Evicted from Elvis Presley Palm Springs Home
PALM SPRINGS, CA – Elvis left the building long ago. The latest owner, Reno Fontana, stayed for ten years. He was recently evicted in a foreclosure action. This put an end to tours and private parties at the Presley estate and adds another chapter to longstanding legal disputes involving Fontana, a local Elvis impresario.
The eviction papers claim Reno Fontana lived in the home without making regular payments. Fontana is also inundated under a pile of lawsuits and bankruptcy filings. Locally, Fontana is known as the financial columnist for the Desert Star Weekly newspaper.
Over the years Elvis Presley’s famous home was rented out by Reno Fontana to groups and individuals, including the Desert Star Weekly, which used the facilities for their Christmas party. Celebrity status is a big draw for the property located at 845 Chino Canyon Drive in Palm Springs. Rubbing elbows with The King remains a popular attraction, even though he has not been in the building since 1977.
Reno Fontana conjured up the ideal name for the property – Graceland West – however Graceland officials in Memphis gave a thumbs down to the deal, never giving Fontana license to officially use the name and preventing legal association.
There are actually two Elvis Presley homes in Palm Springs. The other is the better known Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway located at 1350 Ladera Circle. elvishoneymoon.com That Palm Springs Modern home, designed by Robert Alexander, served as Presley’s honeymoon retreat with Priscilla on May 1, 1967. That home was leased only for 9 months in 1967 under Elvis’ father’s name of Vernon Presley.
Elvis bought the other property in 1970 and used it till his death in 1977. According to documents, Reno Fontana purchased the this Elvis Presley home in 2003. Fontana’s payments have been sporadic, paying less than $50,000 of money owed, according to reports. Fontana and his wife lived in the Palm Springs house, along with their son and Fontana’s mother, in the private quarters of the house. The Fontana’s dubbed themselves “Keepers of the Castle.”
$20,000 a Night
Over the years, the property welcomed tours and rented out the space for events. The Wall Street Journal reported that by 2008 the facility was booking up to 150 people for one night events at a price tag of $20,000.
He [Fontana] pocketed the money,” said Michael P. Rubin, an attorney for Financial Bonanza, managed by Adrian Van Rijs, a real estate broker in Tarzana, California. “And he was making what appears to be sufficient money from the tours and his other enterprises.”
To delay foreclosure, Fontana used every trick in the book,” said Rubin. “He filed for bankruptcy, his wife filed for bankruptcy and their corporation filed for bankruptcy. Instead of making payments it was delay, delay, delay.”
Finally the courts decided enough was enough and evicted Reno Fontana with an Unlawful Detainer. Court documents show that by Oct. 11, 2012, when the property filed for bankruptcy in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Central District of California, more than $2.4 million in liabilities were listed on property valued at $1.1 million.
“Fontana defaulted on the deal,” said Rubin. “This was before I was his lawyer and Van Rijs kept giving him more and more extensions, then finally there was nothing else to do.”
Property Wrecked by Fontana
Fontana left the property a wreck according to Rubin, “He removed the fixtures and that was something he was not supposed to do.”
Allegedly the lien holders, Rubin’s clients who are the investors initially putting up the money, are the victims of a scheme that deceived them for years, preventing them from making good on loans and repayment on their investment.
The phone number published on the project websites, pselvis.com and elvispalmsprings.com, both identified with Reno Fontana, have been disconnected with no forwarding number. Claremont attorney Stephen R. Wade, Fontana’s legal representative, has not returned phone calls. Followup seems on short supply as Fontana’s Elvis property website, pselvis.com launched in 2006, still has most pages under construction. The last tweet was in 2009 on Fontana’s Twitter account @ElvisEstate.
Although Fontana’s scheme appeared shaky, the pedigree of the property was no slight of hand.
On Tour Circuit
The property’s allure was the association with Presley as it served as his winter getaway for three months every year. The home was only one of three properties owned by The King and was popular for busloads of tourists.
The 5,100-square-foot home will be returned to the tour circuit, said Rubin. “We’re just starting to try to put it back in shape so someone can start doing tours again,” he said. As Reno Fontana was only recently evicted, no new operator has yet been named.
According to reports, Reno Fontana and his wife, Laura, purchased the home in 2003 at a bargain price of $1.25 million with financing provided by other people’s money. The Spanish-style white stucco property was in disrepair when the Fontanas bought it and began renovations.
