Mansion for Lisa Marie // The King's daughter now calls Clearwater home

Published July 29, 1997|Updated July 6, 2006

The luster of international celebrity and the intrigue that goes with it have arrived in a quiet, eclectic neighborhood north of downtown.

Lisa Marie Presley, the 29-year-old heir to the King of Rock 'n' Roll and former spouse of the King of Pop, has moved into an estate on the bluff overlooking Clearwater Harbor, according to neighbors.

The property is just several blocks north of a cluster of downtown buildings that serve as a retreat and worldwide spiritual hub for the Church of Scientology. Presley has been a member of the controversial church for years.

Before the property was purchased in November for $1.2-million, the new owner installed a 150-foot dock extension and a protective wall, which winds around the property and is about 200 yards long, according to city records.

Visitors are greeted by "Keep Out" signs and a solid black gate, behind which is a team of security guards who monitor anyone they deem suspicious. A ceramic plate on the wall bears the name of the previous owner.

"We see her once in a while," said Carrie Overton, 25, who lives in a small home within sight of the estate's entrance and who has come to consider the guards as friendly acquaintances.

Overton telephoned her brother in Ohio, who she said is "a major Elvis Presley fan," when she found out about her new neighbor. She said her brief encounters with The King's daughter have been friendly.

The tabloid press discovered the spot weeks ago, photographing Presley in her bathing suit around the waterfront pool, writing that she is obsessed with Scientology and constantly surrounded by church members.

One story in the National Enquirer reported on Presley's life in Clearwater, prompting a lawsuit in which Presley says the publication libeled her and invaded her privacy. Her lawyer in the case is Daniel Petrocelli of Los Angeles, who recently won the civil verdict against O.J. Simpson.

Another recent report in Star magazine published the address of the estate, and, according to neighbors, gawkers have posed for photographs in front of the security gate and tried to steal glimpses over the 6-foot masonry wall.

On July 4, Overton said, many neighborhood residents went to the waterfront to view the city's fireworks display, only to be treated to a second display from the Presley dock.

"I wouldn't call her stuck up or anything," Overton said. "She basically keeps to herself. We've talked to her bodyguards. If somebody's doing something they shouldn't be doing, they're out right away; which is good."

Security is so tight that two of the guards refused Monday to accept a written interview request from the Times.

It was addressed to Presley. "That person doesn't live here," said one guard.

Later, as a reporter interviewed neighbors, another man took pictures from the estate's driveway. The man, who refused to give his name, also said Presley did not live at that address. He chewed a toothpick and growled: "I took your picture because we've been harassed here so much."

Another neighbor, Michael Reeves, said he has seen curiosity seekers hoist their children aloft to get a better glimpse over the gate.

Reeves also said he and his wife, Maggie, have seen Presley about five times in recent weeks _ a couple times as the gate opened but mostly jogging with body guards near the home.

"There's no doubt in my mind it's her," Reeves said. "I've seen enough pictures of her to know what she looks like."

Overton said Presley is frequently accompanied by several people as she comes and goes. She said she is close enough to hear the electronic chatter from the intercom at the gate.

"It's hard not to notice," she said.

She also said the guards have told her the neighbors were all "checked out" before Presley moved there, "which I didn't appreciate but I can understand it."

Shaded by 50-foot oak trees, the estate was renovated extensively by the previous owner in 1993 and 1994. It sits amid a neighborhood of expensive waterfront homes, middle-class bungalows and scruffy, paint-chipped apartment buildings.

The last time Presley made headlines locally was when her second child, Ben, was born in 1992 at Humana Women's Hospital in Tampa. At the time, she was married to singer Danny Keough, another long-time member of the Church of Scientology.

Less than two years later, she married pop singer Michael Jackson, a controversial and widely heralded union that ended when Presley filed for divorce last year.

Although Presley has been visiting Clearwater for years, the purchase of the estate is the first indication she may be calling the area home.

Church of Scientology spokesman Brian Anderson referred all questions about Presley to her publicist Paul Bloch. Through a spokeswoman, Bloch declined Monday to talk about the move, which has been shrouded in secrecy.

When Presley gave birth to her child in Tampa, People magazine commented: "Buckingham Palace itself couldn't have done a better job of protecting the privacy of the new mother and the lost King's grandchild."

The same could be said of her new home, which was purchased under the name of a Memphis lawyer, whose firm has worked for the Elvis Presley estate. (Lisa Marie Presley stands to inherit her father's fortune when she turns 30 in February).

Permit documents for the dock and the new wall were signed by Fletcher Haaga, trust officer for a Memphis bank and one of the Presley estate's advisers. Haaga could not be reached for comment.

The city's bills for water, gas and garbage collection are mailed to a Los Angeles address. It's the same address as Barry Siegel, who heads a financial management company and is an agent for companies owned by Presley and her mother, Priscilla Presley.

The July 14 lawsuit against the National Enquirer confirms the move to Florida, though it doesn't mention a location. Presley, it says, "formerly resided in California" and is "currently residing in Florida."

She is part of a growing community of Scientologists in Clearwater, who numbered about 1,400, according to a 1989 study commissioned by the church. Today, church officials estimate that as many as 6,000 Scientologists live in the Clearwater area or come for church counseling that can last many weeks.

Clearwater is considered a Scientology "mecca" where members receive church counseling available nowhere else in the world. Not even Los Angeles, where the church's administrative headquarters are located and where Presley formerly lived.