Tag Archives: Musician Homes

The Jerry Lee Lewis Ranch

10 Mar

The Lewis Ranch | 1595 Malone Rd |Nesbit, MS | (About 30 minutes south of Memphis)

Mind the sign. There are rules at The Killer's house.

When I pilgrimate to Jerry Lee Lewis’s home in Nesbit, Mississippi, I’m never sure whether I want The Killer to be home or not.  On one hand, it would be nice to know that I’m standing only a dozen yards from a rock icon. On the other, if he’s not home, I’m more likely to leave alive.

The Killer lives in an unremarkable red brick ranch house on a hilly, semi-rural road. This architectural feature seems to be the reason Lewis refers to his estate as “The Lewis Ranch.” (There are no branded cattle in sight.) It’s a house identical to the childhood home of most upwardly mobile middle-class Boomers. The choice mirrors Elvis’s satisfaction with Graceland: When you’re born in a shack, a medium-sized home feels like a palace. If more of us could achieve that same level of satisfaction with 2500 square feet, we would have avoided the current mortgage crisis.

A rancher is good enough for Lewis.

The unusual feature of the home is the large brick and board wall surrounding the property. In former days this fence was covered with graffiti from adoring fans, much of it in German. It’s now whitewashed. Three double gates adorned with wood panels, bearing the faintest resemblance to pianos, emphasize the estate’s exclusivity. Happily, the fencing does not bar the view of Lewis’s automobiles. Last visit recorded two unidentifiable cars under covers, and mid-1970s van favored by day laborers, and a beat-up maroon station wagon.

The ebony and ivory gates of the Ranch

The grounds also house the famed piano-shaped swimming pool and an attraction once billed as “The Killer Kar Museum.”

If you try to be social, you're responsible.

In 1994 Lewis opened his home to visitors (for $15, to help pay 4 million, later reduced to half-a-million in back taxes to the IRS) if you called ahead. After he divorced his sixth wife, Kerrie McCarver, in 2005, Lewis got the keep the house, but quit hosting fans. Now, a makeshift sign implores you accord The Killer his privacy. Another, more menacing sign, half-obscured by a weeping branch, informs you that the Lewis estate is not responsible for injury.

Elise Lauterbach


The many homes of Elvis Presley

6 Mar

Elvis Presley's apartment building in Lauderdale Courts

Elvis left the building. Many times. Although only two of Elvis’s many homes, his birthplace in Tupelo and deathplace of Graceland, get sustained publicity, the King spent much of his abbreviated life at other fine, and not so fine, Mid-South residences. Some remain, some are Gone with the Wind, but a survey of them demonstrate his modest architectural ascent to Graceland. (See the home of Jerry Lee Lewis for a comparison).

Elvis first hung his river city hat at a rental house at 572 Poplar Avenue. He lived there with his parents from Sept. 12, 1948 until Sept. 20, 1949. The house is no longer standing– it’s currently a vacant lot between pawn shops a few blocks from Memphis’s downtown medical center.

In 1949 the Presleys moved into the Lauderdale Courts. Their building still stands at 185 Winchester Street, no. 328 (pictured at right). It’s a two-bedroom apartment on the ground floor, and you can rent it and stay where the boy who would be King experienced bouts of teen angst [see inside here]. The former housing project has been redeveloped as mixed income housing, with a special focus of hip urbanites. Of which there are so very many in Memphis.

Elvis Presley's apartment on Lamar Ave. in Memphis, TN

From the end of 1954 until mid-1955 the Presleys rented part of a house at 2414 Lamar. In 1954 and 1955, Elvis was appearing regularily in concerts throughout the South. He recorded “Baby, Let’s Play House” at Sun in February.  The house still stands (pictured at left), with a newer, jankier facade. Lamar is the main street of South Memphis, and no longer residential. Or white. Screaming youths still flock there everyday– the building now holds a daycare center. By March of ’55 Elvis was headlining shows and by May he was causing girls to swoon. He took Mama and Papa to play house on a nicer street.

The west side of the Lamar Ave. building

After the house on Lamar, the Presleys spent a year in another rental house at 1414 Getwell Street, where they lived until May 11, 1956. This house, which has been replaced by a dollar store, would have been a step up from the house on Lamar. Probably brick, it was on a bigger lot and likely had another bedroom. It’s next door to Hub Cap Annie’s, one of a memorable local chain of shops with a unique musical claim to fame. Elvis didn’t spend much time at this property– he was on tour almost every day on 1955, coming home May 6 to take his girlfriend, Dixie Locke, to her junior prom, playing one gig at the Overton Park Shell in Memphis in August 5, and home for twelve days at Christmas. The city directory for the year lists Guitarist Bill Black’s profession as “Musician Elvis Presley Band.” It was more than a full time job.

The house bought just before Graceland, in a much better neigborhood.

In 1956 television discovered Elvis and Elvis discovered the pleasures and perils of owning a piece of the American dream. His new RCA contract, national rep, and film appearances ended the necessity of grueling touring. The success “Heartbreak Hotel” helped absolve him from motel living. Elvis was

Nice awning.

able to settle down. A bit.

In April of 1956 Elvis bought 1034 Audubon Drive, a three-bedroom ranch house in a tonier part of town. It’s much nicer than Graceland’s neighborhood– it backed up to Hugo Dixon’s lot, at that time one of the most exclusive properties in town (now a museum of Impressionism with extensive landscaped gardens). Elvis paid $40,000  for the property and installed the wrought iron fence. Neighboors allegedly hated the Presleys– they were white trash, there were girls everywhere– and the local homeowners association asked them to leave. The Audubon address was recently the subject of a bidding war between a man who bends spoons with his mind and a former lieutenant governor of California. The latter prevailed, and the property has since seen some of its country folk made good glitter restored, including the “P” awnings.

In March of 1957, The Presleys left the heart of East Memphis to return to their roots in the working class suburb of Whitehaven. Graceland cost Elvis $100,000, but it still doesn’t have the cache of the Audobon Drive address. But with a gross income of 22 million bucks in 1956 alone, Elvis didn’t really need the approval of old Memphis to sleep at night.

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