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August 17, 2007

Elvis Presley House

I visited the Elvis Presley house at 845 West Chino Canyon Road in Palm Springs yesterday, as they were having an open house in recognition of the 30th anniversary of Elvis' death. The current owner, Reno Fontana, who led me on the tour throughout much of the house, started out by asking when & how I became an Elvis fan. I had prepped myself for this, because I am certainly NOT an Elvis fan, but I knew such an answer would not be acceptable. On my Sirius radio, the Elvis channel is one I have blocked, along with hiphop channels, Roman Catholic channels, and Spanish language news channels. I gave him a smilingly vague answer that wasn't a lie, but was found to be acceptable. My secret mission was to discover if the words "Elvis Presley" would generate more traffic to my site than the word "nude." Of course, I've screwed that up now by inserting the N word.

The history of the house is that it was designed by Albert Frey and built about 1950 for the Jergens family (THE Jergens). After them, it was owned by the McDonalds (the burger family, not the farmers). And then in 1970, Presley. After Elvis' death, Priscilla owned the house, but couldn't afford to keep it. She sold it to Frankie Valli. Valli eventually sold it to a wealthy Japanese Elvis fan for $2.5 million. In the years that the Japanese fan owned it, he resided in it for only about 3 months, because he discovered he had a fear of flying. He put it on the market in 2003 using a Los Angeles real estate agency who obviously didn't know what they were doing. The house was marketed for three months in Los Angeles without a nibble. They then turned to an agent in Palm Springs who sold it almost immediately to Fontana and a partner for only $1.25 million. But the house had been virtually without maintenance the entire time that the Japanese fan owned it. Last year, Fontana bought out his partner and began on a course to develop the house into a major attraction.

He plans to rehab and restore the property, keeping as much of Elvis in it as possible, but he does not intend to return it to a museum quality duplicate of the house Elvis had in 1977. Instead, he says, he plans to decorate in a way he thinks Elvis might have, if he had lived out a full life. Priscilla will be involved in the restoration and development.

He also plans to add facilities on an undeveloped bit of desert behind the house that is part of the property. Part of that development is underground parking big enough for tour buses and a large number of cars. Chino Canyon Road which is not much more than a one-lane road, will be widened as part of the construction of one of those infamous gated communities on the previously untouched Chino cone across the street. Fontana also said he visualized carving a bust of Elvis in a foothill of Mt. San Jacinto that looms up behind the property, a la Mt. Rushmore. He may have been joking, as he gestured at the hillside where I know the northern end of the North Lykken trail goes. But before I could share my pessimism on that project he said an alternative would be a laser projection of Elvis on the hillside every night. That's the sort of thing I could smile and nod, saying "Yes, you might be able to pull that off," while thinking to myself "Not if WE have anything to say about it!" Might be time for the Sierra Club to set up one of its robotic big horn sheep on that hillside.

The website for the house is here. It launches with flash, and plays continuous Elvis music, and a lot of the pages are incomplete.

But the big excitement for all you gay men (and others, too, probably) is that both Bravo and TLC are negotiating for the rights to film the repair and rehab work. Fontana says it will go to the higher bidder. The work and filming will be done this autumn, and the resulting programs will be shown in Spring 2008 during a sweeps week. That could be pretty fun, especially if his contractors' behavior is consistent with the infamous reputation of so many contractors in Coachella Valley. There could be hundreds of hours of video of sitting and waiting for someone to show. And when the city inspectors come by, don't you think that Mayor Oden will find an excuse to tag along? He's been getting himself in front of a lot of cameras recently.

Fontana says he contacted the 32 neighbors who live within 1,000 feet of the house. Twenty-nine of them signed a statement supporting his plans, and the other three will not be a problem, he said. Those 29 have been promised one free night of use of the house every two years. I'm sure that means each household gets it for one night, not that all 29 households have to coordinate some sort of hellish indoor block party. Fontana tells me that the city views his project very favorably and he expects it to sail along.

My set of photos of the Elvis Presley house are here and below are a few samples. I know many of you will be asking where the bathroom photos are. That was the one spot where we were told we couldn't photograph. Elvis had two bathrooms opening off of his bedroom. His own bath was done in red and black tile with a sunken bathtub, pretty much standard size, except for being sunken. A standard toilet. The other guest bathroom had a small shower with a narrow door that Army Elvis could have used, but not 1970s Elvis. It was done in red and black tile.

Elvis Presley's Bedroom (5992)Elvis Presley Jacuzzi Cover (5968)Elvis Presley Sauna (5979)
Elvis Presley Palm Springs Studio (5976)Elvis Presley Pool (5986)Elvis Presley Palm Springs House (5995)

I had expected tremendous congestion for the tour, but I was able to drive right up to the house. Most of the cars parked out front belonged to the owner's family or other people helping out. I remarked that I was surprised at the lack of a crowd, but Fontana told me it had been a very busy morning and I had been fortunate to arrive during a lull (about 1:30 PM). Shortly after we started our tour, a family visiting from New Jersey joined us. I asked why New Jerseyites would visit Palm Springs in August. They said they had come in August a couple of years ago for a wedding and loved it, so they returned. Their only complaint was that there was not much to do, so they were very happy to read about the Elvis Presley open house in the newspaper. After our tour ended (which may have lasted as much as an hour), I saw two or three other people had arrived and were waiting to start a tour.

