Friday, 18 January 2008
Is local Presley estate next Graceland?
With legal battle behind him, new owner reveals plans for future
Katie Ruark • The Desert Sun • January 17, 2008
( Originally published August 11, 2007 )
PALM SPRINGS - If a local man has his way, fans soon will be able to see where Elvis kicked off his blue suede shoes.
The King's Palm Springs home is being revamped to become a tourist attraction. The Elvis Estate - one of only two homes the King owned when he died in 1977 - is free from legal battles and wants to rock fans as the next Graceland.
"I want this to be Elvis of California," said Reno Fontana, who won ownership of the home in November with his wife, Laura Whittier Fontana.
That could be good news for Palm Springs tourism.
"I get asked probably six times a day to see the inside of the Elvis house," said Bill Davis, owner of Celebrity Tours in Palm Springs.
"In fact, last week I had a woman from Poland, and all she could say was: 'inside Elvis house,'" he said. "People want to see what's inside."
More than 600,000 people visit the Graceland mansion in Memphis annually - making it one of the five most-visited home tours in the United States and the most famous home in America after The White House, according to Elvis Presley Enterprises.
Elvis already has a place in Palm Springs' history and a presence in its tourism industry.
The Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway, at 1350 Ladera Circle, brought in 600 guests for this year's Elvis Weekend. The three-day event celebrating Elvis and Priscilla Presley's honeymoon in Palm Springs enticed a woman to travel all the way from England, according to Leonard Lewis, the hideaway's caretaker.
"There are Elvis fans of all ages that go places other than Graceland," said Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism spokesman Jim Dunn. "He's always had that following."
What you'll find
Elvis and Priscilla Presley bought the home at 845 W. Chino Canyon Road for $85,000 in April 1970. The Presleys and their young daughter, Lisa Marie, lived there part time.
When the two divorced in 1972, Priscilla signed over the home to Elvis with a quitclaim deed. After his death, Elvis' personal lawyer, who represented him during his divorce, took control of the estate.
Visitors won't find a jungle room, Elvis's animal-themed play room in Graceland. The five-bedroom home with a pool and stunning eastern views surprisingly is understated. The most outrageous part - if one can even call it that - is a sunken tub with red-and-black tiles in one of the seven bathrooms.
Today, if someone knocks on the door, Fontana will show them around the house for free.
There's no furniture, yet. When it's decorated - in the King's style - formal tours will be given for a fee.
For a lifelong, "unashamed fan" like Fontana, having a connection to the King is special.
"The first time I heard an Elvis song was Dec. 24, 1961," Fontana recalled. "It was 'Blue Hawaii' at my grandparents' house for a Christmas dinner."
When the house came up for sale, he bought it "site unseen."
"We may have our names on the deed, but we are the caretakers," he said. "This house belongs to Elvis fans around the world."
Other plans for Elvis Estate
But Fontana is also a businessman hoping to capitalize on a home that very few have seen - and hard fought for recently.
A chapel, lagoon, banquet hall, pool and recording studio are in the works so the house can be used for weddings, parties and making more music, he said.
Palm Springs City Manager David Ready said plans have not been submitted but would need to meet the zoning ordinance codes for the residential area.
"We look forward to his proposal, but it must be in compliance," Ready said.
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