Liberace, Las Vegas, Legendary Rides
Liberace is a Las Vegas icon, and his famous stage cars are now parked in a spot reserved in his memory: The Liberace Garage at Hollywood Cars Museum, Las Vegas.
The Liberace Garage, on a street named for the entertainer’s friend, 5115 Dean Martin Drive, is sponsored by car collector Michael Dezer, owner of one of the world’s largest vehicle collections at the Miami Auto Museum and the Hollywood Cars Museum.
Dezer donated the lease of the 5,000-square-foot Liberace Garage to the Liberace Foundation for the Performing and Creative Arts, which has always owned this collection of extraordinary stage cars. The new exhibit space is contiguous to the Hollywood Cars Museum’s 85 featured vehicles, which have appeared in 100-plus films, TV shows and videos. Also included are many automotive creations of legendary hot rod builder Jay Ohrberg, whose shop is also part of the Hollywood Cars Museum.
The Liberace Garage opened Friday, April 8, and will eventually offer more cars owned by the pianist, singer and actor, born Władziu Valentino Liberace (May 16, 1919–Feb. 4, 1987).
At one time the highest-paid entertainer in the world, Liberace, also “The Glitter Man” and “The King of Bling,” won two Emmy Awards, had six gold albums and two stars entered on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The 5,000-square-foot Liberace Garage features eight cars owned by “Mr. Showmanship,” who used some of the vehicles in his stage acts. In all, he owned about 100 cars, with those in the collection designed for the stage. Liberace Garage will be featuring many other Liberace cars, on loan, or, in some cases, donated to the Liberace Foundation.
The Liberace Garage was conceived by Liberace Foundation CEO Jonathan Warren, then designed by Paulina Biggs Sparkuhl, who did the same for Thriller Villa, the former home of Michael Jackson in Las Vegas, before she consulted on the recent restoration of the Liberace Mansion when it was purchased by Martyn Ravenhill. “Jaws drop when entering the Liberace Garage,” Warren says.
Liberace Garage features other automotive-related artifacts, also from the Liberace Museum Collection, including light posts he kept in his garage, film posters and auto advertisements he appeared in and other artifacts selected by the Foundation.
In all, the Liberace Museum Collection comprises 100 costumes, dozens of candelabras and chandeliers, 18 pianos, the Liberace jewels, fine art, furnishings from his mansions, crystal, miniature car and piano collections, historic letters, contracts and hundreds of photos. “All told, it’s about 15,000 cubic feet of material and growing through donations,” Warren says.
The Liberace Garage is also an event space seating up to 200 with an 8×16-foot stage, sound system and spot lights, Warren explains. “It’s available for events, each of which benefits the Liberace Foundation.” Qualified pianists can even play Liberace’s crystal-covered piano, on display. The Liberace Museum Store also sells memorabilia.
One Door Closes, Another Garage Door Opens
In October 2010, the Liberace Museum, a few miles off the Strip in a retail location, closed after 31 years. Liberace owned the property and had his restaurant there as well as an antiques store in the mid-1970s, Warren says.
“A tremendous collector of antiques, he didn’t actually want to sell anything, so he put ‘sold’ signs on everything,” Warren says. “Someone told him that sounded more like a museum. History was made: It became the most visited attraction in Las Vegas for many years.”
Liberace endowed the Foundation with approximately $8.8 million on his death, including the Liberace Museum Collection, his publicity, likeness, trademark and branding rights. As a result, the Foundation distributed $6-plus million in scholarships and grants to deserving students from 1981 to 2010, when the endowment sunsetted. “We intend to build a new endowment fund from earnings and donations and begin granting scholarships again,” Warren says.
“There is still great public interest in Liberace’s life and legacy and the iconic artifacts that evidence his meteoric career,” Warren says. “This is an artist to whom tribute is paid by hundreds of other performers who mention him in their lyrics, from the Cordettes in 1955 to Rick Ross in 2016,” he adds, noting that Liberace influenced everyone from Elvis to Elton John to Lady Gaga.
The idea for bringing the Liberace Garage to the Hollywood Cars Museum grew from the success of an exhibit of the entertainer’s costumes and cars at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in 2014. “The expected six week run of ‘Too Much of a Good Thing Is Wonderful’ was held over for nine months,” he recalls.
“Liberace is the only person recognized by the Library of Congress as being a cultural influence on Las Vegas, a city he came to define,” Warren adds. “We are fortunate he had the vision to preserve his stagecraft and lifestyle assets for us to share with the world, for the benefit of students in the performing and creative arts.”
The cars in the collection are those in which Liberace rode onto stage at the Las Vegas Hilton, Radio City Music Hall in New York and others. Liberace first did that in 1958 at the Riviera Hotel during a Mercedes Benz convention in Las Vegas. “His use of cars as extensions of his costuming and showmanship in his act followed and perhaps was even one of the catalysts of the trajectory of the automobile as such an integral part of western U.S. culture,” Warren says.
Cars of The Star
Here are some of the first cars, each a show in itself:
•1961 Rolls Royce Phantom V Sedanca De Ville Limousine by James Young –– “Liberace used to be driven onto the stage when he performed at the Las Vegas Hilton. With its left-hand drive, it was the only one of its kind, even before Liberace covered it with mirror tiles. The Foundation lent it to the production of the Emmy- and Golden Globe Award-winning HBO film Behind the Candelabra, starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon; Douglas, as Liberace, drove it on the stage.
•1952 Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn –– Liberace used this red, white and blue car for his bicentennial show in 1976 when he was flown on cables out of the back seat over the stage at the Hilton Las Vegas. It was later featured at the 100-year anniversary of the Statue of Liberty. The RR was a part of the London Car Show before being delivered to a U.S. buyer in 1953.
•Liberace Crystal Roadster –– Liberace had this custom-made car onstage during his final run of shows at Radio City Music Hall in 1986.
•London Taxi –– This authentic car for hire from the early 1950s still has the meter. Liberace used it to pick up famous guests from the Palm Springs Airport.
•The VolksRolls –– This a Volkswagen Bug styled as a Rolls-Royce and used by Liberace on stage. Sometimes it trailed the 1961 Rolls-Royce onto the stage and carried Liberace’s massive white fox coat off stage after his entry.
•The Liberace Bradley GT –– A kit car emblematic of the mid 1970s, this one has candelabras on the sides and gold sequins over gold-flaked paint. Who else but Liberace?
•The Liberace Model A –– Another 1970s kit car, it has the classic form which was applauded by audiences when Liberace rode its running board onto smaller stages at various performances.
For more information, see hollywoodcarsmuseum.com, LiberaceGarage.com or call 702.330.4225. Guests can buy tickets at liberacegarage.com and can inquire about holding an event at the Liberace Garage.
If you or someone you know has a GreatGarages and would like it to be considered for an upcoming issue, please e-mail us at email@example.com.