The Story Behind the KLAS-TV Howard Hughes House

LAS VEGAS -- The Las Vegas Strip was still in its infancy in 1951, anchored by the likes of the Desert Inn, Flamingo, Last Frontier and Thunderbird casinos.

That was also the year a green bungalow designed to serve as part of a motel was built at what was then 336 Cathedral Way just east of the Strip.

The single-story, 1,848-square-foot masonry concrete block structure with a concrete tile roof was hardly a work of art. But the two-bedroom building, equipped with a fireplace, caught the eye of billionaire entrepreneur and aviator Howard Hughes. With assistance from Las Vegas entertainment impresario Walter Kane, Hughes leased the property in 1953 and made it his home whenever he was in town.

It turned out to be one of only three homes the reclusive Hughes resided in during his lifetime. He even considered turning the home, which he eventually purchased, into the headquarters for his vast business empire.

When Hughes moved in, he ordered the casement windows sealed against the dust, pollen and germs that preoccupied him. Doors with specially-designed hydraulics were installed with the intent of insulating the residence from what Hughes perceived as a harsh outdoor environment.

When Hughes left the home for the final time in 1954 he ordered the residence sealed until his possible return, which never happened as he disappeared from public view in 1955. A massive air conditioning and recycling system was installed in the rear of the house to guarantee the purity of the air. He also left behind clothes and other belongings with instructions that they be left inaccessible to anyone other than himself or someone he might designate.

There is no official record that anyone visited the house over the next two decades. But when the home was reopened following Hughes' death in 1976 some visitors reported seeing newspapers from the 1960s with stories on a topic he found deeply disturbing -- Nevada nuclear bomb tests.

After Hughes died Summa representatives combed the residence for his will, hoping it would detail his desires for the future of his company and distribution of his holdings. That search proved fruitless

KLAS-TV, which Hughes acquired in 1968, was sold by his Summa Corp. estate to Landmark Communications in 1978. So, too, was the famed "green house" that sits behind the station's current broadcast center on Channel 8 Drive, though Summa was granted an additional year of occupancy before leaving the home in July 1979.

One of the first KLAS employees to tour the home was Joan Carlton, the station's former creative director, who said:

"In spite of the excessive damage that had been done to the home by people searching for the elusive will, the atmosphere was heavy with memories -- real and imagined. On the kitchen counter was a jar of mustard. Elsewhere you could find cans of food and some unopened cereal boxes. In the master bedroom was a closet full of Mr. Hughes' clothes. In the baths (there were two of them) soap was still in the dishes, towels still on the racks. And phones were everywhere! Two and three in every room, including both baths!"

Landmark remodeled some areas of the home and restored others in the style of the 1950s.

The kitchen was turned into a wet bar adjoining the living room to accommodate parties. An almost totally destroyed pantry was remodeled as a kitchen, and the air conditioning and purifying equipment was removed in favor of a redwood patio and jacuzzi.

Among the original furniture and equipment that was salvaged were Hughes' desk and chair, his Edison Voicewriter dictaphone, a reel-to-reel tape recorder, and a unit designed to make telephone contact between Hughes' home and other adjoining bungalow units. The eight telephones in the residence included a historic volume-control model that the phone company restored to working order.

Landmark originally used the restored home as a rental property for executives and management, as a party house for station events or for major clients. Bungalows adjoining the house were converted into rental apartments.

In 1997, the need to provide parking for the station's more than 130 employees led to the demolition of the rental properties.

One who toured the Howard Hughes House would have begun in the den, where he watched his movies, mostly westerns. With a hardwood ceiling, fireplace and recessed lighting, the den features a window on the west wall that slopes up and out, presumably to bounce light away from where the films were being projected.

The decor showcased many aspects of Hughes' life -- billionaire, movie producer, aviator, playboy, innovative aircraft designer and sportsman. There was a portrait of Hughes, a montage of photos showing him as an aviator, and a cel from a Movietone news segment hailing his speed record. He could be seen golfing in knickers and sitting at the editing table during the making of "The Outlaw," which he produced.

Also featured were movie posters and lobby cards from some of his films and a montage of photos of the planes Hughes designed and flew, including the Spruce Goose.

The den also was used for a scene featuring actress Sharon Stone and actor James Woods in the 1995 movie "Casino."

The living room was where Hughes conducted most of his business meetings. His desk and chair were originally in this room, along with the Edison Voicewriter and tape recorder used by Hughes and his secretaries.

The walls of the living room were used to display an original architect's drawing of a hangar proposed for the Hughes Air Terminal in Las Vegas, a head shot of Hughes, a map detailing the world aviation speed record achieved by Hughes and his crew in 1938 when they circled the globe in a little more than three days and 19 hours, and a photo of the New York City ticker tape parade that greeted him upon his return from that flight.

Even though the kitchen was converted to a wet bar, the original wooden table and chair that were part of that room were preserved. One could see the heat exchange that topped a huge, rectangular steel stove. In the event the stove or one of the home's air conditioning units broke, Hughes had new duplicates in a shed at the back of the home to replace any broken units.

The wet bar also featured one of Hughes' volume-controlled telephones, which was amplified to compensate for his hearing loss. The decor included a photo of a metal box that Hughes used to bury a time capsule to himself. The contents of the capsule, taken by Hughes' estate, were never publicly disclosed.

This room also displayed a memo from Hughes requesting photos of women he had seen in the 1950s magazine "Eye," reportedly to recruit starlets for his movies and possibly to find women he would later date. Included was a handwritten note, "No further pursuit necessary," near a woman's name.

The bedroom Hughes used was not only unpretentious, with solid white door and drawer pulls, but it was also smaller than all of the other rooms except the kitchen and bathrooms. One wall had an imperfection that may have been caused by a wall safe or medicine cabinet. Another wall displayed a huge photo of Hughes shaking hands with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt after the aviator set his world speed record.

The guest bedroom, double the size of the bedroom used by Hughes, was used by Hughes' aides but presumably was designed for women. Actress Jane Russell, who starred in "The Outlaw," reportedly was one those guests.

The pulls on the doors and closets had roses painted on them, and the room contained a rose-tinted make-up mirror. There also was a photo of a young Hughes on location during the shooting of "The Outlaw."

Former KLAS-TV creative director Joan Carlton and former director of new business development Phil Pikelny contributed to this story.

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