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Elvis Presley died at Graceland on August 16, 1977. His will appointed his father, Vernon Presley, who had long handled Elvis’ personal, non-career business affairs, as executor and trustee. The beneficiaries were Elvis’ grandmother, Minnie Mae Presley; his father, Vernon Presley; and his only child, Lisa Marie Presley. The will provided that Vernon Presley could, at his discretion, provide funds to other family members as needed. Vernon Presley died in 1979. Minnie Mae Presley died in 1980. This left Lisa Marie Presley as the sole heir to the estate. Elvis’ will stated that her inheritance was to be held in trust for her until her twenty-fifth birthday, February 1, 1993.
Vernon Presley’s will brought about the appointment of three co-executors/co-trustees to succeed him. They were: the National Bank of Commerce in Memphis, which was the bank Elvis and Vernon had done business with; Joseph Hanks, who had been Elvis and Vernon’s accountant for a number of years; and Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, who had divorced Elvis in 1973, but had continued a close friendship with him and was Lisa’s legal guardian. Joseph Hanks retired from his post in 1990.
Upon Lisa Presley’s twenty-fifth birthday in 1993, the trust automatically dissolved and Lisa chose to form a new trust, The Elvis Presley Trust, to continue the successful management of the estate, with Priscilla Presley and the National Bank of Commerce continuing to serve as co-trustees.
In 1998, as Lisa Marie Presley’s role in the management grew, Priscilla Presley chose to redirect her efforts by moving to an advisory position, continuing her close involvement and support while focusing more time on her own ever-expanding individual pursuits as a successful actress and businessperson.
Lisa Marie Presley became more closely involved with the management team of The Elvis Presley Trust and its business entity, Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.(EPE), of which she was owner and Chairman of the Board until February 2005 when she sold a major interest in the company.
Elvis Presley could have left one of the great fortunes of entertainment history, had he been one to worry about financial planning, rather than freely enjoying and sharing his wealth as he did. While the estate he left was by no means broke, there was a cash flow problem, especially with Graceland costing over half a million dollars a year in maintenance and taxes. It seemed logical for Priscilla and the executors to open Graceland to the public. In late 1981, they hired Jack Soden, at the time a Kansas City, Missouri investment counselor, to plan and execute the opening of Graceland to the public and oversee the total operation. Graceland opened for tours on June 7, 1982.
In 1983, through a long-term lease, EPE acquired the shopping center plaza across the street from the mansion. From the time the plaza was built in the sixties, it had been a typical suburban strip shopping center. However, almost overnight after Elvis’ death, it became an unsightly blemish of tacky Elvis souvenir shops, which carried mostly bootleg items not licensed by the Presley Estate. Upon assuming management of the shopping center property, EPE began policing the bootleg activities and began an overall facelift, while continuing to honor the existing leases of the plaza tenants. By 1987, all the leases had expired and Graceland began major renovations, which continue to this day. In 1993, Graceland purchased the property. Today, all shops and attractions in what is now known as Graceland Plaza are owned and operated by EPE. The land where Graceland visitor parking and the airplanes exhibit are located was already owned by the EPE. (Elvis had purchased it in 1962 and had never developed it.)
One important development for the Graceland visitor experience was the addition of Elvis’ Lisa Marie jet and Hound Dog II JetStar planes, which Elvis’ father had sold in 1978. They were brought back home to Memphis in a joint venture with the current owners and opened for onboard tours in 1984. Another major development was the opening of the Elvis Presley Automobile Museum in Graceland Plaza in 1989.
Graceland Crossing, a neighboring shopping center with stores that featured Elvis-related items, situated just north of Graceland Plaza, was built in the latter half of the 1980’s and was independently owned until Graceland purchased it in the fall of 1997 as an addition to its visitor amenities. The next major development was the purchase of an existing nearby hotel property, renovating it and renaming it Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel in 1999. Continued expansion and enhancement of visitor facilities and the development of new Elvis exhibition projects are planned for the Graceland complex.
Since opening to the public in 1982, Graceland has hosted millions of visitors from every state in the union and nearly every country of the world. Prior to Graceland’s opening, there was minimal tourism trade in Memphis. Graceland quickly became the cornerstone of the industry for the city and the region. The Memphis tourism industry has expanded greatly with the development of attractions such as the FedEx Forum, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, the National Civil Rights Museum, and with the continued growth and development of the Beale Street entertainment district, Memphis in May, and a host of other attractions, museums, and special events.
Graceland welcomes over 500,000 visitors each year, is one of the five most visited home tours in the United States, and is the most famous home in America after The White House. In 1991, Graceland was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2006, it was designated a National Historic Landmark.
The peak season for visitors to Graceland is Memorial Day through Labor Day. Attendance ranges from a few hundred visitors on a weekday in the dead of winter to 2,000 – 3,500 visitors per day in the spring and early summer, to over 4,000 per day in July at the height of the travel season. The total economic impact on the city of Memphis from Graceland visitors is estimated to be $150 million per year or possibly much more. A major part of that impact is that most Graceland visitors come from outside the city, bringing new dollars into the community, not only touring Graceland, but also patronizing other attractions in the area as well as area hotels, restaurants, shops and other businesses while they are in town. Further benefiting the city is the intense worldwide publicity that Graceland and the Elvis Presley phenomenon continually bring to Memphis. Contributing to the local impact is the fact that EPE employs approximately 350 people part-time and full-time year ’round, a number that swells to as many as 450 in the busy summer season.
Graceland visitors come from all walks of life, all ages, all musical tastes, all income levels, all educational backgrounds, and all parts of the world. The demographics are broad. Over half of Graceland’s visitors are under the age of 35. Graceland is a must-see for visiting dignitaries, touring Broadway show casts, touring rock stars, and people of virtually every description coming to Memphis.
Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc. (EPE) is the corporate entity that was created by the Elvis Presley Trust to conduct business and manage its assets. EPE was wholly owned by the Elvis Presley Trust/Lisa Marie Presley until 2005.
Joel Weinshanker owns the rights to Graceland’s operations, with Authentic Brand Group, LLC and the Presley family as partners. Lisa Marie Presley retains a 15% ownership in the company and continues to be involved in major business decisions, as does her mother Priscilla.
Lisa Marie Presley retains 100% sole personal ownership of Graceland Mansion itself and its over 13-acre original grounds and her father’s personal effects – meaning costumes, wardrobe, awards, furniture, cars, etc.. She has made the mansion property and her father’s personal effects permanently available for tours of Graceland and for use in all of EPE’s operations.
Jack Soden is the President and CEO of EPE and is based in the Memphis office. This top management team is supported by the vice-presidents, directors, managers and staff of the various departments of EPE, including marketing & media, sales, accounting, operations, human resources and the various sub-departments within these.