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Liberace's Luxury Villa Is in Foreclosure

Mar 5, 2010 – 7:29 PM
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Steve Friess

Steve Friess Contributor

LAS VEGAS (March 5) -- Liberace once epitomized a luxurious, indulgent era of Las Vegas with outlandish bling and over-the-top showmanship, but the lavish house where the late pianist spent his waning years is now a symbol of a new, more sober age for this economically ravaged town.

That is, it's in foreclosure. And that foreclosure, real estate experts here believe, could spell a final doom for a storied residence.

JPMorgan Chase filed the notice on the 15,000-square-foot house about two miles east of the Strip late last month, citing lack of payment by its owner, Terrance Dzvonick. Dzvonick bought the mansion for $3.7 million in 2006 at the height of the Vegas real estate boom and at a time when the property enjoyed a thriving banquet and party business. It is just one of thousands of cases that has given Nevada the nation's highest home foreclosure rate.
Liberace's house in Las Vegas
Steve Friess for AOL
The opulent Las Vegas home where entertainer Liberace spent his last years is in foreclosure.

Dzvonick admitted he hasn't made a mortgage payment for at least a year. He said he refuses to pay JPMorgan Chase because the original loan was held by Washington Mutual. He said he plans to sue Chase to produce the original loan note, a tactic employed by many homeowners facing foreclosure to avert eviction.

"Nobody knows where the note is now," Dzvonick said. "I want to bring a court action for them to produce the original note. If they don't, they don't have standing."

Liberace bought the house in the 1960s, at the height of his fame as a sequin-coated, larger-than-life entertainer whose opulent -- some would say garish -- tastes became reflected in the abode. He combined two ranch houses and added a second-floor bedroom accessible via a circular stairway imported from Paris. The upstairs "Moroccan Room" has a chandelier, fireplace and huge windows for once-picturesque views of the Strip.

Perhaps the home's most stunning feature is the $1.6 million reproduction of the Sistine Chapel on the ceiling of one of the bedrooms painted by, Liberace claimed, a descendant of Michelangelo. Among other touches, the front doors came from the governor's mansion in New York, a hallway of mirrors contains four 2,000-year-old marble pillars imported from Greece, and a marble sunken tub has a chandelier hanging above it.

After Liberace's death in 1987, the Liberace Foundation sold it to Vance Turner, an Atlanta businessman who built a 5,000-square-foot banquet facility in the backyard and began hosting parties, tours and events. It is known as the Las Vegas Villa in part because the Liberace Foundation does not permit the use of his moniker in its name.

Turner's efforts, while successful, never sat well with some neighbors. The property is on the corner of a middle-class residential neighborhood about two blocks south of Tropicana Avenue, a major east-west thoroughfare, and about three blocks south of the Thomas & Mack Center, the basketball venue for the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. Turner worked with county officials to receive waivers for parking requirements; he arranged for party guests to park in other locations, from which he ran shuttles.

Over the years, most neighbors accepted the arrangement and put up with the traffic brought on not just by the business activity but also by buses that drive by showing tourists the former homes of famous Las Vegas stars.

Yet neighbors complained anew when Dzvonick took ownership and, they said, let guests park on residential streets. He also held events on Sundays, which was prohibited by the agreements with the county, Clark County spokesman Dan Kulin said.

The county zoning board has denied Dzvonick's license to operate the banquet service since 2007, demanding he come to them with a new parking plan.

"Each year, we had to get an annual use permit, but this time they said I was one parking spot too short," said Dzvonick, who lives in the home with six friends. "Our main beef is if this was a business for 15 years, why did they change the rules to put us out of business when the economy is all upside down? Why did they kill our business for one parking space?"

Kulin said that's not what happened. He said the county already waived the requirement for 180 on-site parking spaces usually required for such a facility and asked Dzvonick in 2007 to enact a plan to create at least 10 parking spaces. In 2009, Dzvonick appeared before the zoning board having not enacted such a plan, frustrating commissioners who continued to deny his use permit, Kulin said.

"What really needs to happen here is that this site needs to be developed as it should be, which probably means acquiring adjacent property, providing adjacent parking so it can function," Kulin said.

Without an operable business, Dzvonick said it was impossible to make the more than $20,000-a-month mortgage payment. Dzvonick has told government officials and reporters for years that he was in talks to buy adjacent property, but it has never come to pass.

Dzvonick does have one hope for salvation. Director Steven Soderbergh has said he plans to make a biopic about Liberace, and actors Michael Douglas and Matt Damon have reportedly said they were committed to key roles. Should that come to pass, Dzvonick believes he stands to make money renting the home for film shoots and that the movie could renew interest in the site.

Las Vegas real estate broker Jack LeVine, who focuses on historic residences, doubts Dzvonick can hold on that long. Nor is LeVine, who is in the thick of other battles to restore and protect older properties around the city, all that sentimental about this one.

"Yes, it was [Liberace's] personal residence, it certainly reflected his taste and it would make a good museum, but we already have a functioning Liberace museum in this city," LeVine said. "I just don't see it as a highest and best functional use of the property there. Unless they're going to sell it to somebody who wants to try to make a business out of it again, I can't see anyone wanting it."

Kulin said the potential remains for the house to once again host parties and events if a buyer is willing to work with the county.

"I couldn't guarantee anything, but certainly the past history that the commission has shown to wanting to work with the business owner and to give them the chance to come into compliance," he said.
Filed under: Nation, Entertainment
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