Nothing could have prepared me for the Lonnie Hammargren house in Las Vegas. I learned about it on Atlas Obscura, and if a place ever deserved to be on a website specializing in admittedly weird and unusual attractions, the Lonnie Hammargren house is it.
I phoned on a Sunday morning and Lonnie answered. I asked if he could give me a tour, “When can you be here?” he asked. “Eleven?” I offered. “Do you know that it’s $20 per person to see my house?” he asked, rather apologetically. “That’s OK,” I replied. Ruth & I were there at 11:15 because of Las Vegas traffic. Lonnie’s house was not hard to find, but the admittance door was. We finally identified it and Lonnie appeared. I was surprised to meet and be given a tour by a sort of Las Vegas icon. On the way to his office, which was stuffed with Lonnie’s treasures and provided the first clue that this was not going to be an ordinary tour, he took the two $20 bills I held out to him as if they were important to his well-being.
Lonnie is a bit difficult to talk to. Now 81, he was clearly interested in my political leanings, but when I probed his he deftly changed the subject. He talked about the people who depend on him, his rather dysfunctional contacts, his vast collection of Las Vegas memorabilia that contains a lot of junk he does not seem aware of. This man clearly has never thrown or given anything away. When I suggested that a particular item had historical value or would be happily displayed by a local business trying to appeal to tourists, he became perturbed and defensive. His answers always told me, “This is mine and it’s staying here!” For example, when I mentioned that the Las Vegas neon museum known as The Boneyard would be interested in the sign he collected when the Showboat hotel and casino near Boulder closed, he appeared angry that I didn’t understand his compulsions. The internet contains a lot of vague rumors about closing his house.
In the past Lonnie has been a noted neurosurgeon, a man who claims to have befriended astronauts, the Lieutenant Governor of the State of Nevada, a member of the Board of Regents for Higher Education, and the amasser of what has to be the world’s biggest collection of odd stuff. He is truly a mixed collection of reason and eccentricity. When I probed for info about his political career, he told me that he ran for Lieutenant Governor 3 times and was elected once and changed the subject. There was nothing I could find out about his political success either from him or anybody else.
I did considerable research after meeting Lonnie and was not a bit surprised to learn that he was once featured on the series Hoarders. I kept no list of what I saw in his house, backyard, and beyond because that would have been impossible, and I’m sure that there was a lot that Lonnie didn’t show us, like his Egyptian Tomb. Let me just say that Liberace’s staircase is in his house, the Stratosphere’s rollercoaster cars are on his roof, and the most over-decorated elephant in history is in his backyard. I could not learn who owns this often highly sexualized stuff or Lonnie’s source of continuance.
What I do know is that I would not like to be his neighbor, and that his heirs could be benefactors for the best museum about Las Vegas history at some time in the future.