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California and the West

Elvis' 'Honeymoon Hideaway' at Center of Zoning Fight

Tourism: Vacationers enjoy star's former Palm Springs home, but neighbors don't like commercial activity in a residential area.

October 20, 1997|DIANA MARCUM | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

PALM SPRINGS — In a neighborhood here of private tennis courts and perfectly trimmed hedges, a two-story, coral-colored tribute to shag carpeting is causing a hunka hunka burning debate.

Elvis Presley and his bride, Priscilla, spent their 1967 honeymoon there, and their former home has gained popularity in recent years with tourists who lease it for parties.

Some entrepreneurial minds are dreaming of an annual Palm Springs Elvis Week that would celebrate the couple's wedding anniversary, undaunted by divorce and death.

But complaints by neighbors on the cul-de-sac about parties at the so-called Honeymoon Hideaway have prompted the City Council to enforce zoning regulations prohibiting commercial activity in residential areas.

Tourist forays to the hideaway and another house once owned by Elvis have been halted. Ditto for the digs of Marilyn Monroe, Groucho Marx, Liberace and Gen. George Patton.

Palm Springs has filed a lawsuit seeking to permanently bar the hideaway's owner, Leonard Lewis of Boston, from using the house for public events, whether for profit or not.

The trial is scheduled for February in Riverside County Superior Court and is considered a test case for rent-a-parties at celebrity homes in Palm Springs.

City Manager Rob Parkins said he hopes to avoid a trial. He predicted there would be a compromise by late November that would allow the parties to continue--but with restrictions on hours, noise and traffic.

But resident Bruce Kendall says the chance of a compromise is more unlikely than a true Elvis sighting.

He lives down the street from the Honeymoon Hideaway and says moneymaking bashes have no place in his neighborhood. He opposes exceptions to the city's zoning laws.

"This Elvis thing has people so red-headed," Kendall said. "They abused our neighborhood. Then when we tried to protect the value of our homes and the sanctity of our neighborhood they made out like we were trying to turn the whole town into an old rest home."

Despite his ire, Kendall, 79, wanted it noted that he thinks Elvis' music is great. Then he confided his bafflement.

"Here's what I don't understand: Why would someone pay $1,500 to sleep in a bed Elvis never slept in? This Elvis thing is weird."

*

The king-sized bed with the shiny pink bedspread and matching shiny pink headboard is, indeed, just a replica of the bed Elvis and Priscilla slept in on their honeymoon. (Promotional literature for the house points out that "Lisa Marie Presley was born nine months to the day of the honeymoon on Feb. 1, 1968.")

The Honeymoon Hideaway became the star of the celebrity home debate in May when a Los Angeles-based fan club planned an "Elvis Style Barbecue" at the house as part of a $75-a-person, two-day convention commemorating Elvis and Priscilla's anniversary. Proceeds were to go to charity.

Days before the event, the city went to court seeking a restraining order blocking the party. But a judge ruled that the event did not financially benefit the home's owner and was no different than a private resident hosting a charity event in his backyard.

So the barbecue went on, and about two dozen middle-aged fans gathered for a chance to meet Larry Geller, Elvis' hairdresser and spiritual advisor, who revealed that The King had a lot of gray hair at the time of his death. Also in attendance was Elvis' last nurse, Marion Cocke, in her "first West Coast appearance."

Michael McLean, the real estate agent who represents the Honeymoon Hideaway, said he often rents the house to families planning holiday get-togethers. The cost is $1,500 for a weekend, $5,000 for a week.

"You call Uncle Freddy in Toledo and tell him the reunion is not only in Palm Springs where it's 78 degrees, but you're staying in Elvis Presley's honeymoon home, and he's going to catch that plane," McLean said.

The complaints are exaggerated, he said. "The neighbors think there are going to be 80 Elvis impersonators swiveling down the streets at midnight. But, really, that hasn't happened once."

The city's case against the Honeymoon Hideaway threatens the livelihood of those who book parties and corporate events at celebrity homes in the Movie Colony and Las Palmas, two of Palm Springs' oldest neighborhoods.

Judy Rupp, owner of Locations, Locations, Locations, offers prospective clients a promotional video of executives dancing in conga lines and mingling with Marilyn Monroe and Lucille Ball look-alikes. (She calls them "tribute artists.")

Rupp said the events are good for the city and tourism in general and that she works hard to make sure residents aren't disturbed, even bringing in visitors by bus to avoid a caravan on cars on a quiet street.

"It's not like we're asking for Graceland West," Rupp said. "We're only asking Palm Springs to embrace its Hollywood heritage."

The three businesses that book events at celebrity homes brought 15,245 visitors to the city from January to May 1996, the high season in Palm Springs.

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