Torino Ranch sits on land that has a diverse and fascinating history dating back to the original inhabitants who were Paiute Indians.
Since then several people have owned the Lovell Canyon property, including a lawyer named Bill “Wildcat” Morris, who also bought the now demolished Landmark Hotel and Casino, which was built in 1961 across from the Las Vegas Convention Center, in 1983 for $18.7 million, and spent another $3.5 million on renovations.
In 1985, the IRS filed a $2.1 million lien against the property for Morris’ failure to pay his employees’ payroll taxes. The Landmark’s fire codes weren’t in compliance, and Morris was trying to negotiate a $28 million loan to update them in 1986 when a small fire broke out that was deemed to be arson. In 1990, Morris filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and lost his gaming license.
This small bit of back history establishes a pattern regarding Bill Morris’s character. He turned the Lovell Canyon property into a RV park with approximately 1,800 campers who paid a membership fee to enjoy the small watering hole he built on the property, as well as the jamborees and other outdoor activities and events held there.
Unfortunately Morris let the property fall into bankruptcy, just as he did the Landmark Hotel and Casino. When the RV Park was shut down, some members were so angry at losing their money that they burned and destroyed everything they could.
They shot the water tower full of bullet holes, stripped the copper wiring, and stole the plumbing and anything else of value from the few buildings on the property. When the watering hole dried up because Bill Morris failed to renew the water rights, it became a garbage dump.
Seeing the breathtaking beauty of the ranch today, it’s hard to imagine the eerie, war zone-like ghost town the 160-acre property was when Brett purchased it in 1994 from some colorful, shady characters who bought the bankrupt property a few months earlier.
“I was brash back then,” says Brett, “and much more of a risk taker than I am today. The land was barren and desolate, the few buildings were busted up, and the property had no water rights. Also the forest service was threatening to shut down the road to the property and let it go back to nature, which meant we would have no access.
“Thankfully that didn’t happen, but it was still a huge gamble. It took time and a lot of money to procure the water rights. Until that happened, I had to find creative and costly ways to import water to the ranch. We also had to put in a septic system and underground and above ground power.”
Eventually Brett sold 116 acres to the BLM as a nature conservancy easement and turned the remaining 44 acres into a paradise.
“It was an enormous undertaking,” says Brett, who is a botanist at heart. “I had to swallow the entire project at once in order to deal with it holistically."
"Someone once said to me, ‘You didn’t landscape the property, you painted it.’ That was a beautiful thing to hear because I put so much of my heart and soul into every brushstroke, every detail.”
Brett’s father was a real estate developer in Southern California, and he spent his high school years working on construction sites driving 18-wheelers and front loaders. So when it came to clearing the land on the ranch and creating swales, and hills and retaining walls, Brett had the necessary skills to move and bury 100 tons of landfill.
“The ranch looks natural, like it occurred organically, but everything was planned,” says Brett.
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