GRACELAND

Graceland is a large white-columned mansion and 13.8-acre (56,000 m2) estate that was home to Elvis Presley. It is located at 3734 Elvis Presley Boulevard in Memphis, Tennessee in South Memphis' vast Whitehaven community about twelve miles (19 km) from Downtown and less than four miles (6 km) north of the Mississippi border. It currently serves as a museum. It was opened to the public in 1982, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on November 7, 1991 and declared a National Historic Landmark on March 27, 2006.

Presley, who died at the estate on August 16, 1977, his parents Gladys and Vernon Presley, and his grandmother, are buried there in what is called the Meditation Gardens.

History

Graceland was originally owned by S. E. Toof, publisher of the Memphis newspaper, the Memphis Daily Appeal. The grounds were named after Toof's daughter, Grace, who would come to inherit the farm. Soon after, the portion of the land designated as Graceland today was given to a niece, Ruth Moore, who, in 1939 together with her husband Dr. Thomas Moore, had the present American "colonial" style mansion built.

Elvis purchased Graceland in early 1957 for approximately $100,000 after vacating an East Memphis house located at 1034 Audubon Drive. He moved because of privacy and security concerns, and the opposition of neighbors to the enthusiastic behavior of the many fans who slowly cruised by his home.[4] Elvis moved into Graceland together with his father Vernon Presley and his mother Gladys. After Gladys died in 1958, and Vernon married Dee Stanley in 1960, the couple lived there for a time. Wife-to-be Priscilla Beaulieu also lived at Graceland for five years before she and Elvis married.[5] After their marriage in Las Vegas on May 1, 1967, Priscilla lived in Graceland five more years until she separated from Elvis in late 1972.

On August 16, 1977, Elvis died in his bathroom at Graceland allegedly of a heart attack. However, there are conflicting reports as to the cause of his death. According to Peter Guralnick, the singer "had thrown up after being stricken, apparently while seated on the toilet. The author adds that "drug use was heavily implicated in this unanticipated death of a middle-aged man with no known history of heart disease...no one ruled out the possibility of anaphylactic shock brought on by the codeine pills he had gotten from his dentist."[6]

[edit] Architecture and modifications

The mansion is constructed of tan limestone and consists of twenty-three rooms, including eight bedrooms and bathrooms. The entrance way contains several Corinthian columns and two large lions perched on both sides of the portico.

After purchasing the property Presley carried out extensive modifications to suit his needs and tastes, including: a fieldstone wall surrounding the grounds, a wrought-iron music styled gate, a swimming pool, a racquetball court, and the famous "Jungle Room" which features an indoor waterfall, among other modifications. In February and October 1976, the Jungle Room was converted into a recording studio, where Presley recorded the bulk of his final two albums, From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee and Moody Blue; these were his final known recordings in a studio setting.[7]

One of Presley's better known modifications was the addition of the Meditation Gardens, where he, his parents Gladys and Vernon, and grandmother are buried. There is also a small stone placed to remember Elvis' twin brother Jesse Garon who died at birth. The Meditation Garden was opened to the public in 1978. Graceland was officially opened to the public on June 7, 1982.

Graceland grew from 10,266 square feet (953.7 m2) when originally bought by Presley to 17,552 square feet (1,630.6 m2) today. Managers of the complex announced a major renovation project that will include a new visitors center, a 500-room convention hotel and high-tech museum displays. The current visitors center, souvenir shops, the 128-room Heartbreak Hotel, and museums will be torn down and replaced with the new facilities. The project will take approximately 3 years to complete.

[edit] Presley at Graceland

According to Mark Crispin Miller, Graceland became for Elvis "the home of the organization that was himself, was tended by a large vague clan of Presleys and deputy Presleys, each squandering the vast gratuities which Elvis used to keep his whole world smiling." The author adds that Presley's father Vernon "had a swimming pool in his bedroom", that there "was a jukebox next to the swimming pool, containing Elvis's favorite records" and that the singer himself "would spend hours in his bedroom, watching his property on a closed-circuit television."[8] Graceland was Lisa Marie Presley's first official home, and residence after her birth on February the 1st 1968 and her childhood home, although her main state of residence was California where she lived with her mother after she divorced Elvis when Lisa was in elementary school. Every year at Christmas time Lisa Marie Presley and all her family go to Graceland to celebrate Christmas together. Lisa Marie Presley often goes back to Graceland for visits. When she turned 25,[9] Lisa Marie inherited the estate. In 2005 she sold 85 percent of it.

