They found a “Purple Rain” jacket in a closet on a wire hanger. Another one-of-a-kind stage outfit was stuffed behind a chair. And then there were the secret rooms discovered by an architect, one stacked with hundreds of hours of concert video.
When they first entered Paisley Park last summer to assess its future as Minnesota’s answer to Graceland, Joel Weinshanker and his crew from Elvis’ museum in Memphis also saw firsthand what they already knew about Prince’s elaborate, 65,000-square-foot studio and part-time home in Chanhassen: It was in disrepair.
“I wouldn’t call it a restoration, I’d call it a triage,” said Weinshanker, managing partner of Graceland Holdings, which now runs Paisley Park for Prince’s estate.
Quickly brought back from the brink to open for tours last October — some say too quickly — the Minnesota music icon’s former studio and part-time home in Chanhassen will take center stage this week, one year after news media from around the world converged upon it.
The studio-turned-museum — where Prince’s body was found in an elevator last April 21 — will host its biggest event yet under Graceland management around Friday’s anniversary of his death, a four-day series of concerts, discussions and tours simply called Celebration.
About 2,000 fans from at least 28 different countries bought the $499-$999 tickets to Paisley Park’s shindig, the biggest and most “official” of the many memorial events around the Twin Cities this week to mark the sad occasion with happier memories of Prince’s incomparable 40-year music career.
In his first interview since taking over the always-secretive Paisley Park, Weinshanker said the Celebration series will prove Rule No. 1 at the museum: Only do what Prince would do.
“This was something he started himself,” Weinshanker said, pointing to similar events also called Celebration hosted there in 2000 and 2001.
Talking two weeks ago before a meeting with Prince’s siblings, Weinshanker said he was the one who first approached the family via Bremer Trust (the estate’s former administrator) about taking over Paisley Park.
“[We] talked about the need at the time to bring back Paisley Park to good condition, and to make sure all of Prince’s items didn’t go missing or weren’t further damaged,” he said, “and ultimately to bring Paisley Park to a point where Prince fans could have a place to mourn and celebrate him.”
A 50-year-old New Yorker who “borrowed” his dad’s car to see a Prince concert in high school, Weinshanker managed his first band, hair-metalheads Trixter, while still in college and now collects music memorabilia himself. Handwritten Lennon/McCartney and Bob Dylan lyrics are his prized possessions.
Graceland Holdings has followed Prince’s own plans for a museum — the singer talked about and made notes on the idea for 20-some years, Weinshanker said — and the company says it’s doing better than expected. More than 40,000 visitors have come in for tours and/or weekend dance parties over the first five (mostly winter) months, with many more expected come summer.
Fresh off opening a $137 million expansion at Graceland that includes a new 450-room hotel complex, Weinshanker revealed plans for some bigger and better things at Prince’s museum. They range from another concert series in the fall to nonprofit music education programs to a more modest and very tentative idea for a hotel, to be built in the empty, oval building on the property.
The first priority, though, was simply saving and preserving Paisley Park and its contents.
Several million dollars were spent last year to rehabilitate the 30-year-old building, including work on the roof and the heating and cooling systems. More structural work was needed. Money for all this could not come from the estate, which has the first priority of paying off an estimated $100 million tax bill heightened by Prince’s lack of a will.
Concurrent to the repairs, Graceland Holdings’ expert archivists went to work handling the museum’s 7,000 or so royal items, including one-of-a-kind instruments and fashion wear. “Archival work will forever be a role here,” Weinshanker said.
He offered these details partly in response to criticism that Paisley Park’s $38-$100 tours and parties and especially the Celebration tickets — about 10 times what Prince typically charged for his own concerts there — are too pricey, especially for Twin Cities fans who would like to go there often.
“The majority of the money being made is going right back into Paisley Park,” said Weinshanker, who also emphasized that his company’s primary goal is to “elevate and shine a spotlight on the genius of Prince to new generations.”
Some mistakes were made and already have been corrected. Graceland Holdings moved the ceramic urn with Prince’s ashes (shaped like Paisley Park) from ground level to a second-story perch above the front atrium, after many fans expressed shock at its conspicuous placement.
Just like at Graceland, Prince’s bedroom will forever be off limits to tour visitors, as will the elevator where Prince died, which has been boarded up. “As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t exist,” Weinshanker said of the latter.
Part of the learning curve for the museum’s new operators also involved Minnesota’s strict watershed laws, which make the addition of much-needed parking spaces next to impossible on the property (there’s a creek nearby). This is the main reason Paisley Park tours and events are on rotating schedules, and weekend parties are limited in size. For bigger events such as Celebration, fans have to be bused in from a nearby transit hub at the cost of about $25 per head.
Graceland Holdings’ strict adherence to parking and traffic issues is one of many ways the new Paisley Park caretakers have won the respect of city staff and neighbors in Chanhassen.
“At first, it was really busy and a lot of traffic, and we had some problems,” said Susan Schmidt, director of the nearby Small World Daycare Center, which had Prince fans coming to use a restroom in the days after his death. “It’s a lot more organized and well-managed there now. I don’t have any concerns [about the future].”
Chanhassen Mayor Denny Laufenburger, who helped Graceland Holdings rezone Paisley Park into a museum, said he has become further impressed with how the company has “treated the citizens well, and been good to other businesses, too.”
“They spent the first six months figuring out how to handle visitors, and over the next six months I think they will figure out how to handle a lot more people,” the mayor said, bragging that Chanhassen’s motels “are all booked up” this week.
Weinshanker is confident that Paisley Park could quickly become the second-most-visited museum for a musician in the country after the unbeatable Graceland, which brings an estimated 600,000 visitors and $150 million to Memphis every year (figures expected to go way up after the recent expansion).
There’s still a lot of work to be done, though. The 100 or so employees — about 25 full-time — are still getting to know the building, which has proved to have its own unique challenges but rewarding traits, much like the man who built it.
“I have a dollar bet we’re still going to find something else extraordinary here that no one knew about but him,” Weinshanker said.
Staff writer Jon Bream contributed to this report.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658
When: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Thu.-Sun.
Where: Paisley Park, 7801 Audubon Road, Chanhassen.
Tickets: $549-$999, OfficialPaisleyPark.com.
More Prince tributes: Full list in today’s Variety section.
More Prince coverage: All week at startribune.com/prince