Artist Says Art Belonged to Elvis Presley Home, Not Reno Fontana
PALM SPRINGS, CA – The iconic silhouette of Elvis Presley bolted to the chimney soon became a symbol that this was the home of Elvis, or at least that it had been. The signature artwork was taken down when the person that lived there removed it when he was evicted. Now the tenant and the art are gone. The artist that made it for the home says he wants it back. The absence of that sculpture, so aesthetically welded to the property, represents the diminuendo of Reno Fontana’s long-winded chorus.
Like the famous Elvis Presley song about a man and the love for his girl, artist Jeffery Howe is all shook up. The artist said he never got paid for his artwork by Reno Fontana, the former tenant of the former Elvis Presley home in Palm Springs. Fontana removed Howe’s iron artwork and now has it hidden. Not only is the artist frustrated that Fontana is not returning his artwork but Howe is also frustrated being stuck on the coast where he lives and works while struggling to keep up with a growing legal dispute.
Howe and What
Reno Fontana had this sculpture insured for $50,000, according to Howe. However, Howe never received a penny from Fontana, just empty promises that he would be paid. The artist is confused how anyone could collect such a large sum of insurance for something never paid for. Howe feels he’s just another victim of what is coming to be seen as Fontana’s inventive house of cards.
The Elvis Presley silhouette was not the only artwork of Laguna Niguel artist Jeffery Howe displayed on the property. In addition to the silhouette, Howe created several other smaller sculptures, worth tens of thousands of dollars, also never paid for, and also removed by Fontana when he was evicted last month. How tutti frutti is that?
Adding to the dilemma that Fontana never paid Jeffery Howe for the artwork – and that Fontana is in possession of – is the problem of who exactly now owes Howe for his art or should this art simply be returned to sender.
Jeffery Howe says his Elvis Presley silhouette became part of the property and was never the personal property of Fontana, that his sculpture was massively bolted to the structure, not hung there like a painting but secured as an intrinsic part of the house, no different than a door or window.
Howe’s art perfectly defined the Elvis Presley home, and the property defined the sculpture. That the artwork was attached to the house for three years established provenance; yet, detached from the building that value becomes more a footnote of arguable value. That it was not paid for is a matter for the courts, that it is gone and hidden becomes more a matter for the police to determine if a crime has been committed.
Reno Fontana only admits to removing his personal property from the residence he lived in for nearly a decade and said he did not remove anything that did not belong to him. Last month the Riverside County Sheriff forcibly evicted Fontana and the Elvis house was returned to the lender, vacant and empty. Fontana told some he packed up everything and had it transported to Indiana and told others everything is secured here in local storage.
Jeffery Howe tried to talk with Reno Fontana but Fontana is not talking to Howe. So Howe is talking with the Palm Springs Police Department. So too are the Elvis home’s legal property owners of record who are now claiming Howe’s sculpture actually belongs to them since it was part of the property.
Judge Judy would surely be thinking this be too much monkey business.
Howe and Who
It seems life is no longer the fairytale for Reno Fontana, a financial guru and local legend in real estate and bankruptcies, as well as financial columnist for the Desert Star Weekly. It seems Fontana did quite well filling his pockets thanks to the Elvis home. The property once hosted events at $20,000 a pop, according to the Wall Street Journal. Tours were a constant source of revenue. Still, mortgage holders say they were never paid for years.
Critics of Reno Fontana say he was running nothing more than the typical smoke and mirrors shell game, shifting peoples’ attention here and there to avoid serious looking into his shaky finances. What they say is that all Fontana accomplished was delay the inevitable; that in spite of bravado, Fontana was nothing more than a sweet talking great pretender enjoying a ten year free ride at other people’s expense.
According to Michael P. Rubin, an attorney for property owner Financial Bonanza, managed by Adrian Van Rijs, the armor of bankruptcy protection was merely repeatedly used by Fontana personally, also with his wife Laura Whittier, and also with his business in warding off evictions and delaying foreclosures. Fontana apparently gladly suffered accusations slung by former business associates, claiming the role of victim on the receiving end of injustice.
Fontana claimed he had to pay for upkeep of the property, that his payments were up to date, that attorney Rubin is nothing more that a crook with a criminal record and that Van Rijs is little more than a greedy loan shark who associates with mobsters.
Independent of name-calling, Reno Fontana has been enjoying ten years of revolving doors of court drama that netted rent free accommodations in the Elvis Pressley home since 2003. Fontana claims the court was wrong in evicting him and is appealing the decision. Fontana also said that once he is vindicated he vows not to return to living on the property.