According to Brad Olsen, "Some of the rooms at Graceland testify to the brilliance and quirkiness of Elvis Presley. The TV room in the basement is where he often watched three television sets at once, and was within close reach of a wet bar."[10]

Elvis absolutely felt at home in this place. When he would tour, staying in hotels, "the rooms would be remodelled in advance of his arrival, so as to make the same configurations of space as he had at home – the Graceland mansion. His furniture would arrive, and he could unwind after his performances in surroundings which were completely familiar and comforting," the room in question, 'The Jungle Room' being "an example of particularly lurid kitsch."[11]

The Meditation Gardens, designed and built by architect and designer Bernard Grenadier, has been noted as a preferred place of Elvis in the property, where he often went to reflect on any problems or situations that arose during his life.

According to the singer's cousin Billy Smith, Elvis spent the night at Graceland with Smith and his wife Jo many times: "we were all three there talking for hours about everything in the world! Sometimes he would have a bad dream and come looking for me to talk to, and he would actually fall asleep in our bed with us."[12]

There was some discord between Elvis and his stepmother Dee at Graceland, however, and Elaine Dundy said "that Vernon had settled down with Dee where Gladys had once reigned, while Dee herself - when Elvis was away - had taken over the role of mistress of Graceland so thoroughly as to rearrange the furniture and replace the very curtains that Gladys had approved of." This was too much for the singer who still loved his deceased mother. One afternoon, "a van arrived ... and all Dee's household's goods, clothes, 'improvements,' and her own menagerie of pets, were loaded on ... while Vernon, Dee and her three children went by car to a nearby house on Hermitage until they finally settled into a house on Dolan Drive which ran alongside Elvis's estate."[13]

The book Elvis by the Presleys reveals several details concerning the singer's life at Graceland including his obsessions and passions when staying at home.

[edit] Visits to Graceland

Right side view of Graceland Mansion.
Former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in Graceland

In 1957, Presley invited Richard Williams and Buzz Cason to visit the Whitehaven neighborhood of Memphis, where Graceland is located. They went there in Chester Power's '55 chevy "to get a close look at this mansion Elvis had told us about. ... We proceeded to clown around on the front porch, striking our best rock 'n' roll poses and snapping pictures with the little camera. We peeked in the not-yet-curtained windows and got a kick out of the pastel colored walls in the front rooms with shades of bright reds and purples that Elvis most certainly had picked out."[14]

"In the late 50s, Elvis was fond of claiming that the US government had mooted a visit to Graceland by Nikita Khrushchev, 'to see how in America a fellow can start out with nothing and, you know, make good'. Had the old Cold Warrior taken the trip and then lived to see the King's demise, he might have allowed himself a very Soviet laugh at that." (John Harris)[15]

On June 30, 2006, when US President George W. Bush hosted Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for a tour of the mansion, it became the only residence on American soil other than an Embassy, the White House, or any of the other Presidential retreats to have hosted a joint-visit by a sitting US president and a head of a foreign government.[citation needed] (Koizumi, who served as Prime Minister of Japan from 2001 to 2006, is an avid Elvis Presley fan and even shares Presley's January 8 birthday.)

[edit] Tourist destination

After Elvis Presley's death in 1977, Vernon Presley served as executor of his estate. Upon his death in 1979, he chose Priscilla to serve as the estate executor for Elvis' only child, Lisa Marie who was only 11. Graceland itself cost $500,000 a year in upkeep, and expenses had dwindled Elvis's and Priscilla's daughter Lisa Marie's inheritance to only $1 million. Taxes were due on the property, those and other expenses due came to over $500,000. Faced with having to sell Graceland, Priscilla examined other famous houses/museums, and hired a CEO, Jack Soden from Kansas City, MO to turn Graceland into a moneymaker. Graceland was opened to the public on June 7, 1982. Priscilla's gamble paid off, after only a month of opening Graceland's doors the estate made back all the money it had invested in it. Priscilla Presley became the chairwoman and president of Elvis Presley Enterprises, or EPE, stating at that time she would do so until Lisa Marie reached 21 years of age. The enterprise's fortunes soared and eventually the trust grew to be worth over $100 million.

Elvis's grave at Graceland.

While Graceland was open to tours from 1982, the last person to live in the house was Elvis' aunt Delta, on Elvis' invitation after her husband died. She passed away in 1993.[16]

An annual procession through the estate and past Elvis's grave is held on the anniversary of his death. The largest gathering assembled on the 25th anniversary in 2002. One estimate was of 40,000 people in attendance, despite the heavy rain.

The 20th Anniversary in 1997 had the biggest crowd in Memphis for an Elvis Week. At this time several hundred media groups from around the world were present and the event gained its greatest media publicity as an estimated 50,000 fans visited the city.

