December, 1999

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Across the shimmering desert, deep inside what is still America's Wild West, the faint rat-a-tat-tat of machine gun fire can be heard. Down a dusty trail, pocketed with no trespass signs, three white Bedouin style tents poke above the barren rocks. Ten men in Navy fatigues, with handguns strapped to their waists, wave visitors in at the Nevada desert sight. Shooting ranges have been cut into the sandy ground, gunshells litter the landscape and building materials lie all about.

The isolated and still empty wilderness may not look like much, but what it is about to become will send chills down the spine of many and warm the hearts of others still. For this is 'Front Sight,' the first town in the world to be built for gun owners and enthusiasts. The gated community will offer residents not golf courses, not swimming pools, but an array of shooting ranges, a SWAT assault tower, video simulators, underground tunnels for urban warfare training, a gun school and a private enclosure to train celebrities how to defend themselves with guns. A armed neighbourhood watch group will patrol the streets and the nearest policeman will be stationed ten miles away in another town. The $25 million project is named after the sight at the front of the gun. It offers prospective buyers 117 one-acre custom made homes and 350 townhouses. It will have its own school teaching up to college age and have its own private airstrip. It has been dubbed a Disneyland for shooters or a Pebble Beach of responsible gun training. Residents will walk around with guns strapped to their waist holsters. In Nevada private citizens can even own sub-machine guns. Street names will reflect the image of concerned Americans who fiercely defend their right under the Constitution to bear arms. They will be called 'Second Amendment Drive,' 'Sense of Duty Way' and 'Three Secret Circle.'

It's the Pebble Beach of firearms training, boasts the mastermind behind the pioneering project, Dr Ignatius Piazza. I felt there was a need for a world class facility, done much like the golf resort industry. The people living in Front Sight will have an expertise in the use of firearms that is far superior to the police force. This is not about building a Waco compound for gun nuts. We are building a world class resort centred around the safe and responsible use of firearms and to provide a level of training that is better than that given to any law enforcement in this country. The people who take our classes and are interested are honest, law abiding citizens. What we are giving them is similar to what you find in a high-end golf resort. Front Sight will be able to house about 600 people as full time residents. Another 550 can rent townhomes while doing gun courses there and 40 staff will man the community. I am building Front Sight because it is needed. Interest is growing at 300% per year in gun self-defence. Gun control has never worked and it never will. Gun control actually increases violent crime because it shifts the balance of power into the hands of the criminals. Recent scientific studies have proven that concealed weapons in the hands of law abiding citizens prevent 2.5 million murders, assaults and rapes per year in the US.

To the European mind, a utopian society built upon the premise of guns is anathema. But this is not London, Paris or Vienna. This is America, a land sick of violent crime on their streets and in their schools. Front sight is nestled in the Nevada desert, 50 miles from the glittering casinos of Las Vegas and several miles from the nearest highway. Piazza is a member of the powerful gun lobby the National Rifle Association, but insists he is not affiliated to any militia group. Most of the students attending his classes are police officers, housewives and professionals. With 70 million gun owners in the US and 222 million registered guns, the demand is there. About 9 million of gunowners have incomes higher than $100,000 a year.

This is strictly high end. The model we're basing this on is a high-end golf resort, said former chiropractor Piazza, 39 We are in no way, shape or form associated with any militia or extremists. Many of our clients are law enforcement. In fact more than 3,000 people have come to see the planned town since January. The majority of interested 'residents' are professionals: doctors, lawyers, police officers, accountants, contractors and even a retired secret service agent. Your radical people aren't going to be involved in this, added David Dwyer, the engineer in charge of development. The people who are the militants, the crazies up in Idaho who make $20,000 a year or less, we are not involved with them. This has national, high-end draw. The community will be incorporated as a town and receive its own post (ZIP) code. Lots are not for sale; instead, they are included as one of the benefits of the highest level of membership in the Front Sight Training Institute. They have sold 26 platinum level memberships, which cost $200,000 and include land to build on and the use of gun training facilities. The lowest level for holidaymakers, the copper level, costs $6,000 and enables the member to attend a number of firearms courses and use the pro shop and gunsmith facility in a kind of timeshare programme. 'Front Sight’s' first phase, which includes training rooms and ranges will be finished by the end of the year and new residents will be welcomed by the end of 2000 Piazza is sensitive to the issue of violence particularly after the Columbine High School massacre and the Atlanta school shootings. But he is adamant that more gun ownership and better training would have stopped the attacks early on. Firstly, these incidents have little to do with firearms. They are problems of parental supervision. The media and other outside influences have a big influence on these kids. But if teachers had been armed and properly trained we would not have seen a massacre at Littleton. Had any adults there been armed with a concealed weapon, it would not have been a six hour siege by two very disturbed individuals.. The problem would have been handled immediately. Lives would have been saved. The Israelis armed their teachers in the 70s after a spate of terrorist attacks and those attacks soon stopped. It is all about restoring the balance. Washington DC is the only place that does not allow any firearms ownership and yet they have the highest murder and violent crime rate. Gun control does not work.

