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VOL. 128 | NO. 160 | Friday, August 16, 2013

Beyond Graceland

Elvis fans look elsewhere for signs of singer’s Memphis life

By Bill Dries

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Graceland – the Whitehaven mansion and the artifacts in it – is not for sale.

But 85 percent of Elvis Presley Enterprises, the corporation that operates Graceland and owns the rights to the entertainer’s image, royalties and publishing on his music, is for sale as another Elvis Week reaches its end.

Shelia Clark from Little Rock, Ark., signs the wall in front of Graceland during Elvis Week festivities. Fans traveling to Memphis are looking for more Elvis attractions beyond the mansion.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Lisa Marie Presley, the daughter of the entertainer who died at Graceland 36 years ago, on Friday, Aug. 16, responded immediately to a reporter earlier this month that hip-hop superstar Kanye West was interested in buying the house.

Via her Twitter account, @LisaPresley, she responded two weeks ago: “As I have said b4 Graceland and all of its artifacts are all mine and always will b,” she tweeted.

The 2013 Elvis Week marks the sixth year that a majority percentage of Elvis Presley Enterprises has been either in a holding pattern or for sale.

Robert Sillerman and his company, CKX Inc., bought the 85 percent share of the business in 2005.

Plans for a $250 million expansion followed in 2007 just before the national recession hit and Sillerman struggled to keep the plan alive in some form.

Elvis Presley Enterprises bought several apartment complexes in the area of the mansion and demolished them. The company’s plan was to transform a complex on the same side of Elvis Presley Boulevard as Graceland into the starting point for mansion tours. That would have left the plaza area across the street open for development, including several hotels, a performance center and restaurants and other resort-type retail.

CKX, which includes the American Idol television franchise, was bought in 2011 by Apollo Global Management, an asset management and equity firm that has since changed its name to CORE Media.

The Financial Times reported in May that CORE has hired Raine Group LLC to handle a possible sale of its majority interest in Elvis Presley Enterprises as well as its stake in Muhammad Ali Enterprises. Neither CORE nor Graceland has responded.

Meanwhile, visitors to Graceland, who in many cases weren’t born when Presley died, are increasingly looking for a larger context of Elvis’ life here.

The first time Andrea Shaw and Alan Grossman of New York City came to Memphis it was to check off an item on their bucket list.

“Years ago we got a Priceline ticket to Memphis for $49. We could spend 36 hours here,” Shaw said. “We went to Graceland, Beale Street and Sun Studio. We figured we could just check Memphis off our list of places to visit.”

Then Peter Guralnick’s definitive two-volume biography of Presley – “Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley” and “Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley” – came out and they found numerous references to other locations.

“We came down assuming you could find a map or a guidebook like those Hollywood maps,” Shaw said. “And there was nothing. So we started doing research.”

The research over three years resulted in Shaw and Grossman returning to Memphis this year with their “Memphis Map for Elvis Fans.”

Many of the sites are no longer standing, and memories of those around in the Memphis of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s vary as to where those buildings were.

For Shaw, the most elusive site was the old Palumbo Café where Presley met Tom Parker, his longtime manager, for the first time.

“It is across from Ellis Auditorium. I knew that from the books. I had to go to city directories from that year and find the address,” Shaw said.

The café stood on land that is now the northern border of the Civic Center Plaza on North Main Street.

With three weeks until the map went to the printer, Sue Mack, who was helping Shaw and Grossman, found a picture of the café.

“It was like the holy grail for me,” Shaw said.

For Grossman, there was what seemed to be an easier task – tracking down the store where Presley bought the furniture in the Jungle Room at Graceland.

“Any number of experts told us it’s over here or it’s over there,” he said. “It was only at the end that Sue Mack … located a receipt from the store. … That was one of the things that bedeviled us for a long time.”

The map prompted Elvis fans to swarm them at Humes High School Tuesday during the unveiling of a historic marker outside the school.

For now they have no plans to digitize the map. They see more value in something a person can hold and get a perspective on Memphis as they go deeper than Graceland.

“What we discovered was that Elvis fans didn’t have to see Elvis as I did as a kid on the Ed Sullivan show,” Grossman said. “We also discovered Memphis and that Memphis is a city that has more than just Elvis – its music.”

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