Come this August, visitors to the Elvis Presley Birthplace will have something new to see. On Wednesday, Dick Guyton, executive director of the Elvis Presley Memorial Foundation, announced that the church Presley attended as a child will become part of the attraction. The foundation owns the birthplace.
Immediately after the announcement, the First Assembly of God Church was moved from nearby 1358 Berry St. to a temporary home behind the memorial chapel. Guyton said the foundation will restore the building to what it looked like in the ’40s and open it to the public in August. It will be placed about 100 feet south of the chapel.
“Elvis was probably more influenced by his church and black church music than anything else,” Guyton said, noting that this is part of a long-term plan to add more attractions to the birthplace. “The chapel was his desire for a memorial. This will give a total concept to the visitor of Elvis’ music - where it started and how it ended.”
Six years ago, the foundation added the statue of Elvis at 13 to the grounds of the birthplace. Last week, a Blues Trail marker was unveiled. The foundation plans to build a walkway around the two-sided sign soon.
The church project is being funded by ticket sales and gift shop purchases and by a $40,000 donation from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation. Al Servati, division manager for the Carpenter Co., which has a manufacturing plant in Tupelo, said the Carpenter Foundation decided to get involved because this is “something that will attract people to Tupelo and attract new businesses.”
“It will benefit the entire community and hopefully Carpenter as well,” he said.
For the past 42 years, the church has been Lawrence Stanford’s home. He said he would have people come by his house every year and take pictures of the building.
He’s remodeled it over the years, but the additions were stripped down to reveal the original siding and flooring from Presley’s day.
“I hate to see it go. I got used to living in it,” he said, watching the moving company pulling it up the hill to its new home. He sold the building recently and moved two houses down the street. And as his former house rolled onto the birthplace property, he said it was nearing its home.
“I feel good about it going up there,” Stanford said. “I really do.”
It’s a sentiment the Presleys most likely would share, said Guy Harris, a childhood friend of Elvis.
“I think he would be well-pleased with this deal,” said Harris, who attended the neighborhood church often. “This is part of him and something he did. Same with Gladys and Vernon because they went here too.”