August 16th will be the 33rd anniversary of Elvis’ death, and I thought what better way to celebrate “Weep Week” than to write about Elvis Real Estate.
Reno Fontana lives in one of two homes owned by Elvis when he died. The first, of course, is Graceland in Memphis. The second is the home in Palm Springs on Chino Canyon Road that Elvis and Priscilla bought on April 14, 1970.
When Reno and then wife Laura were looking for a bigger house, he was thumbing through real estate magazines on a Friday night when he saw the Chino Canyon home listed. He called at 9 a.m. on Saturday. “Is it really Elvis’ house?” he asked. Assured it was, he responded, “I’ll be right there, and I am buying it.” He bought the house sight unseen for $1,275,000.
“When we moved in, within a matter of hours on the first day people were stopping by taking pictures,” Fontana relates. “We were so thrilled to say, ‘Would you like to come in and see the house?”‘ The Fontanas don’t share most homeowners’ objection to having a lot of strangers coming into their house. “Even though we own the house, we like to think we are caretakers,” Reno says. “It’s open for Elvis fans.”
For the first few months, they invited people in for free. One day, after touring the home, a gentleman said, “It’s really gracious of you, but here’s $50.” After that, the Fontanas fully realized the value of what they had. Ninety percent of the furnishings belonged to Elvis. “You are not just seeing a house he used to live in. You are seeing a real part of his life,” Fontana says.
Because of his dedication to Elvis and Elvis fans, Fontana has researched and gotten confirmation from people who knew Elvis, and obtained written authentication whenever possible. He has a copy of the house title signed by Elvis and Priscilla Presley in 1970, when they bought it for $85,000. The Presleys were not the only famous owners. In 1960, McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc purchased the house; and in 1981, Frankie Valli bought it for $750,000. In 1986, Valli sold it to a Japanese corporation for $2.2 million. From then until the Fontanas purchased it, the home was open for a few weeks.
The house on Chino Canyon Road is not the only piece of real estate that Elvis enjoyed in Palm Springs.
In 1967, Elvis and Priscilla were to be married by the pool in the backyard of the house. But the arrival of friends and family tipped off then-leading gossip columnist Rona Barrett (who also lived in the neighborhood) that a wedding was imminent. As the media descended upon the house, Elvis and Priscilla changed plans, deciding to get married in Vegas. In the middle of the night, they snuck into an alley behind the house, where a limo took them to Frank Sinatra’s learjet. They were married in the Aladdin Hotel.
The next day they returned to honeymoon in the Palm Springs house, which is how it got its nickname as the “Elvis Honeymoon House.”