Saturday, June 12, 2010

Elvis' Grandfather

Rex Cornelison
In doing research ,  I ran across some fascinating information about Elvis' grandfather who lived in Louisville.  During the 1950's I always heard the rumors about Elvis' grandmother living in Louisville and that Elvis would make secret visits.  My friend Kenny Presley lived around the corner in one of those three story wood frame apartment buildings with asphalt shingles on the walls and an outside porch and stairway.  The Presleys received phone calls at all hours trying to track down Elvis and his grandmother, and Kenny's older brother Ray was fond of answering the phone and pretending to be Elvis.  It was actually Elvis' grandfather J.D. and step grandmother Vera who lived in Louisville.  According to several sources  Elvis did visit J.D. on the job at the Pepsi Cola plant on November 25, 1956 and gave them a TV and 1957 Ford Fairlane.  (My sister Patti recalled that the Presleys actually lived down the street from her mother in law not far from Churchhill Downs).  The following site not only provides more detail that you'll ever want to know, but audio clips of J.D.'s recordings for Louisville's Legacy records as well as a video clip from J.D.'s appearance on "I've Got A Secret" along with a photo of J.D. and Vera with the 1957 Fairlane.  According to another source the car was sold in 1982 for $2,500 and sat in a Valley Station garage for years before being refurbished in 2006.
( In this web site , it states that Elvis stayed at the Seal Bark hotel for his Nov 25 , 1956 appearance at Freedom Hall . Most likely it was the Seelbach )
Fortunately/unfortunately these writing researching exercises evoke the inevitable memories of the old neighborhood.  Our family's first place was a one bedroom apartment on the third floor of a subdivided mansion on 4th street (1629) next door to a seventh day adventist church. There was industry all around and railroad tracks crossing fourth street at the end of the block where trains constantly ran reminiscent of the scene from the Blues Brothers.  At that intersection there was a neighborhood tavern (appropriately named "The Tavern") frequented by my father on his way home from the office at Standard Oil.  There was also a bookie joint in back to satisfy one of Dad's other passions.  The circular building with lots of neon known as The Hollywood Steakhouse (later to become "Masterson's") was one block over on Third.  Around the corner from the Steakhouse was Pastori's Pizza (I believe, but can't verify the name), the best pizza in town.  It was dimly lit, had a concrete floor, wooden booths with numerous coats of industrial grey paint, neon signs and dingy walls with black and white photos of its proprietor who had been a boxer.  It was there at the tender age of 14 that a neighbor (who was 17 and already married) took me for a beer after getting off work at Walgreen's -no questions asked.  In 1953 after my youngest sister was born, the one bedroom was too small for the five of us and we moved to 1923 First Street, one block down from Manual to what had been a farmhouse 100 years before and still had the gas spickets for lighting in each room along with fireplaces and 12 foot ceilings and stained glass windows.  Our side of that house had two bedrooms and it had been subdivided during the war.  Across the street was a little gas station with two pumps, an outdoor lift and small shack for the office where all the guys in the neighborhood hung out drinking Dr. Pepper, pitching pennies, smoking and listening to rock and roll.  (One couldn't openly drink beer in the neighborhood, that pleasure was reserved for the bars and drive in theaters). Next door to our house was a large yellow brick house with terraced lawn and even an elevator. Next to that was a red brick 4 unit apartment building followed by various single family homes in stages of disrepair.  On our other side was a white neatly kept victorian where the Yates' sold antiques and had a black faced lawn jockey out front proudly holding their "Antiques" sign.  In the next block the sororities and fraternities had claimed many of the old homes giving a party atmosphere to the neighborhood.  One homecoming in particular Rock and Roll seemed to be the theme, and one featured a 30 Foot high moving Elvis blasting "Hound Dog" into the wee hours to the consternation of my father who openly hated Rock and Roll and to my everlasting delight.  So the neighborhood, like many in Louisville was a real hodgepodge.
In the aforementioned apartment building occupied by the Presleys, the Craigs lived on the 3rd floor, with a daughter who was not attractive, but was of relatively loose morals (she probably became a ravishing beauty later and married a minister).  Mrs. Craig worked at Kresgee's and used her discount to buy my first record, a 78 of Love Me Tender which I had to play in the basement next to the coal furnace on the kiddee record player to avoid the ire of my father (I would later build a 100 watt player in my room in the attic after I went to work at 14 and no longer needed an allowance or supervision and came and went as I pleased).  Ray Presley had a paper route and if you played your cards right Ray would let you sell his left over papers on the street corner and split the money (my first foray into sales).  Down the block from the Presleys lived the Sharps.  The father died in 1958 and had a used barrel business which Irvin inherited and dropped out of school to run.  He soon replaced his father's Sanford and Sons pickup with a semi and trailer and recruited kids in the neighborhood to heft the 55 gallon drums on and off the truck just for the privilege of being around Irvin.  Irvin was the coolest guy I ever met. He had money for clothes and records, had the biggest hi-fi i had seen (no stereo at the time) and even had a dirt track race car emblazoned with "Hell on Wheels".  His sister Jeannie was one year older than me, a real tease and the hottest girl in the neighborhood.  She was my first real love and the first girl I ever remember kissing and making out with.  We played 45's on Irvin's hi-fi and she tried to teach me to dance (it didn't take).  If Irvin liked you he wouldn't beat the hell out of you for kissing his sister.  I made sure I was liked.  Irvin eventually bought the first  Pontiac Grand Prix in Louisville - Candy Apple Red- and reportedly paid cash generated from his largely cash business.
All in all just a typical 50's neighborhood.
Rock On!


  1. Toni Cameron Little was the one of us I know that saw Elvis in hie 1957 ( ? ) appearance in Louisville .Anybody else out there ? Recent sightings ?

  2. Well we now know it was Nov 25, 1956 that he played at the Armory . Please see link on sidebar , the Louisville Elvis Connection .

  3. Geo sends:
    Sent: Saturday, June 12, 2010 12:23 PM
    I'd like to confirm the Pressley's (with 2 s's) abode in Louisville.
    Mr. Pressley bought my aunt and uncle's house on Beaver Street off Bluegrass Avenue in the south end--near Churchill Downs. That was in the early 50's.
    My late mother-in-law, Vera Vonsick, was Mrs. Pressley's hair dresser until her death shortly after Elvis gave up the oxygen habit.
    Mrs. P shared many stories of her famous grandson's late nite visits....always secretive and seldom announced even to grandma and grandma. Of course, owning one's own private jet and being only a few minutes from the airport made the visits easier than you might expect.
    Interesting history

    My uncle who owned the property that he sold to the Pressley's was Hubert Brent. I was in that house many times as a youngster.