at home with elvis


Although Graceland was the home that was closest to Elvis' heart, there are other places he lived that were important in his life. To understand Graceland's significance to Elvis, you have to go back to the beginning and consider the other places he had lived.

He was born in a 15-by-30-foot shotgun shack in Tupelo, Mississippi. Built by Vernon with help from his father, Jessie, and brother, Vester, in 1934, the house still stands after 60-plus years of enduring the elements, floods and the occasional tornado. It has two perfectly square rooms, only 450 square feet altogether, with a tiny porch in front. Vernon borrowed $180 for supplies from local landowner Orville Bean to build the house. It has since been restored into a dollhouse-like cottage with fresh paint, curtains, and landscaping, but when Elvis lived here it was considerably more primitive. They burned oil lamps for light, pumped water by hand, and used an outhouse. While Vernon was in prison for forgery, Gladys was evicted when she was unable to keep up with the house payments. This humble beginning instilled in Elvis the profound need for a home that he couldn't be thrown out of. Elvis was known to drive down to Tupelo in the middle of the night and park near the house with his lights out and stare at that shack in wonder. The fact that this house could fit into his living room at Graceland would never cease to amaze him.

Another important home in Elvis' life was the apartment at Lauderdale Courts, a public housing complex built in 1938 as part of Roosevelt's New Deal that offered subsidized housing to families making less than $3,000 a year. The Presleys paid $35 a month for apartment 328, a two-bedroom, first-floor apartment at 185 Winchester. This is where Elvis lived for most of his formative high school years. Beale Street, and its many influences on his personal style and music, was within walking distance. It was here, more or less, that Elvis became Elvis. Elvis would sit on the steps and sing and play the guitar. These walls witnessed Elvis rehearsing for his dream. It gave him a stable home for three years straight, the longest he and his family had ever stayed in one place up until then. When the Presley income increased, they were forced to leave on January 7, 1953. It was yet another home they were forced out of, ironically this time for a slight rise in the family's fortunes. The Courts were scheduled for demolition in 1997 but were saved by organized fan action. The fight is still being waged to preserve Lauderdale Courts and so far the people who want to preserve this landmark are winning.

Within only three years of leaving public housing, the Presleys moved to another important home in their saga. On May 11, 1956, with the money from his first movie deal, Elvis bought his first house on 1034 Audubon Drive in a tree-lined upper-middle-class neighborhood. It was a pastel green wood-frame ranch-style house with black shutters, brick trim, and a gray tile roof. It had a patio in the back and a carport for Elvis' growing collection of vehicles. It was an up-to-the-minute American suburban dwelling of its time and that time was the 1950s. This is the house where Elvis lived when he achieved stardom. It was in the living room of this house that his parents watched his Ed Sullivan appearances while most of the rest of America did also. Although they lived here less than a year, the house was well documented by the photographer Alfred Wertheimer who accompanied Elvis from one of his Ed Sullivan appearances in New York back home to Memphis. He shot 3,800 black and white photos, many of them taken in this house. Those images of a young and still-innocent Elvis show him enjoying the first fruits of his success and sharing it with his parents. A photo of Gladys handing Elvis a freshly ironed pair of underwear as he prepares for a concert is one of the more memorable shots.

Elvis spent much of his time on the road that year. While he was traveling he would often buy a lamp or something else for the house and bring it back to Gladys. She wanted Elvis to spend more time at home and, perhaps impressed by his flair for home decorating, suggested he settle down and open a furniture store. He had a huge swimming pool and changing room put in behind the house. And to pamper his mother, he even bought two deluxe Mixmasters, one for each end of the kitchen so Gladys wouldn't have to walk too far.

As Elvis' stardom increased, the house became overrun with fans and visitors. Venders sold popcorn in the street. Even when Elvis wasn't there fans knocked on the door to ask if they could have some water from the pool or blades of grass from the lawn. Eventually, Elvis' neighbors resented the disruption of their peaceful suburban existence. They were said to be upset by Gladys hanging her wash on the line in the backyard and the stream of "hillbilly" relatives. They tried to buy Elvis' house and, maybe in defiance of being told to leave yet another home, he offered to buy their houses instead. Finally Elvis conceded that he needed more privacy anyway and made the last move of his life, to Graceland. Today, the Audubon house is owned by Mike Freeman and Cindy Hazen, Elvis fans and authors of The Best of Elvis and Memphis Elvis-Style. They are in the process of affectionately restoring Elvis' first home to its 1950s Elvis-just-stepped-out-for-a-spin condition.

