Tony Hsieh is gone, but his alpaca has a good home in downtown Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Tony Hsieh’s alpaca, Marley, might not be the first thing people remember about the man hailed as a visionary business leader even after his descent into the depths of using ketamine and nitrous oxide.

But to Steve Spann, Marley is important. Hsieh died in November 2020, but three and a half years later, Marley is in good hands.

“It’s super important to me to honor Tony’s legacy. Like, that’s never going to be my alpaca. That’s always Tony’s, Marley is Tony’s alpaca,” he said recently on a tour of The Doyle, an out-of-the-way events business where Marley has found a home. “My job is simply, I want to honor Tony’s legacy by taking really good care of him.”

In that part of town, Marley is as out of place as The Doyle.

Steve Spann with Marley, left, and Olaf. (Greg Haas / 8NewsNow)

A stone’s throw from the Las Vegas Rescue Mission near the Spaghetti Bowl interchange in downtown Las Vegas, The Doyle is a surprise on many levels. Spann and his wife Mary Ellen (her maiden name: Doyle) run the venue for weddings and events on a spur of Mesquite Avenue — half a road, really — leading east away from N. City Parkway. The flyover ramp from U.S. 95 to southbound Interstate 15 looms to the south. Several of Spann’s “post-consumption social practice” sculptures punctuate the courtyard, with more in the warehouse. But the bobbing heads of jet-black Marley and cream-colored Olaf are by far the biggest points of interest in the neighborhood.

Marley is the alpha, Spann said, and the patch of grass at The Doyle is his turf. He’s behind a stout fence, but at about 4 1/2 feet tall, Marley and Olaf are eye-to-eye with event visitors who come out to see them. They’re right in the mix, participants in the celebrations, but behind the fence.

Olaf and Marley in the yard at The Doyle. (Greg Haas / 8NewsNow)

“If you put Marley in a stall, I think he would go absolutely nuts. He needs interaction with not only animals, but he craves interaction with people,” Spann said. “He loves music, he loves potato chips, he’ll eat a cigarette butt off the ground if you let him. I mean, that’s a Las Vegas downtown alpaca if there ever was one.”

He says Marley is intelligent, and always listening in on conversations. “Tony loved Marley,” Spann said. “He’s really special.”

A state of mind

Why alpacas? “Marley represented to Tony Hsieh a return of innocence. A return of simplicity. A return of the experience of childhood,” Spann said.

He recounted what he remembered of how Hsieh got Marley in the first place. Before he was Tony’s, Marley was in a children’s petting zoo. But he fell in love with alpacas long before that. As a child growing up in the Bay Area, Hsieh would see alpacas when he was riding his bike. “I think when he got Marley it was kind of a return to that,” Spann said.

“Imagine being super-wealthy where you never know what angle people are trying to do. Everybody you meet wants something from you. An alpaca just wants carrots. The simplicity of that,” he said.

Olaf and Marley in the yard at The Doyle. (Greg Haas / 8NewsNow)

Hsieh was a Harvard graduate and CEO at Zappos, the online shoe retailer headquartered in Las Vegas. He inspired those around him and his empire grew, famous for breaking all the rules about traditional workplaces. Amazon acquired Zappos in 2009 for $1.2 billion in a deal that reportedly paid Hsieh $214 million. An earlier venture produced an advertising network called LinkExchange, which was sold to Microsoft in 1998 for $265 million. Hsieh took $40 million from that deal.

In some ways, Marley is different because he was treated like one of the gang at Ferguson’s, Hsieh’s downtown Las Vegas Airstream Trailer Park. Before

In Las Vegas, Hsieh had Marley and another alpaca named Triton. Spann had Olaf and a brown alpaca named Bob Marley. They met, and Tony was obsessed about setting up play dates. Alpacas are pack animals — the more the merrier.

Now, it’s down to Marley and Olaf. Spann is thinking about getting a third alpaca for the mix. Marley is 15 years old. The animals usually live about 20 years, Spann said.

Hsieh’s downward spiral

By the time Hsieh retired in 2020, things had changed. His friends knew about the ketamine and nitrous oxide, and the stories about his behavior were bizarre.

A report by 8 News Now Investigator David Charns details what those friends were seeing in the months before Hsieh’s death in a Connecticut fire.

Spann said there was another red flag.

“When Tony moved to Park City (Utah) and he didn’t bring Marley, I knew something was wrong because he loved Marley,” he said.

Steve Spann at The Doyle. (Greg Haas / 8NewsNow)

“He wanted so much to be connected, but I think a lot of his life he was alone,” Spann said. The social isolation that came when COVID hit in March 2020 sent Hsieh over the edge, he said.

