Why would a 49-year-old Phoenix housewife and a retired oilman from Calgary, Canada, want to buy Liberace’s 14-room home and turn it into Las Vegas’ answer to Graceland?
Lorna Burroughs and James Harvey Sedger say they are not the Liberace nuts you might expect. Sedger, who’s lived in Las Vegas for the last nine years, saw the pianist perform only occasionally. Burroughs says she saw Liberace once at Radio City Music Hall and is more familiar with his television show of the 1950s.
She claims to be as shocked as anybody that she and Sedger wound up with the property, which had previously been on the market for $2,769,500. The house was sold Saturday night at an auction at Bally’s Casino Resort for $325,000--about a down payment on the original asking price.
“We want to preserve it as a piece of history for Las Vegas and for Liberace fans,” Sedger, 52, says. “It will be a monument. Eventually, we want to refurbish it with his (Liberace’s) belongings. It’s just a piece of history that wants to be restored.”
Burroughs, who is married to Phoenix-based real estate developer Allyn Burroughs, met Sedger when he and her husband were in the oil business in Canada. The three have been friends “for quite a few years,” she says. “We just started talking about it (buying the property) when it was up for private sale.”
Liked What She Saw
Burroughs, 49, recalls that she and Sedger didn’t think they had much chance of getting the home at the price they wanted to pay but attended the auction anyway. She had visited the Liberace home for the first time on Saturday and was pleased with what she saw.
“It’s in nice shape. . . . It has a big marble bathroom area, a painting on the bedroom ceiling that’s a copy of what’s on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel,” she says. “There’s a mirrored hallway called the hall of eternal mirrors. That set it apart. Also, the Moroccan room with all the imported tile and the lights . . . are like little stars. . . . There are features in it that are just Liberace. We’ll try to re-create his home as Liberace had it, to show fans who really appreciated his talent here.”
But why did the residence sell for so much less than was asked?
Auctioneer Eric Nelson of Vegas-based Eric Nelson Auctioneering says the original value placed on the home may have been “over-projected” and may have kept potential buyers away. (There were only four other offers submitted before the Sedger-Burroughs bid came in.)
“To be honest with you, what happens sometimes, and it definitely happened, is that they (the owners) project that it will sell for $2.8 million, maybe even more, and they (bidders) don’t even show up,” Nelson says, adding that some bidders suspect a star’s property will sell for even more than the projected price. Nelson says his auction company has received many calls since, “from individuals saying they would have paid more than what was bid.”
But Jack Matthews, the real estate agent who originally listed the property, says the new buyers did not walk off with the real estate equivalent of a K mart “Blue Light Special.”
“Frankly, it was two old houses joined together. Put some gold and tinsel on it and somehow it’s supposed to turn into a silk purse?” says Matthews, who estimated the home’s actual value at “between $300,000 and $400,000" when he was listing it.
It’s ‘Out of Place’
“I was not surprised that our listing expired, number one, and secondly, that it went for the price it did. . . . It’s really out of place for the neighborhood,” Matthews says.
Though the buyers will need a zoning variance to turn Liberace’s residence into a museum, Matthews says they will probably have little trouble getting one.
“It would be in the best interests of Las Vegas and Clark County to grant the variance,” he says. “It’s a unique house, one of those things probably everybody ought to see once in their lives.”
Jamie James, the Los Angeles-based public relations man who represented Liberace for 20 years and who is on the board of the Liberace Foundation for the Performing and Creative Arts (which receives proceeds from the sale), says it remains to be seen whether the foundation will grant Sedger and Burroughs permission to use the Liberace name in connection with the house.
According to James, the foundation did not choose to turn the home into a museum because it already operates the nearby Liberace museum and because the late showman specifically requested that his home not be turned into a museum.
A Drain on Funds
He says the foundation elected to sell the home because it was a drain on the foundation’s funds.
“It was expensive to keep up with the electricity and security and upkeep,” James says, noting that a recent auction of the entertainer’s personal belongings brought about $2.7 million. The funds have been used to expand the existing museum and fund scholarships, among other things.
Before deciding to sell it, board members talked about making the home a museum, James says.
May Not Allow Use
“But it’s not zoned for a museum, and one of the things we learned is that it would cost probably a million dollars to get it up to code (installing such things as ramps for the handicapped) to be an open-to-the public building,” he adds. “The foundation owns the rights to the Liberace name and even his signature. . . . I don’t think we would probably allow them (the new owners of the home) to use it.”
Burroughs, however, is optimistic about working with the foundation so that the existing Liberace museum and his former home can both be tourist attractions.
But if such negotiations fail, auctioneer Nelson believes the home’s owners would have little problem making a profit on their investment. “We’ll see what transpires,” he says. “The buyers may sell the property even before they (actually) own it.”