The Graceland grounds include a museum containing many Elvis artifacts, like some of his famous Vegas jumpsuits, awards, gold records, the Lisa Marie jetliner, and Elvis's extensive auto collection. Recently Sirius Satellite Radio installed an all-Elvis Presley channel on the grounds. The service's subscribers all over North America can hear Presley's music from Graceland around the clock. Two new attractions have been added, Private Presley and the `68 Special exhibits; these can be found across the street on the plaza. The fieldstone wall that Presley installed is still there, and has several years' worth of graffiti from visitors, who simply refer to it as "the wall"[17].

The Jungle Room, Graceland

Tours of the museums at Graceland are available, though no flash photography or video cameras are allowed inside. There is an audio tour of the Graceland mansion. The upper floor is not open to visitors out of respect for the Presley family and partially to avoid any improper focus on the bathroom which was the site of his death.[citation needed] The upper floor, which also contains Elvis's bedroom, has been untouched since the day Elvis died. Visitors park across the street, boarding shuttle buses to begin the tour of Graceland. Attendants issue headphones, and tourists are individually snapped by a souvenir photographer in front of a painted wall with Graceland's famous music gates. Tour buses drive across Elvis Presley Blvd. through the smallish Music gates. Down the long winding drive the bus stops in front of stone lions that stand watch at the wide red brick front steps. It was behind these lions that over 3500 of Elvis' mourning fans passed by to see his body in its casket. The house is much bigger than expected, photos being of the main part only. A tour guide stands at the closed doors to give a brief history of Graceland starting with the woman (Grace) it was named for and concluding with the fact that Elvis bought Graceland when he was only 22 years old. Finally the door opens to allow entry through the front door where, almost directly overhead, perhaps forever unseen by the public, is where Elvis died, on his bathroom floor.

Upon entering Graceland, the white staircase, filled with reflective mirrors, is directly in front. To the right is the Living Room with the adjoining Music Room, the first room to be presented on the tour. There are guard rails up prohibiting entry to the Living Room and only part of the Music Room can be seen, hidden behind a doorway framed by vivid large peacocks set in stained glass. In this doorway, in front of the stained glass, Elvis' casket was placed for the funeral held in his home. Visible in the Music Room is a black baby grand piano and an old 50's style TV. The Living Room contains a fifteen-foot long white sofa against the wall overlooking Graceland's front yard. To the left is a white fireplace. The painting that was Elvis' last Christmas present from his father, Vernon, hangs in this room. Also displayed are photographs of Elvis' parents Vernon and Gladys, Elvis and Lisa Marie. These rooms are then followed with a walk past the grand staircase to Elvis' parents' room.

In Elvis's parents' bedroom, white is the predominant color. A velvet-looking dark purple bedspread drapes onto the floor at the foot of the queen size bed. The walls, dresser, bed and carpet are bright white, protected from visitors by a guard rail. To the right is the closet, sealed with clear glass showing four or five of dresses Gladys' wore. To the left is a pink full bathroom, almost obscured from sight because of a velvet rope barrier.

Next, the tour takes you into the dining room and the kitchen (which was not open to the public until 1995, as Elvis' aunt Delta used it until her death in 1993)[18] and continues through the basement, where Elvis's media room with its three televisions can be seen. There is also a bar and billiards room. The tour continues upstairs again, through the famous Jungle Room. After the Jungle room, it exits to the backyard, past Lisa Marie's childhood swing set, to a small white building that served as his father's office. Through the office there is a small room containing a scale model of the home he was born in Tupelo, Mississippi. Elvis' shooting range is housed in what used to be an old smokehouse. Down the sloping lawn, past horses grazing behind neat white fences, visitors enter the "Trophy Room". Originally this space was a sidewalk behind the house that Elvis had enclosed to store his many items of appreciation. Just inside is Elvis' famous gold lamé suit from his early years.

The Living Room, Graceland

In the Trophy Room many walls display records, movie posters, old time memorabilia of lipstick and shoes, even a 1950's Elvis doll. Among items there are the three Grammy's Elvis won, Priscilla's wedding dress, Elvis' wedding tuxedo, Lisa Marie's toy chest and baby clothes and the famous hall of Elvis' gold records and awards. The Trophy Room then winds down the halls through a display of his 68 Comeback, featuring his leather suit, his personal copies of his movie scripts, costumes he wore in many of his movies and a few of his trademark jumpsuits. Also in this room are all the awards and distinctions Elvis received and a display of the many canceled checks Elvis wrote to various charities.

Once again outside, the tour moves past his still fully functioning stable of horses. Elvis's Racquetball Court is next, now housing a display of Elvis' sequined "jumpsuits".

Elvis's Lockheed Jetstar on display near Graceland.