“Toward the end, he would even talk about thinking that he could go into animals. Like towards the end, he was thinking that he had this power to go into animals,” Spann said. Other reports said Hsieh had planned a time machine.

“When everything happened and Tony passed away, so many people have an affinity or a memory — because Marley brings up memories of the past, the past of the heyday with Tony,” Spann said. “I said anyone who wants to come over here, if you want to do yoga, if you want to just have … anybody that misses Tony and wants to hang out with Marley can come over here.”

With a tinge of sadness in his voice, Spann said no one ever took him up on that offer, dismissing it as “everybody grieves in their own way.”

There’s a thread in the conversation with Spann that leads back to his art, and the unique location of The Doyle.

‘Post-consumption’ artwork

“Everything in here is broken. You deal with brokenness,” Spann said as he described the sculpture that’s inside the alpacas’ yard.

The assembly of seemingly random objects spray-painted a light blue requires a little explanation.

Marley looks toward a sculpture that has become The Doyle’s lost and found. (Greg Haas / 8NewsNow)

“And so, if you notice, one of the main pieces of the sculpture is a car bumper. Now that car bumper, somebody got in a wreck on the highway and they threw the car bumper over, and it rolled down. It was like manna from heaven. And so I got up and grabbed it, and now it’s in the sculpture,” Spann said.

“This is also our lost and found at The Doyle. So somebody loses a purse, whatever, if they don’t claim it in a couple weeks, it’s in the sculpture,” he said.

Spann’s sculptures have a common element — rebar pulled out of Jackson Avenue on the Historic Westside of Las Vegas. The street is central to the area’s history, known as the place where Sammy Davis Jr. and Nat King Cole would walk to for a meal or a haircut when segregation was the norm in Las Vegas.

“The concept is if you bring enough brokenness together, like the Westside is a good example. Quite honestly, any neighborhood. You could go into the most wealthy neighborhood, the most challenged neighborhood,” Spann said. “There’s brokenness everywhere. And you put all this brokenness together, it creates something called community, and wholeness. Community brings wholeness.”

The sculptures aren’t just a nod to the community. Spann is out there in it, and his art — “Jackson Street Project” — was exhibited at The Doyle last year.

In February, he finished working on “Across the Tracks,” a documentary about the Historic Westside. Since the documentary’s debut at the Galaxy Theatres Boulevard Mall, he’s been looking for a distribution deal. He was executive producer on the project.

The front of The Doyle events venue on Mesquite Avenue. (Greg Haas / 8NewsNow)

The building that is now The Doyle has a long history. It’s designated as a Historic Site on the City of Las Vegas Historic Property Register (listed as Mesquite Wood, LLC). The building was purchased from the Union Pacific Railroad Company in 1954 by Robert J. and Eva Mae Kaltenborn.

Spann said Kaltenborn was among the leaders who decided to market Las Vegas as a place for weddings.

And now, that building is often the site of weddings — so maybe The Doyle is exactly where it’s supposed to be.

Alpacas and kids

On Wednesday, Marley and Olaf got out of the yard on a warm spring afternoon. Spann led them down Mesquite Avenue a ways as his daughter Maye and a neighbor roller skated. When the alpacas are out in public like that, it turns a lot of heads, he said.

He’s gotten loose a few times — and stopped traffic in the process — but he’ll come right back for a carrot.

When you look at an alpaca, negative thoughts tend to blow away. They’re friendly. And when their ears move, their expression is almost whimsical. Marley and Olaf are a joy to visitors. And moreso to kids.

Steve Spann with his daughter, Maye, and the two alpacas at The Doyle. (Greg Haas / 8NewsNow)

Marley is territorial about his yard, and adults who get too close sometimes get a surprise when he spits at them. Usually, it’s just grass or whatever he’s been eating. No harm. Just back up a step or two, or reach for another carrot. But it can be a lot worse if there’s no food in his stomach — then it’s bile.

Olaf is “a perfect gentleman,” Spann said. He never spits.

Funny thing — Spann said Marley almost never spits at kids who are at The Doyle for an event.

“At every event we have, at least five kids that have never seen an alpaca before, and they’re just amazed by it,” Spann said. It brings a smile to his face.

That wonder of getting to see a creature you never knew about — it goes back to the question of why Tony Hsieh ever decided to get one in the first place. That childhood experience translates across the years, and Steve Spann is bringing it to a new generation. Seeing how kids react to Marley is part of how he honors his old friend.

Original News Source Link – KLAS

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