Reportedly, Reno Fontana had been a huge Elvis fan since he first heard the “Blue Hawaii” album in 1961 at the age of eight. Like Elvis, Fontana said his family was also poor while he was growing up. Fontana said he told his mother at age 12 that “one day I’ll buy you Elvis Presley’s house.”
Forty years later, Fontana’s innocent dream as a child came true, then crashed.
When Elvis and Priscilla got divorced in 1973, Priscilla gave up her rights to the house. From that time on Elvis did not want to sleep in the bedroom he shared with Priscilla. So in 1974 Elvis added an additional 2,000 square feet to house a party room, a new bedroom with two bathrooms, and a sauna. This expansion of the property enabled the transition from a family atmosphere to “more of a boys’ club feel” during weekends at the Palm Springs estate, as described by Elvis’ pal Jerry Schilling.
Elvis Presley said he enjoyed Palm Springs because of the perfect nighttime temperature of the desert. The extremely hot temperatures during the day didn’t bother Elvis because he would be sleeping until the late afternoon, even putting tin foil on the windows to keep out the daytime sun. Nighttime was the perfect time to have parties by the pool or the outside jacuzzi in Palm Springs.
According to background reports, Elvis Presley had to get a roof installed on the jacuzzi to retain his privacy from the helicopters that would fly overhead trying to see who he was sharing the 16-person jacuzzi with. Rona Barrett, the gossip columnist who broke the story that Elvis and Priscilla were getting married back in 1967, was always trying to find out what was going on at Elvis’ Palm Springs Estate since he was a bachelor again.
Before Elvis purchased the house, the estate was owned by the family of Ray Kroc (1960) the owner of McDonald’s. Fontana said that the first thing Elvis did when he got the house was to remove the “K” from the front gate.
The property was designated as the first event home to be registered in Palm Springs which permits a commercial business to operate in a residential area. The home on three acres was built in 1946 by another famed Palm Springs Architect, Albert Frey. Before Krok, the property was first owned by the Jergens [lotion] family. After the death of Elvis, Priscilla sold the property to singer Franki Valli.
Reno Fontana entered the picture in 2003. Later in the year The Desert Sun newspaper of Palm Springs reported that Reno Fontana and his former business partner, Herman “Skip” Jaehne of Venice, FL, were in a legal dispute about the actual ownership of the home. A California court did not rule that Reno Fontana was the legal owner of Elvis Presley’s former Palm Springs estate. The court also did not rule that Mr. Jaehne improperly took the home from Mr. Fontana. Instead, Mr. Fontana and his former business partner, Herman “Skip” Jaehne, settled an ongoing litigation regarding the home.
Shortly thereafter Reno Fontana famously announced plans to build an entertainment complex surrounding the home, transforming the property into “Graceland West” including an Elvis museum, theater, recording studio, bowling alley, wedding chapel, guest houses and plenty of parking. He also announced he had hired renowned interior decorator, to create a luxurious home decor fit for “The King” if he was alive today. Fontana called it the “Elvis of the Future”. None of that happened.
However, much of the original house was preserved including the original checkerboard flooring in the party room, the original red and white tiles in the bathrooms, and the special acoustic tile that RCA installed on the ceiling of the living room for a three-day Elvis recording session in September 1973.
According to Reno Fontana, several songs including “Are You Sincere”, “Blue Spanish Eyes”, “I Miss You”, and “Sweet Angeline” were recorded in the makeshift studio in Palm Springs. Elvis was in need of a microphone stand at this impromptu recording session, so he improvised using a microphone taped to a mop handle that was standing upright in a pail!
Reno Fontana also announced plans to create a membership package for Elvis fans to visit the estate including a “Key Club” membership which includes your very own key to the front door of Elvis Presley’s Palm Springs home.
Special events were also planned to coincide with famous dates in Elvis history. According to Fontana’s own website nothing much happened. So weak was promotion that the Facebook Fan Page facebook.com/ThePresleyEstate only had 13 “likes.”
Tour bus operators and event booking agents are dismayed the property is no longer open and are hopeful a new operator will soon come forward. Reno Fontana offered 30-minute tours of the house Monday through Saturday from 10 to 4. The cost was $20 per person.
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