Wayne Newton wants to open house to world
LAS VEGAS – Wayne Newton’s Las Vegas estate is a lavish wonderland complete with South African penguins, sweeping crystal staircases and a memorabilia collection to make a celebrity junkie salivate: a Frank Sinatra champagne glass, Nat King Cole’s watch, Steve McQueen’s Rolls-Royce and a Johnny Cash guitar.
The estate is so resplendent, Newton said, that he plans to open his gated home to the public and turn it into a tourist attraction. The project some have dubbed “Graceland West” won initial approval from a local government board Wednesday, paving the way for Newton to open his tours in late 2011 as planned.
The attraction has caused friction between the entertainer and neighbors opposed to noisy tour buses, unyielding traffic and inane gift shops flooding their affluent neighborhood of ranches and mansions just six miles from the Las Vegas Strip.
At the Clark County Commission meeting Wednesday, critics went on for more than three hours, begging the board to postpone approving the still-evolving project, to no avail.
“This has been incredibly heavy-handed,” said neighbor Terry Manley. “It’s arrogance. What’s the hurry?”
In Newton’s vision, visitors to Casa de Shenandoah will tour select parts of his 10,000-square-foot home adorned with plush white carpets, gold-trimmed doors, impressionist paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and 17th-century antiques collected from European castles.
They might glance at the singer’s favorite space, a cramped office just to the right of his lavish living room, where the red paint splashed on the walls is barely visible behind the shelves and stacks of mementoes collected during his 50-plus years in show business.
The keepsakes are a reflection of some of the mentors and friends who helped make Newton famous, including Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Bobby Darin and Jack Benny.
“This is ‘The Dove,'” Newton, 68, informed visitors on a recent morning, plucking a beat-up guitar case from a row of instruments near his desk. “Elvis gave it to me at Graceland four months before he died.”
An adjacent theater would show a documentary about Newton’s public life, and, on some nights, Newton himself would take the stage to belt out the songs that made his high-pitched voice famous – “Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast,” which peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard charts in 1972; his 1965 version of “Red Roses for a Blue Lady,” and his signature hit, “Danke Schoen.”
Newton said he and his wife decided to share their home because they love the 40-acre estate so much. The attraction will be both a tribute to Las Vegas performers and a peaceful haven in a city of neon lights and 24-hour casinos, he said.
“The last thing I have ever done is infringe on my neighbors,” he said. “I’ve heard people say that we are building a monument to myself. Get serious. I’m not that important.”
The attraction could employ more than 400 people while creating a new cash cow after years of financial troubles.
Newton filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1992 to reorganize an estimated $20 million in debts, including a $341,000 Internal Revenue Service lien for back taxes.
In 2005, Newton disputed IRS claims that he and his wife owed $1.8 million in back taxes and penalties from 1997 through 2000.
More recently, sheriff’s deputies were turned away from the ranch home in February while trying to collect a $500,000 court judgment stemming from back pay owed to a former pilot.
That same month, Newton’s billionaire buddy Bruton Smith, chairman of NASCAR race track owner Speedway Motorsports Inc., tried to seize Casa de Shenandoah for repayment of a $3.35 million loan.
He said any debts have been paid.
Newton has also earned a reputation as a Las Vegas philanthropist, helping local charities and opening his house up to veterans in need of a wedding site. He remains active with the United Service Organization.