Living La Subterranean Las Vegas Vida

As salmony-pink as the living room is beigy-beige, such is the bedroom in the underground house.

As salmony-pink as the living room is beigy-beige, such is the bedroom in the underground house.


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.

The Underground Las Vegas House with view of the patio. Click for larger view.

The Underground Las Vegas House with view of the patio. Click for larger view.

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.

The Underground Las Vegas House with view of the yard and pool. Click for larger view.

The Underground Las Vegas House with view of the yard and pool. Click for larger view.

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.

Living room with view of patio and extremely beige decor.

Living room with view of patio and extremely beige decor.

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.

21 Responses to “Living La Subterranean Las Vegas Vida”

  1. Wolfenbach Says:

    Reminds me of the house in the Twilight Zone episode, “People are alike all over”, with Roddy McDowall.

    “Species of animal brought back alive. Interesting similarity in physical characteristics to human beings in head, trunk, arms, legs, hands, feet. Very tiny undeveloped brain; comes from primitive planet named Earth. Calls himself Samuel Conrad. And he will remain here in his cage with the running water and the electricity and the central heat for as long as he lives. Samuel Conrad has found the Twilight Zone.”

  2. Janet Van Fleet Says:

    The thought of living in this place gives me the willies (where does this expression come from; inquiring minds want to know…). Claustrophobia freakout. It seems like an incredible length to go to avoid algae. Dust… well I can see that more, maybe. I have sent a link for this one to a friend who wants to do an underground house (but not THAT far underground, I think, just with maybe three walls underground and then an open side.)

    By the way, ever since you put the snow on the site, I am getting a very irritating flickering band/bar on the bottom of the blog’s window. I have seen this on other sites with snow. Is it my browser (Firefox) making this happen, do you think? … OK, I just looked at it in Explorer and it does NOT do it, so that’s the answer.

  3. I bookmarked your blog, thanks for sharing this very interesting post

  4. he was my uncle :)

  5. Creative tomb. All the niceities, like the pyramids, but still a tomb. I would have to have a staircase in every room that leads to above ground, and oh, forget it, I couldn’t do it.

  6. Without a doubt, this Panic Attacks article is really the latest on this deserving topic. I agree with your conclusions and am eagerly look forward to your future updates. Just saying thanks will not just be enough, for the extraordinary clarity in your writing. I will at once grab your rss feed to stay informed of any updates. Gratifying work and much success in your business endeavors!

  7. JDWARD (would love and appreciate your help)

    I have been facinated with stories of Las Vegas and all that has gone on since the desert became this adult play ground. I am just trying to locate the entry of the doorway to the underground house. I don’t want to tell anyone publicize it, I am just an investigator of Vegas History.
    It’s a great story and one that I hope someday the owener will share.
    Thanks for the story and Pics>

  8. I got to go down there back in the early 90s. I was working as a pool technician in Vegas, and was called out because the pool heater wasn’t working. I had no idea this house existed before then. I met a woman, think she was a caretaker, at the door. Just inside the door was the elevator, which we took down to the underground area. I don’t remember what all I did, but had to go upstairs where the pool heater was a few times.

    • I was the caretaker from about 1995 until it was sold in 2005. In all my time there I never felt claustrophobic. Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it! It was truly a unique place.

  9. I love this house- I wish it were open to the public and not just corporate party’s. Jerry was my Uncle too..marriage to Mary Franklin.- my great aunt!

  10. Tex was my great-uncle. Magnificant home. I stayed a few nights while in Vegas in 2004. Sadly our family had to sell the home after his passing. For tjose who are wondering, this underground hone has a fully liveable home on top of it. You would never know what is underneath it, this true gem. Not far from the strip in a neighborhood of businesses with residential behind it.

  11. Rachel,
    Was it weird being in the below-ground part? I am so fascinated by this house! I wonder if I would feel like I was below ground down there. I would love to try out the grill and the pool!

