By NEMS Daily Journal
Vacationing tourists’ cars, trucks and motor homes blended with the work vehicles of contractors and laborers Thursday afternoon at the Elvis Presley Birthplace in Tupelo, where steady and intense work moves toward an Aug. 9 grand opening for a $4.3 million enhancement of the site where the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll was born.
The birthplace, as it is usually called in Tupelo, was for a long time just the little shotgun house where Gladys and Vernon Presley lived, and where their twin boys were born on Jan. 8, 1935. Only Elvis survived, and the rest, as people say, is history.
A wave of tourists, especially from England and other foreign destinations, is expected in the middle of August because Presley died on Aug. 16, 1977, at his famous home, Graceland, in Memphis. Graceland is the icon of Presley’s rise to fame and riches; the east Tupelo house is the icon of his humble beginnings in poverty and his first musical performances.
The Elvis Presley Memorial Foundation, which owns the birthplace property, is the source of ideas and energy to enhance the site. The $4.2 million is only the latest in a series of projects that have added a memorial chapel, a museum, and a small church building like the one Presley attended as a child, and where he sang. Contemporary technology brings a taste of the glamor and glitz that characterized his extraordinary career, which was showcased most lavishly in sparkling Las Vegas performances.
Vehicles from Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Virginia, Michigan and Ontario, a Canadian province, were in the parking lot at one point on Thursday afternoon. Visitors, cameras in hand, were walking the grounds, including looking at the addition, which has an east-facing prospect. The birthplace will grow from 6,000 to 16,000 square feet on completion, with a 120-seat theater and appropriate marquee anchoring the expansion.
The memorial foundation clearly is building to attract continuing generations of Presley fans in a unique way. The Tupelo attraction is the only legitimate site authentically reflecting Presley’s humble origins, showcasing glimpses of his legendary success, and standing within the neighborhood where he still has surviving relatives and friends.
The memorial foundation contributed $100,000 to the project, with $2.8 million in legislatively appropriated funds, $310,000 from city coffers and $250,000 from the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Next? The foundation will seek $2 million for a 750-seat amphitheater and a trail overlooking the site.
Presley’s music and image remain popular; Tupelo is where it all started, and the birthplace expansion will be good for the city as well as Elvis fans.