February 19th 2013
Tours of Elvis Presley’s former Palm Springs home have ceased, and its owners have been evicted, leaving behind a lengthy paper trail of lawsuits and bankruptcy.
The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department evicted owners Reno Fontana and his wife, Laura Whittier, from the home on Jan. 17 after claims by Financial Bonanza LLC, a Nevada investor, that the couple had been living in the home for nearly six years without making payments, while still offering the home and its celebrity pedigree up for tours.
“He pocketed the money,” said Michael P. Rubin, an attorney for Financial Bonanza, managed by Adrian Van Rijs, a real estate broker in Tarzana, Nev. “And he was making, I believe sufficient money.”
The home appears to have been purchased by Fontana in 2004. Fontana capitalized on its history as a winter getaway for Presley and his wife, Priscilla. He offered tours and rented out the space for events. Fontana even had the perfect name for the property: Graceland West. The home is not the well-known Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway, designed by Robert Alexander at 1350 Ladera Circle, which served as a honeymoon retreat for Presley and Priscilla.
However, Graceland officials in Memphis refused to license the deal, a harbinger of the rocky future the home at 845 Chino Canyon Drive would face.
Rubin claims Fontana did little to pay back the money he owed Van Rijs.
“Fontana defaulted,” said Rubin. “And Van Rijs kept giving him more and more extensions and more and more time, and — before I was his lawyer — then finally, there was nothing else to do.”
By Oct. 11, 2012, when the property filed for bankruptcy in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Central District of California, more than $2.4 million in liabilities were listed on property valued at $1.1 million, according to court documents.
Neither Fontana nor Stephen R. Wade, his legal representation, could be reached for comment Tuesday. However, according to legal documents, Fontana claims he was unfairly evicted because the bankruptcy case has yet to be settled.
The 5,100-square-foot home, built in 1946, could be returned to the tour circuit, said Rubin.
“We’re going to try to put it back in shape so they can start doing tours again,” he said. “Financial Bonanza may look for more investors or may end up selling it. But that’s long-term.”