A fight is brewing over a plan to make a tourist draw out of the shuttered Tonopah motel where billionaire Howard Hughes married actress Jean Peters in 1957.
Supporters want to turn a portion of the L&L Motel where the secret wedding took place into a Howard Hughes Museum and Wedding Chapel. Opponents say it would be too expensive.
The Tonopah Town Board plans to hold a Wednesday public hearing on the proposal and take final action late this year. The struggling mining town of 2,800 residents is on U.S. 95, midway between Reno and Las Vegas.
"There's word that people would come from around the world to see it," board Chairman Mike Truesdell said. "The key thing is it would take a lot of money, which, of course, Tonopah doesn't have a lot of.
"I've had a couple people tell me it (plan) is wonderful but a lot more people tell me no way. They want to see it torn down because it's an eyesore," he added.
But Tonopah businessman Bob Perchetti, who's spearheading the effort to save the motel, said he thinks the vast majority of residents support the proposal.
A building contractor has concluded the renovation project would be economically feasible, and grants and donations could fund it, he added. No cost estimate has been determined yet.
"I think we have a chance of turning around the town economically and I think this is the key," said Perchetti, former director of the Tonopah Convention Center and a former member of the Nevada Tourism Commission.
"Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Howard Hughes - they all have the same type mystique about them. We think the plan is a natural," he added.
Supporters want to save the room where the wedding took place and office below as well as two adjoining rooms. Plans call for the rooms to house the chamber of commerce along with the museum and wedding chapel.
"We'd make it the focal point of Tonopah," Perchetti said, adding the rest of the 52-year-old motel would be torn down.
The town bought the motel for $50,000 with the idea it would be torn down and the property would be resold as part of downtown redevelopment, Truesdell said.
"I'd feel much better to tear it down and get grant money to put up a new building. It would probably be cheaper," he said. "But we're open to anything that could increase tourism."
The wedding chapel would allow couples to get married in the same room where Hughes and Peters tied the knot. The museum would feature exhibits on the mysterious wedding and Hughes' role in Nevada history.
Hughes and Peters registered for a marriage license under fictitious names and got married at the L&L on Jan. 12, 1957 to avoid publicity.
They flew in and out of Tonopah that day from Los Angeles, with the entire Nevada stay lasting about two hours. Only a handful of Hughes aides knew about it.
It was Hughes' second and final marriage and her second of three marriages. Hughes died in 1976 at age 70; she died in 2000 at age 73.
While holed up at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas from 1966 to 1970, Hughes bought seven casinos and scores of mines. He helped transform Las Vegas from a mob-dominated gambling town to a corporate-owned modern resort destination.
Before becoming the "invisible man" in Nevada, Hughes was a movie producer, record-setting aviator, Trans World Airlines owner and major defense contractor.