The entrance is reminiscent of entering an old country club, expertly built and expensively furnished in dark leather on the numerous bar chairs and sofas. A fully functional bar is on the right. To the left is a sunken sitting area with the ever present stereo system found throughout Graceland. There is also the dark brown upright piano upon which Elvis played for what was to be his last songs , The 1st was Willie Nelson's Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain & the 2nd was The Righteous Brothers "Unchained Melody". Reports conflict about which one was the last song. The sitting area has a floor to ceiling shatter proof window designed to watch the many racquetball games that took place here when Elvis was alive. In the early hours of the morning Elvis died he, his girlfriend Ginger Alden , his first cousin Billy Smith and Billy's wife Jo played a game of racquetball ending the game with the song on the piano before Elvis walked into the main house to wash his hair and go to bed. Today the court has been converted into displays of the majority of Elvis' stage costumes. More costumes are on display across the street in the "Sincerely Elvis" area. Many old vinyl records are hanging in the two story court, including numerous posthumous awards. Big screen TVs are scattered throughout Graceland. In the racquetball court Elvis' movies and recordings of his Las Vegas concerts play continually. Elvis had the swimming pool built after moving to Graceland.

Elvis Presley's Convair 880, "Lisa Marie", named after his daughter

Just past the pool area is the Meditation Garden where Elvis, his mother Gladys, his father Vernon and grandmother Minnie Mae Hood Presley lie buried. A separate building across the street houses a car collection, which includes Elvis' Pink Cadillac and not far away his two planes Lisa Marie (a Convair 880) and Hound Dog II (a Lockheed JetStar) are on display.

[edit] National historic landmark

Graceland was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on November 7, 1991. On March 27, 2006, Gale Norton, United States Secretary of the Interior, designated Graceland a National Historic Landmark—joining the White House, the Alamo, Pearl Harbor Naval Base, Dealey Plaza, and Mount Vernon.[1][3] However, as there are almost 2,500 sites in the United States sharing this designation, the elevation, according to John Harris, "falls slightly short", as such legendary sites also include "the Frederick Bagg Bonanza Farm in North Dakota and Kentucky's Louisville Water Company Pumping Station."[15]

[edit] Recent developments

In early August 2005, Lisa Marie Presley sold 85% of the business side of her father's estate. She kept the Graceland property itself, as well as the bulk of the possessions found therein, and she turned over the management of Graceland to CKX, Inc., an entertainment company that also owns 19 Entertainment, creator of the American Idol TV show.

In February 2006, CKX Chairman Bob Sillerman announced plans to turn Graceland into an international tourist destination on a par with the Disney or Universal theme parks, sprucing up the area mansion and doubling possibly tripling the 600,000 annual visitors to around 2 million a year. Sillerman’s goal is to enhance the "total fan experience" at Graceland to compel visitors to spend more time and money. The company is working with the Bob Weis, the recently named new CEO of Disney Imagineering based in Orlando, Florida, to improve the tourist area around Graceland, which is located in an economically-depressed area of Memphis, while keeping intact the historic home. Graceland officials invision a 3 mile strip of Elvis Presley Boulevard transformed into a beautiful entertainment district from East Brooks RD all the way down to East Shelby Drive. EPE has bought up over 120 acres of land both commercial and residential around the mansion both north and south, everything from apartment complexes, car dealership, a souvenir shop and even some houses in the area to make way for the expansion.

Sillerman, who has been speaking with investors and developers, plans to spend between $250 million to $500 million on redeveloping the area surrounding Graceland. Among his plans are a new luxury hotel of more than 500 rooms and a convention center, an amphitheater for live concerts, restaurants and retail, plus a new 80,000 square foot visitor's center and museum adjacent to the Graceland mansion. 2009 has been set as the target date to begin work on the project but first it has to be approved by the Memphis City Council.

While visitor numbers grew to around 700,000, by 2005, and partly due to the negative impact on US tourism of 9/11, visitor numbers at Graceland had reportedly declined to around 600,000.

[edit] Graceland in pop culture

The title of Paul Simon's album Graceland and the title track was inspired by Elvis's home. The title song, which presents Graceland as a holy place, also won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year a year later. The song "Walking in Memphis" by Marc Cohn features Graceland prominently.

Other references include movies such as Finding Graceland. Presley is the central character appearing as a bearer of spiritual messages.

There are even film titles ironically alluding to Presley's estate and the contemporary Elvis cult practiced there. For example, the movie 3000 Miles to Graceland is about a group of criminals who plan to rob a casino during an international Elvis week, and to make it easier, they are all disguised as Elvis impersonators.

In the TV show Full House, Elvis fan Jesse Katsopolis talked about holding his wedding at Graceland.

On his solo album Undiscovered Soul, Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora entitled a song Fallen from Graceland.

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