Filed under Architecture,Coachella Valley,Music,Photography | permalink | August 17, 2007 at 12:29 PM

Comments

oops forgot, please email me SW at pselvis1@yahoo.com. Also, I'm not sure who said the black and white room was used as his bedroom, we never say that. It was built for his karate practice and entertainment room.

Posted by: Laura at Dec 17, 2009 8:54:17 PM

I would so like to get in touch with SW who blogged on Feb 17, 2009. My husband Reno and I own the house and would love to hear your stories and are in hopes that you have pictures. Were doing the best we can to make it beautiful for the fans. There are 320 rose plants that surround the estate and yes it will be turned into a museum. Hello to my friend Sue L.

Posted by: Laura at Dec 17, 2009 8:52:08 PM

Soozi Q, have you tried Googling for it? It was pretty easy to find this page that says the address was 565 Perugia Way, Bel Air.

Posted by: Ron's Log at Sep 13, 2009 9:35:08 AM

I found this log whilst searching for the address in LA of the house Elvis had the Beatles come to. This log was really interesting and informative, I wonder what the update on these plans are?

I'm not an Elvis fan as such either, but rather an admirer. Even more so since visiting Memphis, Graceland and his other house in Memphis as well. It has led me on this search.

I know many Elvis fans though and most are as ardent and vehement as Sue L is. I just wish she could appreciate that everyone is entitled to their own opinion of the place, the person, the life of Elvis.

Ron's log was very entertaining and easy reading, and I hope it gets updated.

In the meantime, if anyone knows the house number of the house in Perugia Way, LA, I'd very much appreciate it.

Long live the music!!!

Posted by: Soozi Q at Sep 13, 2009 12:28:36 AM

I spent many vacations with Elvis in the "Springs". There are more stories than you can possibly imagine! One thing that has disturbed me for years... and that is this "business" of the room with the" black and white tile" being Elvis' bedroom. I was last in the home in 1975 and to THAT day Elvis did not use that as his bedroom. His room was the last bedroom down the hallway (with the levalour windows) on the West side of the house (Mountain side). There was a closet with a sliding door as you entered and the bathroom to the right. So, unless he used the black and white room after early 75, he never did. And THAT should be duly noted!

Posted by: SW at Feb 17, 2009 12:09:21 AM

thanks for your explanation about the remarks. if you weren't direct, i can only imagine when you are. making sure you skip over his radio station, and you say i misunderstood your comments about the bathroom door -- similar remarks are made elsewhere on the 'net so it seems reasonable for me to add your observation to the wrong category. i m sensitive when it comes elvis. pardon me.

and yes, i remember that bathroom door. perhaps i don't accurately remember the narrowness of it. it's been a year since i was there.

yes, i'm surprised i don't have the latest news. the fontanas are not that communicative by email or by phone. perhaps they are too busy. other fans have visited recently and shared their stories on elvis chat areas and that's how i find out things about this house. unfortunately.

i consider them friends because i am able to email with them occasionally. when i visited last may, we spent a lot of time together at the house and i thought they were very gracious hosts. we had a lot to talk about and it wasn't just casual conversation.

it's unfortunate that their website hasn't been touched in over a year and no regular information is broadcasted in any manner throughout the elvis world. i remain hopeful that they will get a good webmaster.

the last update i got was when the open room with the black and white tile was changed into a recording studio.

it looks like i just have to show up one day to find out what's going on. in the meantime, i am going to have to depend on visitors like you to put their experiences on the internet.

again, i thank you very much for that.

Posted by: Sue L at Mar 6, 2008 8:08:12 AM

I never said I disliked Elvis. If my intent had been to perpetuate some negative, nasty views I would have made that clear.

I didn't say anything about a narrow bathroom door. I did point out that the shower door in the guest bathroom would have been too narrow for him. Perhaps you don't recall the nonstandard, narrow door. I couldn't fit through it and I'm not as big as Elvis was.

If you are indeed friends with the owners, I'm surprised you have to come to my weblog to find out his plans. I would expect you to give us an update on the progress of the work.

Posted by: Ron's Log at Mar 3, 2008 2:44:52 PM

beautiful photos. i am very happy to see them. and your article was very informative.

however,
i can appreciate you not being an elvis fan, but the remark of the 70s elvis not being able to fit into the narrow bathroom door was uncalled for. you are going along with the mistaken view of elvis the last few months before his death in '77 (not the whole decade!) and you don't know the truth. (i saw him several times in person-up close). i m sure you don't care because you dislike elvis, so you'd rather perpetuate the negative view because that is the easier and nastier thing to do.

moving on...

i am friends with the owners and i am distressed that they would change the house to be any different than how it was in 1977. i visited the house when the japanese owner had it and ignoring the upkeep it needed, the house was a terrific place to visit. i appreciated it as an elvis fan and also as a wonderful timepiece of when and where it was built. i love ranch style homes. and it was easy to imagine many fun times in that house when elvis lived there.

some of the ideas planned *are* over the top, in my opinion, and i am very glad you found out this information. i don't want those ideas in place either, if i can help it! :) i feel it should have a museum quality to it and not a party vacation house. but, i don't own the house...

all in all, i am glad i found your story and pictures.

ignorant comment notwithstanding.

Posted by: Sue L at Mar 3, 2008 10:19:46 AM

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