HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Construction is well underway on City Centre at Big Spring in downtown Huntsville. The $70 million mixed-use project will feature everything from restaurants and retail stores to a hotel and apartments. The development is being built on land that was once the site of the Hilton Hotel. It was where “The King” slept for a few nights more than 40 years ago.
In 2005, we met former WHNT reporter Dick Curtis at the hotel before it was demolished to talk about chasing down Elvis Presley in 1975.
“Big story for us. Nobody else was there,” Dick said standing on the same sidewalk where he’d stood 30 years earlier. “Just the two Channel 19 reporters, Bob Knowles and myself.”
Dick and Bob Knowles had been working on the story for several days. When they saw Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker, they knew they were in the right place. They’d been waiting for almost three hours at Huntsville Aviation.
“And in came Elvis' private jet and we went, this is it,” Dick remembered. Elvis got off the plane and into the back of a limo at 3 a.m.
“Here they come. Maybe they'll stop,” Dick said. “Maybe we'll get an interview. Right past us,” he said laughing. Dick and Bob had a pretty good idea the motorcade was going to the Hilton downtown. The chase was on.
“Coming down Highway 20, going pretty fast, Bob says, we've got to get ahead of them, so we went around the limousine, started going around the Police Chief Gene Sweeton,” Dick said. “He looked at us. We looked at him. He said go ahead.”
They got to the Hilton before Elvis, but when the limo didn’t stop in front, they had to run around to the back to try to catch The King. Dick and Bob were on the sidewalk.
“He comes up and he wasn't going to stop and so I think I said. 'Welcome to Huntsville,'” Dick said. Elvis kept walking, smiled and said, “Thank you. Thank you very much.”
Elvis rarely did interviews, but Dick got what he wanted, Elvis arriving in Huntsville.
“Went in this door and I think we put our camera right up to the glass, same door and he disappeared down the hallway and that's the last we saw of him until the concert,” Dick said.
Elvis did five concerts in three days inside the Von Braun Center arena.
For obvious reasons, Elvis wouldn't go through the front doors of the Hilton on his way to the VBC. He went through the kitchen, and left through the back door on the loading dock where the police chief had the car waiting for him. Elvis would get in the back seat for a short ride over to the VBC where he'd do his concerts.
One of the chefs at the Hilton told me when Elvis came through the kitchen, one of those nights, another chef had made that famous fried peanut butter and banana sandwich for him. It was one of Elvis’ favorites. But nothing was sweeter to some Elvis groupies than when they were able to get into room 328 at the Hilton after The King had left the building.
“They came in, got the sheets off the bed. They went in the bathroom,” Dick said. “They stripped the room basically, so they got some souvenirs.”
Dick caught up with Elvis one last time when he was getting on his plane to leave town. He was standing on the steps. “He saw our camera and he walked up to the top,” Dick recalls. “Right before he went in, turned around and said thanks for the news.”