Piazza, 39, has been a gun fan for years, but hit on the idea of fighting back against crime with the idea of a gun-friendly 'safe-haven' after a drive by shooting. His house in the upscale suburb of Aptos, California, was raked by automatic gunfire as a car of youths sped past in a random attack. The former chiropractor became fanatical about guns and took just about every course in gun self-defence he could find. He became one of the top gun instructors in America and set up Front Sight Firearms Training Institute in Bakersfield, California in 1996, which now trains more people in the use of guns than the next competing five centres put together. Then with the cashflow from those classes his dream of the ultimate weapons utopia became a reality. Piazza was attracted to the Nevada desert site, because of the state's friendly firearms laws. Nevada allows citizens to carry concealed weapons and own sub-machine guns. The local police and town hall chiefs are backing the planned project. There has been no local opposition in Nevada, which proudly sees itself as the last remaining pioneer state in the US.

Donna Lamb, the Pahrump Regional Planning Commission secretary who toured the site said: We were impressed with the magnitude of the project. And it seems pretty safe out there in the desert. Tom Riley, a member of the Pahrump County Planning Commission, added: Our planning commissioners are in support of it. Instead of the 19th hole they have the bullet hole. I don't really understand the need for sub-machine gun training. I don't really understand the need for a five-story SWAT tower, either. And I don't understand how they're going to find 177 people to move to the middle of the desert. It strikes me as being ludicrous. I have a problem understanding that concept, but I can't find anything wrong with it from a planning perspective.

But the idea of an openly gun-toting society right in the middle of America brings memories of Waco and redneck Militia compounds. I am frightened by these isolationists and gun fanatic people who want to commune together and promote a life that focuses on guns, said Eric Gorovitz, policy director of the anti gun lobby the Bell Campaign. They are talking about building a culture focused on guns. They will have a school with children growing up in this environment and then those kids will interact with the rest of society and that to me is scary.

This is the secret hideaway home of music legend Frank Sinatra

The lavish mansion has never been seen before even though it is just 11 miles above Ol' Blue Eyes more famous PalmSprings home. Sinatra built the compound in 1968 and named it Villa Maggio, after his Oscar-winning character in From Here To Eternity. He kept it a secret, only inviting the Rat Pack and other close friends to enjoy weekends of wild partying. It contains everything a major star would need from a guest house and heated pool to a tennis court and even a helicopter pad. Now the exclusive home and some of the singer's original furniture and personal items are up for sale for $2.1 million. Photographs of the legend, personal notes and his record collection as well as Sinatra's double bed are still in Villa Maggio. Sinatra used the five acre compound as his main residence from 1969 until the early 70s. He bought his other home in Palm Springs in the mid 50s and spent his time between there and Los Angeles. But it is believed he built Villa Maggio and kept it a secret as somewhere he could spend time away from the glare of the media spotlight. From the mid 70s it became his mountainside retreat, a place he used for entertaining guests at the weekends. Sinatra's friends were flown into Palm Springs by his lear jet and then brought up to the compound by helicopter. They had wild parties at Villa Maggio which boasts a heated pool, spa, tennis court and an outside dance floor. The Rat Pack, including Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jnr, would stay in either the main house or the guest house. When Sinatra had the house built, he had a music system, considered hi tech at the time, built into the main house. But whenever he would put a record on, music would be piped throughout all the buildings on the compound. The music could be heard in the main house, the guest house and the pool house as well as outside by the pool, the dance area and the tennis courts.

