In 2020, defying lockdowns and wearing masks, we took a 32 day roadtrip from the Texas Hill Country to Washington DC and back.
Our first stop was near Fort Hood in a central Killeen Texas neighborhood. If the walls of the circa 1950 ranch-style house at 605 Oakhill Drive could talk, they’d sing!
It’s a nice house but doesn’t have any visual features that dramatically set it apart from the other homes in the area not far from Conder Park. It’s a one-story, brick home with a rather large mailbox out front.
As big Elvis Presley fans, we thought there might be a landmark sign designating it as the house the most famous entertainer in history lived while going through Army training.
At the height of his early fame, the Army drafted Elvis in 1958, and at the Memphis induction center, he received his shots, his buzz cut, and his orders. On March 28, he and others were sent by military bus to Fort Hood, the Second Armored Division, General George S. Patton’s “Hell on Wheels” wild bunch.
Enroute the new troops stopped for a restaurant lunch break in Hillsboro causing “a small riot” when teenage customers recognized him.
Elvis didn’t want any special treatment offered. His desire was to be just another G.I. His fellow soldiers saw that in him and Elvis became one of the guys.
Private Simon Vega recalled, “I thought he was gonna get special treatment but he did KP, guard duty, everything, just like us.”
When basic training was completed, the Army allowed soldiers to live off base as long as they had dependents living in the area. It was not long before Elvis’ parents, grandmother, and a friend traveled to Killeen where they found a three-bedroom home to rent from Chester Crawford, an attorney who charged an outrageous $700 a month.
Soon crowds began showing up on Oakhill Drive to catch a glimpse of Elvis. It was common for him to stand outside and talk to fans for hours. Occasionally, he detoured through neighbors’ backyards to avoid the crowds, and according to neighbor Janie Sullivan, the clothesline in their yard once caught Elvis and the dog bit him.
Not everyone was thrilled by Elvis’ presence in the neighborhood. Some Oak Hill residents called the police to complain about the clouds of dust stirred up by the cars and the carnival-like atmosphere.
While completing an additional ten weeks of advanced tank training, Elvis had to take emergency leave to fly to Memphis to be with his mother, Gladys, who had returned home to be hospitalized. She died two days later on August 14.
After his mother’s funeral, Elvis returned and put in long days at Fort Hood learning to be a tanker. During his final days at Fort Hood, large crowds gathered outside his house, and some nights a hundred people kept vigil. The last night, on September 19, 1958, Elvis and his gang gathered at the home to make the drive to the troop train that would take him and 1,360 other G.I.s to Brooklyn to sail for Germany.
Biographers and friends reported that Elvis’ time at Fort Hood and in the Army was among the happiest of his life. For a time, he was almost “just another soldier.” Everyone agreed that Elvis was a good soldier, one of the best in the company.
His longtime girlfriend, Anita Wood, said, “he had finally found himself.”
Elvis said later, “I learned a lot about people in the Army. I never lived with other people before and had a chance to find out how they think.”
In 1958, longtime Killeen resident Edith Carlile lived four doors down from the house Pvt. Elvis Presley lived in with his parents, Vernon and Gladys. Presley rented the home for seven months from a local lawyer when he was stationed at Fort Hood.
“The street was extremely crowded with cars going by,” said Carlile, who lived next door to the house Presley lived in before she passed away a few years ago. “People were standing in the yard, wanting to touch him, kiss him.”
Carlile was a mother of four at the time, and wasn’t really into the rock ’n’ roll music that Presley is famous for.
“I’m not a fan of music of that age,” Carlile told a local news reporter, adding she was more into the tunes of the big band era.
Her children did get autographs from Presley, but Carlile said she threw the signed pieces of paper away years later.
She said the rock ’n’ roll king dated a few of the local girls when he was here, and his presence made a big impact, especially in the Oakhill Drive neighborhood, which in 1958 was home to lawyers, business owners and other upper-middle class families.
More than 64 years later, the house is still standing, and although it’s aged, the outside doesn’t look dramatically different from when Presley lived there.
Surprisingly, more recent owners of the Presley’s rental house indicated they didn’t even know the house had once been lived in by Presley when they bought it some years ago.
To this day Elvis fans regularly pop by the house to take a video, some puctures or inquire about the former home of the King.
Some drive hundreds of miles to do so. Others want to peep inside or look at the backyard.
Although there has been updated renovations (exterior windows and roof) owners are reluctant to offer details.
In November 2006, the 2,400-square-foot house was placed for purchase on eBay.
The owner at the time, Myka Allen-Johnson, a sales representative for CenTex Homes, said she wanted to sell the home to someone who would understand the historical significance.
“I didn’t buy the house with the intention of selling it on eBay,” Allen-Johnson told the Killeen Daily Herald in 2006. “I just don’t want people to forget that he lived here in Killeen.”
Penny Love was 3 or 4 years old and lived around the corner in 1958. She recalls her family seeing Presley sneak through her backyard to avoid the crowd that waited out front. She said she would sometimes sit on Presley’s father, Vernon’s lap on the front porch.
The community has missed out on any significant tourism and marketing opportunities over the years. In August 1958, Presley fans petitioned the Killeen City Council to change the name of Oakhill Drive to Presley Drive, bringing nationwide publicity to the area. Today, however, Oakhill is still the name of the street.
The owner said she allows Presley fans to take a quick picture of the front of the house. But those who try to pry closer are not totally welcome.
The backyard has a steep incline, she said, which can be dangerous, and a German shepherd patrols back there, too.
Favorite Fan Photos
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