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
“My Elvis fandom is about the same as the next guy’s,” Peter Acks tells me during an interview in his Winter Park office. He makes a wavering hand motion – the kind somebody makes to let you know that they’re on the fence about something. “Not overly fantastic.”
Acks was a real-estate investor and appraiser in 1994 when he discovered that Orlando’s Graceland was up for grabs. Dowda, facing dicey financial times in the wake of several mysterious fires at his restaurant Sharkey’s, let the house go to Security Pacific National Trust two years earlier (around the same time that Dowda’s son and a few cronies were living alone in Graceland; rumors of drug activity prompted a police raid, and someone was non-fatally shot coming out of the Jungle Room). Interested and intrigued by the lavish mansion, Acks and his wife snatched it up for a mere $200,000, according to property records on file with the Orange County Property Appraiser’s office. At the time the home was not in the best of shape; despite being built to commercial standards, the wooden columns at the front entry were rotting away, and the pool appeared to be murkier than the Black Lagoon. Renovations loomed, but Acks was excited with his unique fixer-upper.
“Where else are you going to find an Elvis Presley house?” he asks, a grin forming under his light-brown mustache. “We had plans for it. My wife had connections at Disney and Universal. We wanted to hire an Elvis impersonator, have a party or two. We were proud of the house.”
Unfortunately, Acks and his wife never even got to move in. Four months after purchasing their Graceland, a wealthy Egyptian named Samir Selim, who was on the lookout for land in America, made Peter an offer for the property he “couldn’t refuse.” The Acks’ dreams of “Return to Sender”-themed dinner parties were set aside when they sold to Selim for $275,000. Selim, who quickly and efficiently implemented the renovations the Acks figured would take years to complete, remained friendly with Acks after the sale and even invited him once to visit him in Egypt.
“Let me tell you, a limo picked me up from the Cairo airport,” Acks marveled, his eyes widening. “Samir’s house had three living rooms and there were servants everywhere. You’d reach for more water and they’d say, ‘Uh-uh, please, allow me.’ I never found out what he did for a living, but … this Graceland property was small potatoes to him.”
Elvis Presley was also small potatoes to Samir Selim. A classical music fan, Selim and his wife, Doria, were looking to unload the home by 1998 (“They will consider swapping [the house] for property in Turkey, Greece or Spain,” the Sentinel blankly noted at the time). In April 2002, Graceland finally sold to Abbass Mohanee for $434,500. He sat on the home for seven months before giving it up to current owner Angelea Harichand for $250,000.
‘Cranky” is one way to describe Harichand’s attitude toward dedicated Elvis fans and curious kitsch freaks (such as myself) who’ve come knocking at her front door. She and her family want to be left alone. They don’t want to gab about Blue Hawaii to every Joe Rhinestone who comes calling. They just want to relax with their pooch and their vintage car and their guitar-shaped pool in relative peace and anonymity. This is disheartening and slightly confusing – until I flex my rationale.
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