Hey, that house looks just like Graceland
So why is a replica of the King’s Memphis mansion sitting in an Orlando subdivision?
Published: September 11, 2013
‘I liked him.”
That’s the money quote from Orlando businessman Claude Dowda, he of such vanished landmarks as Sharkey’s Bar & Grill in Winter Park and the Pandemonium Skating Center in Pine Hills, in a 1987 Orlando Sentinel story explaining why he constructed his home as a replica of Presley’s famed domicile. He liked Elvis. (Now, there are a lot of things I like. I like Primus, for example, but I don’t want to build a house that reminds me of them.)
By way of further explanation, he told the Sentinel that he always wanted a “colonial home” and that this was an “important consideration” in his decision to build his imitation Graceland in 1981. According to the Sentinel, it cost him $480,000 to build it. The house thrilled Elvis fans, who flocked to gawk at the home and visit its annual Christmas light display. But, as the newspaper pointed out, the references to Graceland were purely surface. While Dowda went to great pains to ape the King’s original 1939 neocolonial, the interior was no detailed replica of what thousands flock to Memphis each year to experience. Sure, there were ornate fixtures in Dowda’s home, like a shimmering $75,000 chandelier in the foyer and surfaces of lush Italian marble, and one upstairs bedroom was decorated with tropical furnishings to mimic Elvis’s beloved Jungle Room, but most of the interior decoration was Dowda, not Presley. Dowda liked Elvis – he didn’t love him. This could be why the entrepreneurial Dowda, who built several other homes in Hyland Oaks, originally dubbed the whole subdivision Graceland and hung a likeness of Elvis on the Hiawassee Trail entrance. Anyone with true reverence for Elvis probably wouldn’t use his visage in such a gimmicky manner.
One creative liberty taken with Graceland South’s exterior is the pool. Though Elvis himself had a standard oval-shaped watering hole at the original Graceland, Dowda shaped his pool to resemble a guitar. The shimmering blue mass juts into the backyard at a 45-degree angle, and while its proportions might make your average musician cringe, you can’t beat the fact that a jacuzzi makes up the headstock.
It’s an impressive property and a fine monument to our country’s pop-music heritage. But this monument is no park. Throughout its 32-year existence, Orlando’s Graceland has remained a strictly private residence, hidden away from all of Orlando’s other garish tourist delights. In a town besieged with clusters of pop-culture landmarks designed to thrill crowds and make a profit, Central Florida’s ultimate temple to rock & roll’s most iconic personality doesn’t host tours and its owners don’t boast about it in guidebooks. The property does not contain an Elvis museum or an Elvis diner or an Elvis wedding altar, or even a cardboard cutout of Elvis waving hello. The doorbell does not play “Heartbreak Hotel.” The mailbox does not boast a rendering of Lisa Marie Presley’s face. And perhaps the strangest fact of all: No rabid Elvis fans have ever dwelled within our Graceland’s walls. Dowda’s raging “like” for Elvis is as feverish as any resident could muster.
> Email James Greene, Jr.