Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015 | 3:34 p.m.
If British entrepreneur and Liberace fan Martyn J. Ravenhill had not purchased the nearly crumbling, peeling Liberace museum in 2013, there’s little doubt that it would have collapsed within 18 months.
Martyn gave me a private preview tour Wednesday night in advance of the private, black-tie, show-business party he’ll host there Feb. 28 to celebrate it being brought back to life.
After Liberace’s 1987 death, the two homes that became one estate sold for $350,000 at auction. New buyers who shelled out $3.7 million for it in 2006 walked away later after failing to make mortgage payments.
Abandoned, it fell into a state of disrepair until Martyn purchased it in 2013 for $500,000. Since then, he’s slowly spent a small fortune restoring it to its former glory.
“After getting the electricity and water back on and working again, a tree was about to fall on the Moroccan Room,” he told me. “Two enormous sinkholes that rested beneath the former master bathroom and closet would have swallowed parts of the house. That alone cost over $500,000.
“I wouldn’t say it was quite buyer’s remorse, but I really asked myself, “What have I done?” It was close to death with cracked walls and ceilings. I had to restore it to make it come alive again.
“I wanted to preserve a piece of entertainment history. In America, you tend to blow things up rather than preserve them. I wanted to make a difference. Americans come to England buying up history and antique stores.
“This was a case of a Brit coming to America to preserve history. This is not just an old house — or two of them. It is the history of Las Vegas and the history of a legendary world star.”
Now at the end of this month, Martyn and his partner Ivan Serna will showcase it for the first time to Liberace’s former friends with an Opera Las Vegas gala of music and memories. Five pianos, including Liberace’s Chopin, mirrored and Swarovski, will be played by five pianists in various rooms of the 15,000-square-foot home.
The five pianists: Philip Fortenberry, associate conductor of “Jersey Boys” at Paris Las Vegas and the hands of Michael Douglas on piano in HBO’s “Behind the Candelabra”; Martin Kaye, who portrays Jerry Lee Lewis in “Million Dollar Quartet” at Harrah’s; “American Idol” contestant Jacob Tolliver; Liberace school’s Spencer Baker; and Las Vegas pianist and composer Danny Wright. The Platters also will perform.
I’ll join with five other guest speakers: Jonathan Warren, president of the Liberace Foundation; Myron Martin, CEO of the Smith Center; philanthropist Cindy Doumani; renowned magician and musician Johnny Thompson; and David Siegel, who developed the new Westgate Las Vegas from the former Las Vegas Hilton where “Mr. Entertainment” Liberace performed for many years on his bejeweled pianos.
I interviewed Liberace for “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” in the mid-1980s. Some of Liberace’s furniture pieces are already in place. Items from his collection and Liberace Foundation artifacts will add to the decorations at the mansion along with reproduced Liberace jewelry from Jason of Beverly Hills. Liberace’s version of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling is in remarkable shape.
Chef Michael Boyle is creating the food for the gala from Liberace’s cookbook “Liberace Cooks.” He’ll serve hors d’oeuvres of wonton crisps in the shape of a grand piano with salmon and caviar, Klopsike Polish meatballs and fried arancini with red pepper.
Desserts will include tiramisu with Liberace’s sheet music imprinted onto white chocolate and New York cheesecake with 23-karat gold dust sprinkled on coffee frosting. There also will be 23-karat gold rose champagne gelee shots. A special bourbon drink, “Too Much of a Good Thing Is Wonderful,” will be served for the toast.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.
Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.