Fri Jan 23, 2009 9:17 pm
Few, if any, would consider the Poplars building the most picturesque on the IUB campus. Yet, this modernist monolithic structure does have one unusual claim to fame: Elvis slept here.
Elvis Presley, who would have turned 70 on Jan. 8, performed at Assembly Hall twice in the three years preceding his death in 1977. More than three decades later, several longtime IU staffers remember vividly his June 1974 visit, which included an overnight stay at what was then known as the Poplars Research and Conference Center.
Daryl Brawthen, director of fiscal affairs for the IU Office of Risk Management, has worked at the Poplars since 1970 and knows more about the building’s history than just about anyone at IU.
“It was built by a private contractor in the early ’60s to be a luxury dormitory for women. Because of construction delays, it opened late and never achieved full occupancy,” he explained. “When IU purchased the building in 1972, it had all the amenities of an upscale hotel—swimming pool, sauna, full-service catering, etc. Suite 800-802, which had a bedroom, living room and kitchenette, was where Elvis stayed.”
Brawthen, who was Poplars’ business manager in 1974, remembers that Presley’s visit was cloaked in intrigue at the beginning. “Three months before, the general manager got a call and was told that someone very important would be staying here, but they couldn’t say who, and we needed to reserve half of the eighth floor,” he said. “Later, someone named Col. (Tom) Parker called. We figured it was someone high up in the military, because we recently had an assistant secretary of the Navy stay here.”
Mike Hanson, interim chief of the IU Police Department who will celebrate 35 years with the force next month, was an IUPD detective at the time of Presley’s visit. He recalled that there were several meetings between IUPD and Presley’s business managers to prepare for his stay at the Poplars.
“Those people had been through this situation hundreds of times before in hundreds of venues, and they were real professionals at knowing exactly what needed to be done. As a result, there was absolutely no problem that I can recall,” said Hanson. “I still remember their instructions regarding Elvis’ security in crowds. They said that Elvis loved his fans and that we should let them come as close to him as they wanted and to only intervene if they tried to touch him or pull at his clothing to obtain a souvenir.”
Hanson remembered being impressed by the friendliness of everyone in Presley’s entourage. “It seemed everyone was keenly aware that their behavior reflected on Elvis. I did meet and shake hands with him. He was extremely nice to all of the officers working that detail and was always making jokes, laughing and signing autographs for anyone who asked. He still seemed genuinely surprised and amused at the reaction his presence brought out in fans,” said Hanson.
Today, Kutina Davis is the occupant of the “Elvis suite,” which she inherited three years ago when she was promoted to assistant director for claim operations at the Office of Risk Management. When Brawthen first showed her the office and told her about its legendary guest, she was stunned and has found that the room draws curious fans.
“When people find out about the room, they think it’s really neat. I’ve even had people I don’t know drop by my office just to see the room,” said Davis, who considers herself a second-generation Elvis fan. “I have several Elvis CDs and I’ve seen a lot of his movies. If I had been around during his prime, I know I would have been a huge fan. I was very young when he passed away, but I remember my mom and babysitter being really upset. I was too young at the time to know what all the fuss was about.”
Since Presley’s death in 1977, rumors have circulated that he is alive somewhere. When asked if she had ever felt a presence when she’s in her office, Davis replied, “No, I haven’t. But, I’ve had a lot of people ask me that question.”
Clearly, for some folks at the Poplars, Elvis has never left the building.
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