Elvis Presley’s fans have long made nostalgic pilgrimages through the colorful rooms of Graceland in Memphis, Tenn., and his unassuming birthplace in Tupelo, Miss. However, the singer’s ardent admirers on the West Coast now have three attractions much closer to home.
Certainly, Presley left his mark in Las Vegas in the 1960s and 1970s, reviving his career there with what came to be known as ’68 Comeback Special and sold-out appearances at the then-modern International Hotel. Yet, his contemporary fans would be lonesome tonight if they sought any trace of the magnetic entertainer now — unless they checked out Viva Elvis, a dazzling new Cirque du Soleil production in the Aria Resort and Casino that brings his Sin City legacy back to life.
Viva Elvis deserves immense credit for keeping Presley’s own distinctive voice intact. The invigorating remixes occasionally incorporate hip-hop and urban influences, but the stage is not filled with Elvis impersonators. Indeed, the only male voice you hear during the show is Presley’s. Although all four female soloists deliver, it’s the marvelous choreography that most successfully brings out the sensuality of the music. It would be hard to find a more erotic performance in all of Vegas than the up-close-and-personal acrobatic dance during “Suspicious Minds.”
This eye-popping production is sanctioned by Elvis Presley Enterprises and CKX Inc., the company that has a majority interest of the singer’s business legacy, so the much-guarded private archives were apparently wide open for the show. Hundreds of rare candid photos of Presley intermittently flicker above all the singing and dancing while the stop-motion film footage on numbers like “King Creole” gives him a modern makeover.
Meanwhile, if you’re vacationing in Palm Springs, Calif., about a four-hour drive from Las Vegas, you can walk a mile in his shoes by touring the cozy Presley Estate and the iconic Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway. Both attractions are updated with current-day furnishings and receive tourists on a limited basis. They also offer unique glimpses into the much-admired modern architecture in Palm Springs.
As the name suggests, the Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway (at 1350 Ladera Circle) is the stylish rental property where Presley escaped from the spotlight and where he brought his teen bride, Priscilla, on May 1, 1967, the day of their unannounced wedding. During the home tour, you can retrace the couple’s steps out the back door, past the swimming pool and through a cluster of palm trees to where they discreetly escaped to a waiting car to the ceremony at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas. The Presleys returned to the property later that day on Frank Sinatra’s Lear jet. However, Presley never owned the house. A trust now holds the deed.
The home was designed by architect Robert Alexander, highly respected in Palm Springs for creating numerous specialty homes in the community, a famed playground for Hollywood stars of the golden era. Also known as the Alexander Estate, because the architect and his wife lived there prior to a plane crash that claimed their lives in 1965, it is built on three levels with four interconnecting concentric circles and has no square rooms. The circular theme is repeated on the front steps as concrete discs lead to the black, imposing front doors. The kitchen is circular, too. Look magazine tagged the showpiece as their “House of Tomorrow” in a noteworthy 1962 spread which hangs framed in the living room.
A few blocks away, the Presley Estate (at 845 W. Chino Canyon Rd.) is privately owned but open for tours following extensive legal wrangling with a former business partner and city officials. It’s now in the hands of Reno Fontana, who scheduled appointments at a Volvo dealership when he stumbled onto a classified ad for the property. At the time, an Asian businessman owned it as a trophy home, but because he was extremely afraid of flying, he rarely visited it. The story goes that the businessman’s real estate agent couldn’t sell the property and thus figured that Presley’s celebrity had faded. So he unloaded it with a $10,000 deposit, which Fontana quickly acquired after telling every friend he had about his stroke of luck. A lifelong fan of Elvis, a very young Fontana once told his mother that someday he would buy her Elvis’ house — and ultimately he did.
Fontana and his family slumber in the three private bedrooms on one side of the house, and they’ve recently peeled away the aluminum foil from the windows. (Like any rock star, Presley liked to sleep in.) Designed by another local architectural legend, Albert Frey, the view from the living room is astonishing. Sweep away the curtains — sewn with the word “Presley” inside, indicating they’re original — and the panorama opens onto a welcoming swimming pool and, beyond that, the San Jacinto Mountains. At the end of the tour, you’ll find yourself back in the living room where a jukebox plays “Are You Sincere,” which was a Top 10 country hit for Presley in 1979, two years after his death. Presley recorded the song and several others in that living room. Fontana has kept the acoustic tiles on the ceiling that RCA installed to get some sessions out of their star.
Presley purchased the home in 1970 from the family of Ray Kroc, who turned the McDonald’s restaurant chain into an empire. Earlier, Kroc had bought the property from the Jergens family, who amassed their fortune through their namesake hand lotion and commissioned the home in 1946. When the Presleys separated, Elvis’ additions to the structure included a new bedroom on the other end of the house. Upon news of his death, the home was promptly looted, so very few of the original decorations remain. It was then sold to Four Seasons lead vocalist Frankie Valli, who loved the home (and Presley’s music) but couldn’t resist the Asian businessman’s financial overture.
Instead of refurbishing the home with mid-century décor, Fontana has enlisted in-demand interior decorator Carleton Varney to capture how Presley might have decorated the property today. Fontana also hopes to add a wedding chapel and parking lot. And while the dry surroundings may be drastically different from the star’s humble roots in Memphis and Mississippi, that’s all right. Presley’s loyal fans won’t desert him.