Nevada’s former lieutenant governor, Hammargren will open his “Hammargren Home of Nevada History” again this weekend for his annual Nevada Day tour.
His collection started in the backyard of one house near Sandhill and Flamingo roads in Paradise Crest more than 40 years ago and has expanded to the two bordering properties he purchased over the years.
Last year was supposed to be the last time his more than 10,000 items — everything from local casino signs, a 150-year-old medical examination table and a replica Hoover Dam — would be open to the public.
But Hammargren can’t stop collecting. He spends more than 50 hours a week organizing memorabilia, and it’s long become a way of life. The 77-year-old can’t say no to sharing his passion.
“I keep telling my wife this is the last one,” Hammargren jokingly said. “We should change the name of the party to the ‘Last Nevada Day Celebration’ and hold it every year.”
There’s an observation tower overlooking the east Las Vegas neighborhood, an underground mine and indoor Barbershop Brothel, a history to Nevada’s brothels. There’s also a miniature Taj Mahal, a toilet and bathroom stall used by Bugsy Siegel, T-rex replica and a tribute to former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian.
“Have I had fun building this? Damn right,” he says. “Yeah, we (he and wife, Sandy) love it.”
Most items are tied to education or science, two of Hammargren’s passions. And it’s heavy on Nevada history and Las Vegas landmarks. Hammargren hails from Minnesota but has been in Las Vegas since the early 1970s when he was the area’s lone neurosurgeon.
Some of the items document his family heritage or dip into politics. He was a member of the Nevada Board of Regents from 1988 to 1994 and was lieutenant governor from 1995 to 1999.
Hammargren has an interest in space travel and briefly worked with NASA, and there’s a half-scale model of the space shuttle Columbia. He also has items from daredevil Evel Knievel’s jumps because he treated him after failed stunts.
The collection includes what he says is the second-oldest building in Nevada, a barn owned by Bing Crosby. The singer lived near Elko.
While Hammargren says 90 percent of what is on display has been donated, he’s spent $10 million over the years on purchases, construction and upkeep.
Acquiring an item such as a 16-foot-long animatronic tiger from the Mirage, which is new this year, is only half the battle. Transporting it to his property and then into his yard is the other.
Hammargren has Dielco Crane Service on speed dial, often using it to lift items from Sandhill into his backyard. He’s constantly fielding messages with opportunities to acquire new items and has a storage area full of things he’s still figuring out where to put.
Turning their home into a public museum would seem strange to some. But it’s where Hammargren has lived since 1971 and plans to stay forever. Literally.
Underneath the garage is an Egyptian burial chamber and sarcophagus where Hammargren has instructions to be buried. He’s checked with county code and says it’s within law.
“There will never be another me,” he said.
The event is 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at 4318 Ridgecrest Drive. Admission is $15 for adults; free for children under 12. Last year, he said 1,500 patrons a day attended.