Nearly four decades after Elvis sang his last tune, his legacy got a $45 million boost with the Thursday opening of a major new attraction at his Graceland estate — an entertainment complex that Priscilla Presley says gives “the full gamut” of the King of rock ‘n’ roll.
About 200 people streamed into “Elvis Presley’s Memphis” after the late singer’s wife cut a ribbon and allowed fans to see the $45 million complex for the first time.
Resembling an outdoor mall, the 200,000-square-foot campus sits across the street from Graceland, Presley’s longtime home-turned-museum. The complex features a comprehensive Presley exhibit with clothing he wore on stage and guitars he played; a showcase of the cars he owned and used; a soundstage; a theater; two restaurants and retail stores.
“You’re getting the full gamut of who Elvis Presley was,” Priscilla Presley said during an interview after the grand opening. “You’re getting to see and participate a bit in his life and what he enjoyed and what he loved to collect.”
It’s part of a $140 million expansion, which also includes a $90 million, 450-room hotel that opened last year. The complex replaces the aging buildings that have housed Presley-related exhibits for years. An old, gray, strip-mall style visitor center will be torn down to make room for a greenspace along Elvis Presley Boulevard, the street that runs in front of the house.
Graceland has been updating its tourist experience. Visitors now use iPads for self-guided tours of the house. The new Guest House at Graceland, with modern amenities like glass-encased showers with wall-mounted body sprays and in-room Keurig coffeemakers, has replaced the crumbling Heartbreak Hotel, which is scheduled for demolition.
“We want to keep updating. … If you don’t keep up with what’s going on in the times, you get left out,” Priscilla Presley said. She was joined at the ribbon-cutting by Elvis Presley Enterprises CEO Jack Soden and Joel Weinshanker, managing partner of Graceland Holdings.
The opening comes just before the 40th anniversary of Presley’s death on Aug. 16, 1977, at age 42.
Adults pay $57.50 for a standard tour of the house and access to the complex. Visitors can also choose to tour just the house for a lower price. Discounts are offered for seniors and children. A self-guided tour of two airplanes owned by Presley is $5 more.
From the ticketing area, people line up to wait for buses that take visitors to the museum, or they can move through the entertainment complex’s large, high-ceilinged buildings.
Gladys’ Diner — named after the singer’s mother — has the feel of a 1950’s eatery, complete with pictures of Presley, aqua-colored chairs and stations where patrons can order hot dogs, burgers and ice cream.
There’s also Presley’s favorite: Gladys’ World Famous Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich, fried in bacon grease. Another PB&B sandwich is cooked in butter.
Across a wide walkway lies the automobile museum, filled with some of Presley’s favorite toys. Among them is a pink 1955 Cadillac Fleetwood — a custom painted model that he gave to his mother — and a sleek, black 1973 Stutz Blackhawk that he drove the day he died.
The walkway leads to the 20,000-square foot museum called “Elvis: The Entertainer,” which features white and purple jumpsuits he wore during concerts and gold-colored guitars he played on stage.
Several retail stores line the complex. A second restaurant, a barbecue joint called Vernon’s Smokehouse — named after Presley’s father — will also open. So will an exhibition focused on Sam Phillips, the Sun Records producer and rock ‘n’ roll pioneer who recorded Presley for the first time.
The complex is still being finished. Priscilla Presley said there’s a warehouse full of artifacts, ready for display.
During the interview with The Associated Press, Priscilla Presley declined to comment about a court battle in Los Angeles between Lisa Marie Presley, the daughter she had with Elvis, and Lisa Marie’s estranged husband.
Among the fans eager to get a glimpse at the new exhibits Thursday was Carol Carey, a retiree who made the short trip across the state line from Southaven, Mississippi, with her son.
Wearing a pink shirt with the words “Wild About Graceland” on it, Carey beamed a wide smile as she talked about the complex.
“We couldn’t wait to see it,” she said. “We’ve been here every other day, checking it out. Getting used to saying goodbye to the old, and seeing friends who are all taking pictures of everything.”
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