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Gate Closing On Planes

July 06, 2014 | Other

For 30 years, tourists from around the world have paid money to get a look at two airplanes once owned by Elvis Presley at Graceland in Memphis. Fans enjoy touring the planes for their direct connection to Presley and his jet-setting lifestyle, a sort of touchstone to the life of the King of Rock and Roll and his family.

By April of next year, the planes named Lisa Marie and Hound Dog II could be gone.

Elvis Presley Enterprises, which operates the Graceland tourist attraction, has written to the planes' owners saying they should prepare to remove the jets from Graceland by next spring.

The planes have been a tourist attraction since the mid-1980s. They had been sold after Presley's death, and were eventually purchased by OKC Partnership in Memphis.

OKC Partnership and Graceland agreed to bring the two jets to Graceland. The agreement called for OKC Partnership to receive a cut of ticket sales in return for keeping the planes there.

In an April 7 letter to OKC Partnership's K.G. Coker, Elvis Presley Enterprises CEO Jack Soden says the company is exercising its option to end the agreement and asks Coker "to make arrangements for the removal of the airplanes and the restoration of the site on or shortly after April 26, 2015."

Their removal could cause an uproar among fans, especially those who visit Graceland every year as part of an annual pilgrimage to events such as Elvis Week and the candlelight vigil commemorating Presley's death.

Dedicated Elvis fan Paul Fivelson of Algonquin, Ill., says he expects many fans will be upset to hear the planes may be leaving.

"The people who come to Memphis for Elvis Week like seeing those planes there because it's just part of the whole aura of what Elvis was about," Fivelson said. "It would be kind of blasphemous to take them away, and I think there are probably a lot of fans who will feel the same way."

The disclosure also raises questions about the future use of the site where the airplanes now sit, across the street from Presley's longtime home.

Elvis Presley Enterprises declined immediate comment.

In November, New York-based Authentic Brands Group bought Elvis Presley Enterprises and the licensing and merchandising rights for Presley's music and image from CORE Media Group. As part of the deal, Joel Weinshanker, founder of the National Entertainment Collectibles Association, acquired the operating rights to Graceland, which attracts about 500,000 visitors each year.

After the sale, Authentic Brands said upgrades to the tourist attraction were planned. Earlier this year, Elvis Presley Enterprises announced plans to build a 450-room hotel, theater and restaurant, with a projected opening date of August 2015. Their plan was approved Tuesday by the Memphis City Council.

Today, Graceland visitors can buy a ticket that includes a tour of Presley's home-turned-museum and the two airplanes. Fans climb into the airplanes for an up-close look at their interiors.

The larger plane, a Convair 880 named after Presley's daughter Lisa Marie, is like a customized flying limousine, complete with a large bed, a stereo system, conference room and gold-plated bathroom fixtures. It was renovated after Presley bought it from Delta Air Lines. Presley took his first flight on it in November 1975.

When Presley died on Aug. 16, 1977, Presley's pilot flew the Lisa Marie to California to pick up Presley's ex-wife, Priscilla Presley, to bring her back to Memphis.

The smaller jet, a JetStar named the Hound Dog II, was also used by Presley.

Coker, 76, says OKC may sell the planes if they're removed from Graceland, but he still hopes to negotiate a deal that would keep the planes there. Coker acknowledges that he and his partners would lose money from ticket sales if the planes were removed.

"I would love to see the airplanes stay where they are forever," Coker said. "Millions of fans have toured those airplanes and there's a real connection between fans and those airplanes. Those airplanes are part of the Elvis experience."

Boxcar wrote on July 07, 2014
First the tour bus was gone, now the planes. What's next?
Deano1 wrote on July 07, 2014
This is probably being done to make way for the luxury hotel they want to build. How about making one super Elvis memorabilia store instead of what seems like 50 of them (most carrying the same items) and keeping the planes. When I vacationed in Memphis, my two favorite things were touring Graceland and the planes. The hotel was a place to sleep and it was in Northern Mississippi in a nice, clean affordable room. I would rather have an Elvis Presley amusement park instead of a luxury hotel!
PRESYER wrote on July 07, 2014
Such bad news ! The bus was removed now those two airplanes (that I use to visit each time I go to Graceland) will be removed. A matter of money as usual or what else ? This would be really a sad thing to do and an insult to Elvis fans. Do not ever do that please !
little jimmy tompkin wrote on July 07, 2014
I know what to do with the site - open some more tacky gift shops !
Troubleman wrote on July 07, 2014
I was fortunate enough to view the Tour bus on my first visit to Graceland in 1988. I’ve seen the planes on several occasions and they are part of the whole Graceland experience. Elvis fans should send a message to EPE CEO Jack Soden since he doesn’t seem to understand what Elvis fans like. Does anybody really want these planes removed, and replaced by a high rise expensive flashy hotel? Really!!! I am getting worried that EPE is trying to turn Graceland into another Disneyland. Big hotels, bigger attractions, roller coasters (!), what else? How about a big Ferris wheel on the front lawn! I loved going to Graceland during Elvis week and visiting the small shops across the street, where you would have performers on a small outdoor stage. Sometimes bigger is not better! These planes belonged to Elvis just as much as Graceland did. Removing them would be a shame! TCB
Pieter wrote on July 07, 2014
I don't know how big the 'cut of ticket sales' is. Maybe they want to get a better deal and are putting (a little) pressure on the owners? Or maybe they want to buy the planes back?!
TheMemphisFan wrote on July 07, 2014
Deano1 and Troubleman, The newly-planned hotel has nothing to do with the possible removal of the airplanes. The planes are located on the west side of Elvis Presley Boulevard, and the new hotel will be on the east side of the street... north of Graceland. The current Heartbreak Hotel will be torn down when the new hotel has been completed. It will be a very nice addition to the Graceland area!
holmstrup wrote on July 08, 2014
It seems like Graceland Randers is interested in buying the airplanes, so they could be an attraction in Denmark.
Deano1 wrote on July 08, 2014
TheMemphisFan: I know what their original plans were for the hotel, but this move would seem to be a way of making way for something??? If you tear down the old hotel and get rid of the planes you will have two large areas with nothing on them. Plans change all the time.
Troubleman wrote on July 09, 2014
I agree with Deano1; the only logical reason to have these planes removed is to use the space for something else, something more profitable perhaps? If it’s not for the new hotel, then for what ? I also like the Heartbreak Hotel and wish they would not tear it down. They could expand it instead. If they are doing this to ‘put pressure’ on the owners as Pieter suggest, then it’s a bad idea (PR wise) since EPE will look like the bully, and not the owners of the planes. EPE should not forget that although there are many tourists who visit Graceland, it is the fans who keep coming back year after year. Removing these planes is a very bad idea in my opinion. TCB
TheMemphisFan wrote on July 09, 2014
I, too, would hate to see the airplanes removed... especially the "Lisa Marie". It's anyone's guess what could replace the planes in that spot... A nice big food court? A large restaurant? A new exhibit building? An auditorium? I don't know, but I do know for a fact that it will not be the new hotel. As for the area where Heartbreak Hotel stands now, additional space for RV camping might be a possibility.