Las Vegas Sun

August 1, 2014

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The King’s Court

If You Go

  • What: Elvis-a-Rama.
  • When: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. daily.
  • Where: 3401 S. Industrial Road.
  • Cost: $9.95 for one; $14.95 for two; Nevada residents, seniors and students, $7.95.
  • Information: Call 309-7200.

Has there been enough? Will there ever be enough?

Obviously not.

The brand-spankin' new Elvis-a-Rama memorabilia museum recently opened at Spring Mountain and Industrial roads so that fans of the late King of rock 'n' roll can revel in the mementos of a man that shakes them still.

The pieces of an unusual life are gathered in 8,000 square feet of space in a strip mall just off the Strip, which the blue suede-shoed man himself helped make famous. The building, built around the same time that the King wowed 'em at the International hotel-casino (now the Las Vegas Hilton), houses personal items from a man's life that, apparently, will never die:

There's the purple Cadillac he owned; the first limousine Elvis ever toured in; paintings from loving fans; and posters and pictures of Elvis in his later days (no peanut butter and banana sandwiches, but a few shots of a bleary-eyed King in his full Elvis regalia).

But wait, there's more: Pins, ashtrays, notes and rhinestones decorate the Elvis-a-Rama for the curious connoisseurs of Presley. Chris Davidson, co-owner of the museum with Bill Watson, is counting on this collection -- with items amassed at auctions and at the now-defunct Elvis museum in Memphis, Tenn. -- to lure tourists off the Strip and into Elvis mania.

Davidson is a late bloomer in the Elvis memorabilia game, which is huge considering that Elvis Presley Enterprises recently auctioned off millions of dollars' worth of Presley's belongings at the MGM Grand.

"Five years ago I didn't own anything," Davidson says. "It all started at a card show in Chicago in 1993."

Davidson began with a few pictures and signatures of Elvis in the early '90s and started to gather more and more articles from the life of a superstar. As he collected, so he sold. He says that he has now accumulated so much that a museum became the next step.

"You can't buy in the quantities I have without buying and selling as you go," Davidson says. "I've just sold and bought more and this is it. I'll keep buying, but ..."

As an Elvis pendant dangles from his neck and fat rings from the late, great music man sparkle on his fingers, he notes that he is not done. This fan is also a businessman.

The museum began simply: A small exhibit and sale of Elvis memorabilia at the Stratosphere hotel-casino a few years ago led him to believe that a large gathering of Elvis paraphernalia would be a good investment for him and a good attraction for the public that loved to ogle all things Elvis.

"We just had a few pieces (displayed) and we sold $2,500 in (retail) sales," Davidson says. "It was great, amazing. So Bill (Watson) thought of the idea to display all the (memorabilia)."

Fans have already made pilgrimages to the museum from their hotel rooms and Davidson is counting on bus tours and national advertising to keep the masses interested.

Davidson has also, of course, hired an Elvis impersonator: Tim Welch shakes, rattles and rolls several times a day at the museum. The small stage, nestled in the back of the museum in a '50s-style cafe, is rigged to look like an Elvis performance with lights dimming and the signature opening music blaring.

On the white walls of the museum, Elivs looks down from murals painted by Vermont artist Robert E. Shappy, who recently moved to Las Vegas. Shappy has also painted murals for the Beach nightclub, as well as other Las Vegas haunts.

At Elvis-a-Rama, Shappy created a 3-D effect on the glass showcases that hold the relics of Elvis' life -- ranging from the '50s through the '70s -- by placing rhinestones and belts on the paintings.

"(Davidson) let me do whatever I wanted and I wanted to put a little something extra in there," Shappy says. The murals accentuate the photos and outfits.

Trent Carlini, Elvis impersonator at the Boardwalk hotel-casino, says: the more Elvis in Las Vegas, the merrier.

"Anything that is related to the Elvis name, people are going to be curious (about). Apparently there is a market out there," Carlini says, adding that there is a big need for more Elvis in Las Vegas because people still feel a connection to him 22 years after his death.

"People who come to Vegas, they want a picture with an Elvis impersonator," Carlini says.

Steve Connelly, Elvis impersonator at Bally's hotel-casino, says the famous name prompts curiosity. Basically, if you build it -- and advertise it -- they will come.

"They (tourists) will go to Hoover Dam, and if it's well advertised they will go to this," Connelly says. "If you have good advertising, it will make it."

The tour of Graceland -- where Elvis is buried and which remains the most personal shrine to his life -- costs $10. Elvis-a-Rama costs $9.95.

"I don't think people won't go to see it. ... Elvis and Vegas are almost synonymous," says Connelly, who was only a child when Presley died.

"He was rags to riches, he was the people's hearts, he rose to international fame and stardom and you can't take that away," Connelly says. "(He is) for anybody who has hope. As Americans we think you can do anything. If you work for it you can achieve it. He did."

He adds that even if today's big name rock 'n' rollers, such as Prince or N 'Sync, did a tribute to Elvis, people would show up because ... it's Elvis .

"Elvis is huge," Connelly says.

So the music, the legend, the blue suede shoes live on in tribute.

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