“It needs $150,000 of work,” Fontana said. “Its too much hassle living there.” Fontana did not reveal what he intends to do with the Elvis memorabilia.
Email between Jeffery Howe and Laura Whittier confirms an agreement was reached to pay Howe for his work. Whittier flavors her language with references to Jesus and Moses amidst religious jargon praying upon Howe’s Christian beliefs perhaps softening him up for the heartbreak hotel of accepting the fact they were not paying him for his work.
Howe and When
Although Reno Fontana’s next court date is May 20th – which is also his 60th birthday – it is too early for anyone on either side to begin celebrating as final court decisions cannot be easily predicted. Fontana is confident and only prepared for vindication with restoration of the property returned to his exclusive control, thinking only thoughts of don’t be cruel, not that the jailhouse rocks.
Reno Fontana says he ain’t nothing but a hound dog, is broke and now living with friends and, at times, living out of his car. He said he hopes he does not have to start selling off his collection of Elvis memorabilia to make ends meet. Howe is already concerned that Fontana has sold off some of his smaller artworks.
“It’s not like he ever had permission to sell my stuff,” said Jeffery Howe. “He didn’t. I put my art there as part of the attraction of the Elvis home. If it sold I should be the one making a dollar for my labor. The least I deserve is having my name associated with my art. I’ve got a lot of time and materials invested. These are all originals.”
Most all of the Elvis Pressley memorabilia displayed on the property were reproductions, according to Fontana. Gold records that easily fooled most people are now gone, leaving an empty wall. Replacement furniture bearing only a passing resemblance to the original furniture is also gone from The King’s quiet desert get-away.
Howe and Where
Jeffery Howe’s unique hand-crafted artwork was commissioned by Reno Fontana for the Palm Springs property. It was not kismet but family connections that brought Fontana and Howe together. Laura Laura Whittier’s father was a close friend of Jeffery Howe’s father and Jeffery and his wife were both big-time Elvis fan, so much so that the Howe’s renewed their 10-year marriage vows in Las Vegas with a ceremony officiated by an Elvis impersonator.
When they visited the Elvis Presley home in Palm Springs the Howe’s were moved by the stories woven by Fontana detailing that they were innocent victims of hostile mortgage holders and predatory lenders that were out to do them harm. Howe fell for their story and did the work without upfront payments.
“I’ve got nothing but regrets for doing business with Reno Fontana,” Jeffery Howe said. “I don’t regret doing the work. That’s what artists do. But that does nothing to help from feeling cheated . The next step is up to the police.
Howe and Why
Jeffery Howe trusted Laura Whittier and Reno Fontana to do the right thing and pay for his work. Initially Howe had no concerns about about their integrity, but it didn’t talk long for things to fall apart.
Although Howe has been an amateur artist for 25 years, and is an experienced building contractor, he did not have a contract with Fontana, just a verbal promise and no money exchanged hands. Three years passed and still only Howe had were promises of payments and a pile of emails chronicling attempts to get paid.
Reno Fontana disputes foreclosure attorney Rubin’s claim that he removed fixtures that were part of the building. Yet the single most important fixture on the property, the artwork that became an intrinsic part of the building, was removed by Fontana and hidden.
Upon learning that Fontana was being evicted, Jeffrey Howe immediately notified Fontana to return his artwork.
Jeffery Howe said he was “given a story by Laura Whittier, that the silhouette was being taken off the house and moved to storage so that no one would steal it, and to keep it from the bank until they got the house back.”
Jeffery Howe’s notification to Reno Fontana that was delivered by UPS simply requested Howe’s artwork be returned within thirty days. That threshold has since passed with Howe hearing nothing from Fontana.
“From this point it is up to the police,” said Howe.
Jeffery Howe lives in Laguna Niguel, California with his wife and two sons. His artwork and sculptures have been shared at exhibitions such as the Palm Springs Art Festival. Although primarily a wood worker, these art at the Elvis home was made of iron and created with a plasma cutter, welder and hammered finish. His art and contract information can be found at www.surrealcreation.com
Calls to Fontana’s attorney go unanswered. Although Reno Fontana contacted this writer to “set the record straight” and produce documents validating his position, he has not followed through.
The Elvis Presley estate in Palm Springs was featured by television host Huell Howser who said that episode ranked in the top five of all his shows on PBS.
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