The owner said: Frank loved his music and made sure he put in the best stereo system at that time. When he put his favourite music on it would be piped into every room in the main house as well as both the guest house and the pool house. He used to have all sorts of guests over including Dean Martin and his wife and they all had parties around the pool and at the outside dance area. The music was also piped outside for the parties so all the guests could dance and I'm sure some of those parties got really wild. The system still works just as well as it did 30 years ago although you can only play old vinyl albums on it! As well as the original stereo system, there are also a number of other items belonging to Frank still in the house. The current owner bought the house two years ago and has spent much of the time since then restoring the whole complex back to its former glory. The whole compound comprises of the main house with a living room, master bedroom with separate his and her dressing rooms and bathrooms, a further two bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms, kitchen, dining room, laundry room and storage room. There is an attached guest area which has two bedrooms, bathroom and living room with a private deck. The guest house three guest suits with two bathrooms each and a mini kitchen each. The pool house has a main room with two bathrooms, a mini kitchen and two saunas. There is also the heated pool, spa, tennis court, a total of nine fireplaces on the compound and a pit barbeque.

Sinatra gave the house away to a university in the late 70s but it was never utilised. A woman brought in several years later but then sold it on at a profit two weeks later from a Japanese man who had never even seen the house. The compound has never been lived in since Sinatra packed some of his things and left. When the current owner bought the home just over two years ago, it was in such a state of disarray more than 80 per cent of the singer's belongings he'd left behind had to be thrown away because they were rotten. The owner said: No-one had bothered to look after the house, there were mice and rats everywhere, it was disgusting. Unfortunately we had to throw most of the stuff away because it was decaying. It was such a shame because we had to throw a lot of Frank's personal items like clothing. But luckily we did manage to salvage some of his furniture, some art and a few personal items. The owners spent two years restoring the whole compound back to its original glory. They have even kept the typical 60s and 70s orange and tan decor in some of the rooms. The owner said: Orange was Frank's favourite colour and many of the rooms were that colour! He even had the inside of the drawers in the kitchen painted orange as well as orange speckled tiles. We have restored the house, not remodelled it. We wanted to keep it the way Frank had it built.

Some of the original furniture, including Sinatra's bed, his sofa and a chandelier were all salvaged and cleaned up. Sinatra's huge double bed is now in the guest house, along with his backgammon table, a few of his art prints, the chandelier and his living room furniture. The bed is in one room and a secret door in the closet leads to the other room, where the cream-coloured sofa, his dining room furniture, including a magnificent table with 12 chairs is currently in the pool house as the owners have most of their own furniture in the main home. But they have kept more of the personal items in the main house including Sinatra's record collection. These include old 78 records from such greats as Louis Armstrong and even Barbra Striesand. Just off the main living room downstairs in a bedroom with two en-suite bathrooms - one for Sinatra and one for his female guests. In the singer's former bathroom is a rocking chair that belonged to him with a silver plate on it saying Frances Albert Sinatra. And next to the wash basin, hanging on the wall is a picture of Sinatra from the 50s with a typed and signed letter underneath. The letter, dated April 5, 1954, reads: dear lew -- my paison Mr Sinatra is still on cloud nine and the bum refuses to come down -- he's so thrilled he's ridiculous -- i wish i had as many nice friends and relatives as he has -- thanks for making him happy -- Sinatra has then signed the letter in pencil as Maggio. The letter is addressed to Lew Schreiber, the then head of the Twentieth Century film studio and dated two years after he won an Oscar playing Maggio.

Also off the main living room is the kitchen which still has all the original appliances including the industrial sized fridge and freezer and wine cooler. Sinatra also had a food mixer built into the kitchen cabinet which still works. In the kitchen is also a cork board on which Sinatra had listed all the telephone numbers he regularly used. They include 11 restaurants, seven hotels, five airlines and nine medical numbers, including a listing for oxygen. The only items of Sinatra's that the owner have given away are pieces from his art collection. They give them to charities to auction off the raise much-needed money. The owner added: Frank left behind a lot of art work which we packed up. Every few months we give a painting or a piece of art to a charity for them to raise money. We mainly give to animal charities because Frank loved animals as much as we do. The owners have already have 17 offers to buy the property but have turned them all down. Some of the offers came in from people who had never seen the house but wanted to buy it just because it belonged to Frank Sinatra. The owner said: We've had 17 offers but none of them matched the asking price, so we refused. Some people called us to say they wanted to buy it without even looking at it. Everyone wants a piece of Frank and this is the perfect way to live the lifestyle he had. We will be taking some of Frank's things with us when the house is sold but of course everything is negotiable and if someone wanted something in particular I'm sure we could come to an agreement. We don't mind if we sell it in five days or five years. We've loved living in the house and I'm sure whoever buys it will enjoy it as much both we and Frank did.

Los Angeles Office: 225 Santa Monica Blvd. #1010
Santa Monica, California 90401
London Office: 37 Manor Drive, London N.20 ODZ ENGLAND
Phone: 310.917.2666, Fax: 310.917.2668
E-Mail: [email protected]