Saturday, June 12, 2010

Parry Thomas' (of & Mack) World

See that dapper gent? He's almost 89. Most current Las Vegans have no clue who he is, but he's the man who really made Vegas what it is.

His name is E. Parry Thomas and throughout the heart of the 20th century he decided who would get money to build what, weaned the city off the mob, was pivotal with lifelong business partner Jerry Mack in creating and nurturing UNLV and, of course, adopted and mentored a fatherless 24-year-old whippersnapper named Wynn who went on to do a thing or two himself. [For more, read the fantastic "Quiet Kingmaker" by Jack Sheehan, or earn a copy signed by Thomas by winning the bi-weekly trivia question.]

Parry also made rustic Sun Valley, Idaho, the retreat of choice for the Wynns and a lengthy list of other names. That is the topic of this coming week's Las Vegas Weekly column, so I'll hold my fire on that front. But I'd been curious about Sun Valley for many years, so finally I managed to come up with an assignment that necessitated a reporting trip up here, and that assignment is to profile Parry Thomas for Sun Valley Magazine.

That's how I ended up spending Friday with Parry and his wife, Peggy, at their 60-acre horse ranch, River Grove Farm, outside the Sun Valley-area town of Hailey. Sun Valley, the nation's oldest ski resort, a 2.5-hour drive northeast-ish of Boise. It's a region made up of four small towns -- Sun Valley, Ketchum, Hailey and Bellevue. Beyond Vegas glitterati, several prominent Californians have homes here including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Demi Moore and Tom Hanks.

It's also where Ernest Hemingway shot himself in the head in 1961 right there in that little low-slung part of his home:

Here, incidentally, was Hemingway's view roughly from there:

Miles saw that image and instantly, of course, begged me to let us move. When I showed him this marker...

...indicating that the population was my lucky number -- i.e. my birthday, Oct. 16 -- he insisted it was a sign! I admit I've wondered often what it would be like to reside here, all that snow and fresh air. I've had three of the best nights' sleep in ages at the home of my crunchy editor, Michael Ames, and his girlfriend, Danielle.

Anyhow, this sensational region is where the Thomases have chosen to spend the summers of their dotage, although retirement has actually meant managing an award-winning horse facility that has yielded an Olympic bronze in the competition known as dressage with this 19-year-old Hanoverian, Brentina:

My Facebook and Twitter followers may recall that the other day I quizzed them on where else in Vegas they'd find a version of this statue, which is a likeness of Brentina:

I'm a little shocked that, given the intense fascination of Vegas so many of my friends and followers have had, only one of you got it right. So, no, I'm not ready to give up the answer just yet. Work it out, people, and no, it's not in Summerlin.

The Thomases have about a dozen horses, many bought at German auctions, and also board for others and provide dressage and jumping lessons for some visitors:

This is their barn, which has those chandeliers because they used it one time for a big fundraiser event to help build the Sun Valley Symphony:

The spread features miles and miles of bridle paths that lead down and along the Big Wood River...

...and although Peggy, 84, still rides, Parry now puts around the property in this golf cart:

You're probably familiar with Parry and Peggy's second son, Roger, the Wynn Resorts design guru whom I profiled in the Weekly earlier this year. They have three other sons and a daughter, Jane. Jane lives in a home on the property up here and is said to have possibly as much artistic talent as her brother. Among her artistic passions is building elaborate birdhouses that are all over her portion of the land:

All sorts of woodland creatures abound. A bear knocked down four of Jane's birdhouses the day before and Peggy reported interacting with some moose (meese?) on a morning ride.

There's very little Vegas about this place, although I did think that this drying stall for washed horses would fit right in on Fremont Street:

We went to lunch at the Sun Valley Lodge, where Peggy waitressed as a 16-year-old, the origin of the couple -- and thus Vegas' -- intrigue with this nook of the world:

I had a lamb-burger at Gretchen's (named for Olympic alpine ski queen Gretchen Fraser) and looked out of an ice rink that this summer will feature shows by Johnny Weir and Evan Lysacek. (Side note: The Thomases shared a plate of fish and chips and Mrs. Thomas put the three leftover bites in a Ziplock she carried with her in her purse.)

Here, by the way, is the symphony building that the the Thomases (and Wynns) helped pay for, where on Saturday evening Michael and Danielle took me to see a lovely up-and-coming folk singer named Molly Venter who got her start here and now lives in Austin:

On Friday, the Thomases drove me around and showed me all their old skiing haunts. (Neither of them ski anymore although Parry, at 88, still drives.) This is the Edelweiss, a somewhat homely set of apartments that happens to sit directly across from the lift for a popular mountain:

So here's the fun part. The parking for that lift can be so Steve Wynn went and bought a few of these units ... for the parking spaces. The Thomases and Rolling Stone's Jan Wenner followed suit. The New York Times did a funny piece in 2005 about these $250,000 parking spaces. Thomas says nobody has stayed in his for years.

Sun Valley does have a "casino"...

...but it hasn't been a gambling place since the 1930s. Now it's a bar, the only place in the town of Ketchum where smoking is allowed inside. I went in to see if there were remnants of the casino days, but it's really a dive bar now. Too bad; there were photos in the entryway showing those old-fashioned metal desktop slot machines -- well, they were modern back then -- but none of that survives.

The Thomases' abode is lovely but very appropriately rustic and not designed by Roger, Parry says. That said, I loved this end table:

In his study, Parry showed me old photos of Vegas people. This one was resonant...

...because the woman all the way to the right is Barbara Greenspun, who died on June 1. Joyce Mack, widow of Jerry Mack, and Peggy Thomas are also pictured back in the day. (Click on it to enlarge it)

Of course, this sort of region is always home to loads of big, beautiful, friendly dogs. Here were two that roamed River Grove:

Finally, I got a big kick out of this. In 1992, Thomas & Mack sold Valley Bank to Bank of America. They made more than $1 billion on the sale, Parry told me this weekend. Well, $1 billion and this:

I'm not sure why this cracks me up so much. It's a small hunk of glass the size of a hardcover book. I guess I find it amusing that in the midst of a billion-dollar bank sale, someone said, "You know what we need? We need a glass plaque. Yes, yes. This simply won't be right with out that."

More on Sun Valley and the Thomases to come, of course. But I've got to head now back to Boise and catch a bird.


Anonymous said...

That statue is at the porte-cochere at Wynn Las Vegas.

Can't believe it's been a tough one - I've seen it a zillion times.


Hiker said...

Excellent article with great photos!

Anonymous said...

Yes, Hunter is correct, it and the shoe were done by the late Stephen Weiss, Donna Karan's husband.

Jeff in OKC said...

My envy knows no bounds, sir. And to think that you get paid to talk to these people. Lucky, lucky you.
Do you have other pictures of the Thomas' and family from this trip? Mtbe some audio?


Jeff - I do have audio and I'll get to working with it later this week. There was a lot in there. Best, Steve

Paolo said...

The plaque there towards the end of this post is very common- they are always handed out to bankers and investors when deals are consummated. Called "tombstones", they also appear in print in publications like the WSJ to publicize the closing of big mergers, acquisitions and IPOs.