In the first part of the Las Vegas Wedding Chapels series, we took a look at the different types of chapels found in the city that never sleeps. As we continued to look deeper into the Vegas wedding industry, we hit the jackpot by meeting up with the General Manager of Graceland Wedding Chapel, Brandon Reed.
Graceland Wedding Chapel is considered one of the oldest chapels on The Strip and has a very long list of loyal fans, including at one time, Elvis Presley himself. Read on to learn more about it.
GK: Can you tell me a bit about the history of the chapel?
Brandon: Built in 1927, it was converted into a chapel after WWII. It was originally named Gretna Green Wedding Chapel, then the name changed to Graceland Wedding Chapel after an historic visit from Elvis Presley himself in the late 1960's. (GK- a bit more background we learned from Brandon was that the original owners were from Scotland and used the small entrance to their home as the wedding chapel. In the late 1940's, as GI's were coming back from war, Vegas grows and booms as a wedding destination. Also, the name Gretna Green comes from a small town in Scotland famous for runaway weddings back in the day; today, it's considered one of the world's top wedding destinations.)
GK: As you mentioned, Graceland was inspired by Elvis Presley. Was there any thing else that influenced the style and theme in the weddings or of the chapel?
Brandon: Major influences are cost, simplicity, and variety. With these factors in mind, we put together the packages we offer from a consumer's standpoint, with the goal in mind to eliminate the stress and hassles that are so often associated with organizing and arranging a wedding ceremony.
GK: What is the most notable wedding ever performed at the chapel?
Brandon: Jon Bon Jovi got married here in 1989 then came back and renewed his 10 year anniversary vows with us, along with 75 couples as part of a nation wide radio promotional event. Afterwards, the band (Bon Jovi) played a private concert in our back parking lot to the 150+ people in attendance. (GK-we also learned of a recent wedding which tugged at the staff's heartstrings and left not a dry eye in the house. A Turkish man of Muslim faith arrived with his Israeli fiancee of Jewish faith, disowned by their families for choosing to marry. The reverence they had for each other and their love, despite all the social, religious, and familial adversity they were experiencing brought deeper meaning to the mission of the chapel.)
GK: Many celebrities have walked down your aisle... have you had a favorite celebrity wedding that took place here?
Brandon: Besides Jon Bon Jovi's wedding and his 10 year anniversary celebration, there was another wedding that too place here at the chapel that also involved him. He showed up to walk a super fan down the aisle in place of her father who had just passed away. Jon Bon Jovi walks super fan down the aisle in Las Vegas - TODAY.com (GK- other celebs said I DO here, Aaron Neville, Billy Ray Cyrus, The Thompson Twins, just to name a few)
GK: You have really interesting packages, how did some of them come about?
Brandon: It started with an idea in the early 1980's to combine the universal and iconic Las Vegas image of Elvis Presley with the components of a regular wedding package. The other packages were created to assist a bride and groom in helping to make their special day as stress-free as possible by combining all of the building blocks of a wedding (ie. flowers, photos, DVD, limo, etc.) into a wedding package.
GK: How has the wedding business changed over the years?
Brandon: More chapels, more variety, and choice. There are now over 40 chapels in town from which to choose.
GK: What are some challenges you've encountered in running a wedding chapel and in the industry?
Brandon: Overcoming some of the negative impressions people have about getting married in Vegas. Most of these negative ideas have been generated by Hollywood.
GK: Do you see any particular trends in elopements or the wedding industry in Las Vegas?
Brandon: There have always been people who have eloped and that probably always will be. The connotation of a "Vegas Wedding" has changed from being somewhat negative to something chic and socially hip.
GK: Is there a particular time of day or week people choose to get married in your chapel?
Brandon: Saturday is the most important and busiest day of the week. Most of our business comes from the LA corridor, so it's a close weekend getaway for many couples, their families, and friends.
GK: Do you find people are putting more thought into their Vegas weddings instead of a quick "I do"?
Brandon: Yes. The average booking window for us is around 3-4 months in advance. People are booking the chapel through travel agencies or by themselves at the same time they're booking airline and hotel reservations.
GK: What other services do you offer aside from your packages?
Brandon: Weddings via private helicopter to the Grand Canyon, Valley of Fire, and Red Rock Canyon. Limousine transportation to the VoF and RRC also available. Wedding gown and tuxedo rentals also available on property.
GK: What has been the oddest wedding you've experienced?
Brandon: A guy who wanted to marry his motorcycle. (GK- all because his girlfriend said he loved his bike more than her. Yup... ahhhhh love.)
GK: What is the first thing a couple should do when planning a Vegas wedding?
Brandon: Check out the reviews! BBB, Yelp, Trip Advisor, etc are very valuable tools.
GK: What advice do you have for anyone considering saying "I do" in Vegas?
Brandon: If cost and a hassle free matrimonial experience is what you're looking for, then Vegas has it all. Keep in mind that it's not a country club experience (although there are many country clubs and resorts in town that can offer you something similar in cost and options that you can find in your home town or larger cities).
When we embarked on our Vegas vacation, we purposely set out to do Sin City our way... focusing on the kitschy and off the beaten path side of it. The chapel series was meant to do that... but what we didn't expect to find was a genuine care for the experiences a couple has on their wedding day, as evident at Graceland Wedding Chapel. We watched as a family came in- mom, dad, and 2 young daughters- all dressed up in white, ready to renew their vows. To see the look on the kids faces, the excitement to know that they would be at their parents' renewal, as the witnesses, was beyond words. The reverence and attention everyone at the chapel gave to this family was heartwarming and definitely not what we expected to find on our "kitschy off the beaten path" trip to Vegas. And I will say, when we saw Elvis, he kinda took our breath away! The King is alive and well at Graceland Wedding Chapel.
We want to give a huge thank you to Brandon Reed, General Manager of Graceland Wedding Chapel, for being so generous with his time, as well as providing many of the pictures for this piece.