I always swore the house was haunted. Creaking noises in the middle of the night, random variations in temperature from room to room (and even within rooms), lights flickering on and off for no apparent reason, doors and drawers seeming to open and close by themselves. I never saw an entity, never felt threatened in any way. And yet . . .
Of course, you could make a rational case for all of it. That’s just what old houses do. But what fun would that be? And it certainly wouldn’t have led to my new Las Vegas ghost novel, The House Always Wins. More on that later.
When I say “old,” I mean old by Las Vegas standards. 1954, to be exact. Built by legendary Sahara Hotel orchestra leader Jack Eglash, who had worked with everyone from Elvis and Sinatra to Carson and Rickles, all of whom had been wined and dined (and maybe more) in the house throughout their storied careers.
By the time my daughter and son-in-law bought the house for next to nothing in 2003, at the height of the flipping craze, it had been vacant for years, falling into a state of sorry disrepair. My wife (who also served as the Realtor) and I moved into the big separate upstairs apartment soon after, to assist with the remodel and help raise our new grandson. We wound up staying two-and-a-half years.
It was big, nearly 6,000 square feet, built of tan brick that made it stand apart from the smaller stucco and wood structures lining East St. Louis Ave. From the outside, it stood like a fortress, with a massive green-shingled roof and a wrought-iron fence circling the perimeter.
When we first ventured inside, we were met by an endless Winchester Mystery-style interior in the final throes of decomposition, from the decrepit kitchen island tilting at a precarious angle to water-stained ceilings, peeling paint, and buckling floors. (The roaches and mice provided added value.) The air hung heavy, the fetid stench of swamp coming at us from a foot of brackish water at the bottom of a swimming pool that started in the back yard, continued under a glass partition, and ended in the king-size master bedroom. Sane people couldn’t have gotten out of there fast enough. Draw your own conclusions.
By far the coolest features were the vintage appliances, including a soda-fountain counter with hidden blender that popped up at the push of a button, and a Fasar induction stovetop that cooked your meals while never getting hot to the touch. The day we stumbled upon the original service manuals tucked away in the bottom of a seldom-used drawer, we felt like we’d discovered buried treasure.
And anchoring it all in one of two great rooms, a floor-to-ceiling rock fireplace right out of “Citizen Kane.”
After our family’s “it-takes-a-village” adventure, we sold the house in 2005 to a buyer with plans to convert it to a daycare center. Sadly, that endeavor never materialized and the house went back to the bank when the economy tanked a few year later. It again sat empty for many years, finally meeting an undeserved end when it burned to the ground in 2014. (Watch video of the fire above).
Meanwhile, the experience stayed with me and I began work on my Las Vegas ghost novel soon after, creating a young couple who move into the house, now haunted by the spirit of a dead racketeer, who helps them battle a corrupt casino owner bent on razing it to make way for an expansion of his property. The recession shelved that project while I went back to work more than full-time, picking it up again in late 2015.
After that long, strange trip, I’m happy to say The House Always Wins will launch in early October, just in time for Halloween. I hope it’s a fitting tribute to a piece of Las Vegas history that, like so many others, exists only in our memories, a handful of photos, and now in this book.