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September 22, 2014

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Homer comes home to Henderson

America's first family has had a busy decade. The head of the household traveled with a freak show, orbited the Earth and entered the fourth dimension. Mom performed in a musical version of "A Streetcar Named Desire," flirted with high society and served time in prison. The kids gained (and lost) worldwide notoriety, hobnobbed with the rich and famous and became freaks of science on more than one occasion.

No, not the Kennedys.

"The Simpsons", the satirical, animated clan who put the phrases "Doh!" and "Eat my shorts" into the national vernacular, are celebrating their 10th year on television. And in true Simpson fashion, the producers of the show are doing the unexpected - recreating the family's two-story domicile right down to the throw rugs. Builder Kaufman & Broad has taken the 724 Evergreen Terrace address out of two dimensions and cast it in three, placing it smack dab in the middle of Henderson, Nev., in a housing development appropriately called "Springfield."

Construction is nearly complete. About all that's left to do is paint, carpet and furnish. Then, they'll fire up the Pepsi-Cola promotional engine that will award the house to some fortunate soul, And, of course, to throw a Saturday-morning party for the neighborhood complete with breakfast, cartoons and some unfortunate employees in broiling-hot Homer, Marge, Lisa and Bart costumes.

"This way," a Kaufman & Broad representative encouraged the seven-foot-tall Marge costume. "Who's in there, anyway?" It could be anyone, from the executive level down. The Kaufman & Broad representatives are visibly thrilled about this construction - a fitting, quirky monument to their 40th anniversary. For a company whose CEO Bruce Karatz once built a model home on top of a Parisian shopping mall, that's saying a lot.

The soon-to-be Simpson neighbors were out in force this sunny Saturday. Ecstatic children in pajamas and fuzzy character slippers run around the front yard. The residents of this Springfield are even more animated than the citizens of the "real" one.

"The neighbors are really excited about this," Kaufman & Broad spokeswoman Melissa Robinson said. "They can't wait for it to be finished." It won't be hard to discern when that day arrives. The exterior of the 2,222 square-foot house will be painted "safety orange, with green awnings," Robinson said with a mischievous grin.

As it turns out, that may be the least of the surprises this house has to offer. Entering, one has to take caution not to walk directly into the fairly steep staircase and the banister that Bart slides down every morning on his way to school.

"We made this extra-strong," Robinson said, giving the banister a solid pat.

The rooms are somewhat small and uncommonly vertical. Doorways are extra-wide and arched, to accommodate Marge's hair and Homer's girth. Walls will be painted in bright colors and shaded to duplicate the cartoon's style. When possible, furnishings and accents, including Marge's corn-print curtains in the kitchen, are being faithfully reproduced. (Robinson notes that the color of the Simpson's refrigerator alone changed seven times over the years. The residents will have to paint the fridge themselves.)

"Our people watched 56 episodes of 'The Simpsons,' over the course of a weekend," Robinson said. "One thing they found out, early on, was that (the house) was structurally unsound."

"No load-bearing walls anywhere," agreed Joseph Leas, the local director of construction. "They never show closets (on the show); they were a complete mystery."

"We did a lot of work," Robinson continued. "Although a cartoon house, it meets all building codes, all standards. This is a quality Kaufman & Broad home. We haven't skimped on the quality, because a family is going to live here eventually."

Let's get this straight... you watched 56 episodes of The Simpsons in a row? "We took a crash course," Robinson smiled. "It was kind of like a Berlitz language course. We were completely immersed." Any ill effects afterward? Drooling?

"Yeah, and lack of language skills."

That communication breakdown didn't hamper Kaufman & Broad in the long run. The house communicates a wacky, two-dimensional world flawlessly, yet still manages to be modern, charming and distinct. Unlike its inked counterpart, this house will have an air-conditioned garage, burglar alarm and America's most cartoonish metropolis at its doorstep. Robinson estimates market value of the house at $150,000, even with the bustle of Las Vegas just a donut's throw away.

"We're going to put the oil spots down on the garage floor, from (Homer's) leaky car," Leas said. "We've got the barbecue out back, the patio slab, everything down to the mailbox."

The house will even have an antenna on its roof, despite the fact that the house -- unlike Homer's -- is cable-ready. So detailed is this other world, it's easy to forget that the actual Simpsons won't live here. Its first resident may look like one of them after drinking an unhealthy amount of Pepsi, but the animated stars of the show will remain in their world.

Or so we think. The lines between fantasy and reality blur considerably when the Homer, Marge, Lisa and Bart line up in front of the house for a photo. Four employees of Kaufman & Broad sweat buckets inside the heavy foam costumes, as children cheer wildly and dance around in their pajamas. Their parents stand by, beaming.

It's obvious that Henderson will love The Simpsons. But how much will The Simpsons love Henderson?

Robinson is optimistic.

"I think Homer's going to be spending a lot of time at Sam's Town (Hotel and Casino)," Robinson said. "In fact, I think I saw him there last night."

Well, there goes the neighborhood.

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