Jonny Barber is troubled. Last week, the former Velvet Elvis, the Mile High City's expert Elvis channeler and resident Elvistorian received news that the building that used to house the Nading-Presley Memorial Gym, which The King generously helped build for the Denver Police Department, is purportedly about to become a Walgreens.
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Barber made the disheartening discovery as he himself called to inquire about the property, which he had hoped to turn into an Elvis-themed drive-through wedding chapel. Too late, it seems. Walgreens, he was informed, had already purchased the building. The impending arrival of the pharmacy, he points out, represents another chapter of Walgreens' (unintentional?) efforts to claim another historic Denver landmark.
"First the Aladdin Theatre," Barber says, incredulous, referring to the 1400 seat theater that once sat at 2000 E. Colfax Avenue, across from Pete's Kitchen, that was razed in 1984. "Then it was the Rainbow Music Hall," the site of which at Evans and Monoco is now, of course, a Walgreens, "and now this."
More than just another property for sale, the building at 3555 Colorado Boulevard once housed the gym that The King himself helped fund for the Denver Police Department, with whom he had close ties to through Captain Jerry Kennedy. A friend of Elvis, Kennedy was on hand when 22 Fool's Gold Loaves were delivered to the Lisa Marie, Elvis's plane, which had flown into Denver just for the sandwiches.
Another time, Elvis reportedly left a recording session to attend Jerry's brother's funeral. "When he flew back to Memphis to resume the session," Barber notes, "he showed up in his Denver Police Uniform! Elvis also bought Jerry a Lincoln and some of the other officers received Cadillacs."
When Barber performed at Kennedy's 80th birthday party, the former police captain gave him the plaque that used to hang in the gym, the inscription of which reads:
NADING-PRESLEY MEMORIAL GYM
"On October 3, 1971, Denver Police Officer Merle Nading was slain by a gunman at Colfax Avenue and Gaylord Street. Officer Nading was respected by his fellow officers and his passing was a blow felt by all. At the time of his death, Officer Nading had begun work on this gym, and as a tribute to him, his fellow officers completed it with their own unselfish work.
The thousands of dollars used to purchase materials for this gym were donated by Elvis Presley, who contributed the money to the Denver Police Dept. for this purpose. The Nading-Presley Memorial Gym stands as a memorial to both of these fine men and all others who contributed time and effort to its successful completion."
"I wish the building could have been saved," Barber concludes. "If the building would have been in Memphis, it would be a shrine by now."
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