Living La Subterranean Las Vegas Vida
ALL IMAGES HAVE BEEN SCANNED WITHOUT PERMISSION BY MY ANONYMOUS MONKEY ASSISTANT AND FOR WHOM I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE, AND HAVE NEVER MET.
As published in NEST, A Quarterly of Interiors, Spring 2003
What with the weather and all that, it seems like the perfect time for an underground house. While snow or tornados and other extreme weathers swirl above, you could be comfy swimming in your non-chlorinated pool (for algae does not grow underground) and having a cookout while the smoke is funneled out through the pipe that runs up through the fake hollowed out ‘tree’ behind it.
Imagine calling up your friends and saying, “Come on over for the weekend and stay till they plow us out above. We have a well-stocked fridge and a new recipe for shish-ke-bob that will amaze you! Bring the scrabble, grab your bathing suits…”. And yes. there isn’t often snow in Vegas but this year they did have snow and, as things go, that snow stayed in Vegas.
This all may or may not be what Gerald Henderson was thinking back in the late 60s when he began construction on his underground home, which is accessed by an elevator that takes one 25 feet underground via an old mineshaft. Above ground all one can see is a wrought iron fence and a rock garden and then one enters a small ‘house’, which (it is not exactly clear from the article) appears to be mainly an above-ground door and hallway, leading to the elevator.
Gerald Henderson was a longtime board member of Avon, and “a pioneer in the nascent Cold War-era discipline of subterranean architecture.” He was a bit paranoid, did not much like people and feared radioactive fallout. He built two other such homes in Switzerland and Colorado which are reportedly no longer standing. There is no mention of why those other two are no longer standing however, and I wonder at that why behind dismantling such an architectural feat, particularly since there are times when being underground seems such a great idea.
Anyway, according to the article, algae does not grow underground and so no chlorine is needed for the pool. The walls are murals painted to resemble Gerald’s childhood home in New Jersey as well as his sheep ranch in New Zealand. The muralist, Jewel Smith from Plainview, Texas, lived in a cottage in a far corner of the house for several years to complete the project. That sounds like a nice gig.
At the flip of a switch the ‘sky’ turns from day to night and, since fluorescent paint was not yet invented at the time of construction, the artist had to scrape the material from the insides of light bulbs to get the fluorescent effect.
I can’t imagine getting that phone call asking to come and live in this project for a few years in an underground home just off the Vegas strip. I wonder if she would cruise the strip above on her time off and then went back to her ‘home’. I wonder if she was ever uneasy living underground all alone. I wonder if she was allowed to use the premises – the kitchen, pool, grill etc – or was limited to her corner. I wonder if she was allowed to have friends come visit for the weekend.
Given that Gerald didn’t like people much (yet loved beige things) it seems not likely he’d have fully supported extra people hanging around. And our Gerald? Everything he touched turned to gold. It was like he couldn’t not make money; even his sheep ranch in New Zealand turned out to be a goldmine of oil. He just got richer and richer, sometimes by what seemed crazy luck.
The ‘trees’ hide steel support beams and ducts to expel the smoke from the grills and etc, and also hide the air conditioning vents. The waterfall is made of rock imported from southern Utah. There is no moisture, dust, bugs, algae. The house is designed and furnished in a style reminiscent of, “San Fernando Valley 60s Modernism”, a la The Brady Bunch, and remains almost exactly as it was when the Hendersons lived there, complete with their framed pictures on tables and walls.
The current owner (as of the writing of this article), a Boca Raton-based entrepreneur named Thomas “Tex” Edmondson, rents the house for corporate events via an events planner, Karen Gordon, who owns a company unexcitingly named, “Activity Planners“. The house is not open to the public at all. One of her other available properties is the home a ‘Prominent local artist’ from Las Vegas (so mysterious) who lets her home for intimidate corporate dinners.
I think Thomas Edmondson should let me live in it for a few months as a respite from my recent emergency root canal (sans Novocain for medical reasons), and from the plastic surgery it will now (so it seems, but maybe not really) take to fix my face. ;-) Actually, I think he should throw in the Plastic Surgery as well just because I am nice. In return I will make him a glass fridge. He might call yet. I’d even trade the diner stools perhaps.
As much as the article does a fine job of describing the house and its former owner and creator, I want to know about living in the house. I want to know how it felt for the muralist and how Gerald and his wife felt when they lived here and all that.
I want to know if people have ever tried to break in, if anyone ever had a panic attack or claustrobia from being so far underground, and why he deconstructed his other underground houses. It seems a waste to dismantle the two others in Switzerland and Colorado, where being underground with a pool and grill etc might be a nice respite from the dead of winter. It seems a safe place to be in a hurricane or tornado or snow storm.
And maybe I hit something with the plastic surgery bit; maybe it’d be a good hideout for the awkward healing stages with the tape and the swelling etc; surely it’d cheaper than going to Africa on a supposed “Safari” and really having plastic surgery – which I read recently in the NYT is quite common, as one’s vacation pictures would naturally only include pictures of animals and not pictures of oneself as posing with animals (oh, the danger!), and so it is the perfect foil vacation.
Another online source (not used for this post) is here.