In 1967, Elvis was driving through the countryside about 10 miles away from Graceland over the Mississippi border, when he spotted a 50-foot-high concrete cross in a distant pasture and fell in love with the place. This inspired him to purchase the property, a 163-acre ranch called Twinkletown Farms, and finally satisfy his desire for a place truly out in the country. He renamed it the Circle G Ranch and moved his entourage, their families, and his horses there. He bought dozens of mobile homes and a fleet of pickup trucks and tractors and tried to turn the place into a commune. For him, it was a perfect retreat from Hollywood and he was thrilled to move back to Mississippi. The peacefulness and back-to-nature activities soothed him. Elvis enjoyed his time at the ranch riding horses in God's country, as he called it. He enjoyed it so much, he didn't want to leave; he spent many happy days playing cowboy with his friends. Elvis and Priscilla spent part of their honeymoon there, preferring to stay in one of the mobile homes instead of the main house. It is speculated that Lisa Marie may have been conceived in that mobile home. Privacy again became an issue and Elvis was forced to build a 10-foot-high wooden fence around the property to keep the fans at bay. He ended up selling the ranch two years after the purchase when he grew tired of it and it had become too much of a financial burden.

Elvis had some homes on the West Coast that were also of note. For most of the sixties he divided his time between his Graceland and California. For the most part, his homes in Hollywood were bachelor pads that functioned as hotels. He lived in five different houses in the hills of Hollywood. He lived at 565 Perugia Way from 1960 until 1965 with the exception of the summer of 1963 when he briefly moved to a different house for a few months and then returned. It was in this house, that had once belonged to the Shah of Iran, that Elvis played host to the Beatles on August 27, 1965. This place, witness to that amazing event in pop music history, was demolished in 1990 and a new home was built in its place.

In 1965, Elvis moved to 10550 Rocca Way and lived there until 1967. It was a one-story ranch that now has been remodeled into a stately Tudor. In 1967, Elvis bought his first house in Los Angeles on 1174 Hillcrest Road in the Trousdale Estates section of Beverly Hills. Even today people scrawl messages on the iron gate of this house. It's become a sort of West Coast Wall of Love. In late 1967, Elvis and Priscilla moved to 144 Monovale Drive in Holmby Hills. Elvis made his last six films during the time he lived in this house. This is also where he lived when made the famous "68 Comeback Special." After the divorce, Priscilla lived here and Elvis returned to Hillcrest.

After being introduced to Palm Springs by the Colonel, who owned a residence there, Elvis would often retreat from Hollywood to one of his two houses in that desert resort. In 1965, Elvis commissioned a 15-room house to be built at 845 Chino Canyon Road. This was the only house that Elvis actually had built. In 1967, he also briefly leased a 5,000-square-foot futuristic house on a cul de sac at 1350 Ladera Circle. It was here that Elvis spent his wedding night with Priscilla and for that reason this house has been nicknamed the Honeymoon Hideaway.

All these other homes notwithstanding, it's the Graceland/Elvis association that is inextricable. No other celebrity is so closely identified with one specific home and it's because of this that Graceland has become as important to his fans as it was to Elvis, and a palpable connection to him. It was a real home and there was plenty of life in it. A home like any other--with Easter eggs hunts; monkeying around with friends on the back lawn; cozy, good meals at the kitchen table; harmonizing around the piano. Elvis lived here and this is what you feel when you're there. That Graceland is open to visit is one of the many perks that EPE has provided for Elvis' fans. If you can make it there, by all means, go.

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Within four years time Elvis moved from a public housing project to his mansion on the hill. In less time than that, in only three years, he was able to buy a house for his mother on Audubon Drive. Every day, we imagine him in this house--in our house-- grabbing a bite to eat in the kitchen, horsing around with his friends, kissing his mother goodnight. His life that year, in may ways, was as ordinary as our own, filled with family, friends, and common activities, but it was filled with unlimited possibility too. The evidence of how extraordinary his life was in the little things: Gladys's modern appliances, a kitchen stereo speaker, star-shaped lights in the game room, the added third bath. Elvis was constantly improving the house and making it his own, and his family's, as if he intended to live here forever. He might have if fame hadn't intervened. He became too famous for this serene little neighbourhood and before long he moved to Graceland which became his refuge. For us, Audubon Drive was his dream. And now it is ours too, to keep alive and preserve for the future."

--Cindy Hazen and Mike Freeman, authors of The Best of Elvis: Recollections of a Great Humanitarian about their home, Elvis' first- purchased home.

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