    • Not wired at all. It wad odd to not see “daylight”, but they did an amazing job with lighting. The sewer aspect is tricky and kinda gross. Have to pump it “upstream” and it has monitors for gas buildup. Downside is all the de-humidifers to get the moisture out of the air. Feels just like home.

  12. Rachel, as a guest it must have been amazing to stay there! I think I’d have been too giddy to sleep, as a kid, and/or have crazy dreams if I’d stayed there as an adult. Images are one thing and I was thrilled to find this old issue of NEST in a box from moving years ago, but I am trying to wrap my head around actually being in this house with all the amazing touches like special fluorescent paint by artists and the rocks and yard. How old were you when you visited? Was your uncle famous among the relatives for building this crazy house? Did everyone try to wrangle an invite to stay there? Did he and his wife mostly stay upstairs and just use it for guests? Given that legend states he didn’t like people much and the sayings about guests, I wonder if he liked living in a novelty that people must have been dying to see.

    The up-pumping sounds like one might expect to have to do in a power outage or post-apocalyptic time, but I think now there are innovations in plumbing to do that mechanically. I wonder if the current owners have made such retrofits. And I wonder — if it is used as a function facility as I read — why no one hears about it?

    When I first posted this there were scant few search results. In fact, I just checked and there are now a few more articles and one says it is 16,000 sq ft and another says 6,000, which is a huge difference. My studio is 2000 sq ft and is bigger than most of my friends’ homes. Do you know which it is? 16,000 is HUGE!

    Did you stay upstairs or downstairs in the Las Vegas house? Was your uncle worried about a war or a hurricane or earthquake? As a kid I drew out house floor plans whenever I got my hands on graph paper, and as an adult I think about the last tornado we had, the hurricane that just missed doing serious damage, the crime in my hood (I am one of maybe 2 dozen brave artists living in an old mill town most known for it’s crime including break-ins, robberies, arson, and our front door was just kicked in at like noon on a sunny Sunday afternoon) I have built doors inside other doors and think about making a safe room or some such thing so this house is especially fascinating to me.

    Did you ever visit his other underground house — his “his first underground house on his 320-acre property near Boulder, CO”?

    It says it is owned by a distant relative now who doesn’t live there buy leases it out for private functions. Do you know why the relative would not want to live in it as it evidently does have the above-ground part?

    I would live in it as caretaker/event manager!

  13. Says:

    Went bye on memorial day acnd saw some asians in a SUV in the driveway. Would love to see the house below. Talk wiyh th next door neighbor who lived there when it was built. Garrett

  14. Jerry was my Uncle. I remember seeing the underground home in Colorado and Las Vegas. The on in Las Vegas was amazing. I stayed overnight in the guest house and flew back to SF on one his jets. The underground home was secure and private.

    Jerry Henderson, founder of the Alexander Dawson Schools, was a philanthropist and entrepreneur. He was fascinated by technology, education, and innovation.

  15. I started working underground in the 1970s and really ilke it. I would like very much to live underground where the temperatures are constant and sounds of the city can not be heard. You do not have to concern yourself with animals even the human varity if you do it right. I`d have to be careful to leave every now and then for good mental health and because a sunset should be viewed in person but because I am so at peace with the rock I collect them. I find that the people I do not care for are not comfortable underground so there are +s. The people I do care for will come to whereever I am to see me. Try it some time you may like it too.

  16. To Benign Girl, I `ve been curious about this place a long time. Please forgive me for being so rude, I want to say thank you for the photos of this hideaway in Las Vegas of all places. I always thought people went to Vegas to be seen. Even us would be troglodytes enjoy a little fellowship now and again.

  17. Lucie Cook Says:

    Not sure if they were allowed to see the house, but my late Mother-in-law, Peggy Cook, and sister-in-law, Kay Cook Alvis, did go to Las Vegas during the time Jewel Smith was painting this house to visit her there. She lived next door to them in Hartselle, AL. SHe passed in 2003 & is buried in Cullman, AL. We have quite a few of her paintings and so does my sister-in-law.

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