When Elvis was a boy he used to promise his parents that he would buy them a big fancy house when he grew up. The family had started in poverty, living in a prefabricated two-room “shotgun shack” in Tupelo, Mississippi, before moving to live in rented community tenement housing in Memphis. As soon as the star’s career took off in early 1956, he bought his family a smart detached house at 1034 Audubon Drive, with the royalties from his debut million-seller hit, Heartbreak Hotel.
However, the star’s unprecedented rise to fame meant that just twelve months later he was already looking for a far grander home fit for a superstar.
In March 1957, not even two years into his career, Elvis was finishing his second film, Loving You, and had already released a staggering 48 singles and two studio albums.
He asked his parents to look for a suitable new house. He wanted something substantial and impressive with considerable land around it. The singer and budding movie star was already aware of the need for privacy as his fame and fanbase exploded.
The estate agent, Virginia Grant, showed Vernon and Gladys two properties, saving Graceland for last.
It was a family home at 3764 Highway 51 South. Styled as a “ranch”, it sat in a semi-rural area roughly ten miles outside downtown Memphis. The city would eventually expand out to the house, but at that time it stood alone, surrounded by its own grounds and countryside.
The King’s parents made a $1000 down-payment that same day.
Elvis visited the property on the morning of March 19. At the time it was just two-story house with a barn, set in almost 14 acres.
However, Graceland’s owners, The Moore family, had already had an architect remodel the house to showcase a musician in the family.
The King sat down and played some rock and roll on the instrument to celebrate finding his future home.
Although the local YMCA had already put a bid in for the property, Elvis significantly upped the amount and signed papers on the same day.
According to the official Graceland website, Elvis’ parents signed the contract and paid the final sale price of $102,500 on March 25, 1957. That’s around $968,250 in today’s money.
In just two years, the Presley family had gone from relative poverty to a million-dollar mansion. Elvis’ promise to his parents had come true.
The house was 10,266 square feet when Elvis bought it and he immediately started remodelling. That process over the years has taken the property to 17,552 square feet.
One of the most important and instantly recognisable changes was made straight away.
On April 22, the famous ‘Music Gates’, designed by Abe Saucer and custom-built by John Dillars Jr of Memphis Doors Inc, were installed.
On May 16, Gladys, Vernon and his mother Minnie Mae moved in.
Elvis was away filming and wouldn’t take up residence himself until June 26, the same month he had the kidney-shaped swimming pool installed. A beautiful piano sat in the main living room.
Heartbreakingly, almost immediately he would have to leave.
Elvis had six months to enjoy his new home. According to future wife Priscilla, Christmas was his favourite time of year, but on December 20 he received his draft papers for military service.
A proud patriot, the star was eager to serve, but it made his first Christmas in his beloved home rather “bittersweet” according to his then-girlfriend Anita Wood.
For the next 20 years, Graceland would always be the star’s sanctuary, even as the world closed in around him and around the property itself. The main road outside was even renamed Elvis Presley Boulevard.
On August 16, 1977, the night he died, the star played piano one last time at home. In the early hours of the morning, he performed Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain and Unchained Melody for his fiancee Ginger Alden and cousin Billy Smith and his wife Jo.
Elvis played piano the first time he stepped foot in Graceland and the final night of his life. His grave lies just outside, in the Meditation Garden, to this day.