07/06/2005: From the "Eyewitness to History" department....
Your pals over at Elvis Presley Enterprises (Motto: Elvis's corpse has made more money for us than he ever made for himself while he was alive) have a weekly "Elvis Fact of the Week" emailing which I've subscribed to in my never-ending quest to remake myself as a Memphian (so far, unsuccessful, but we keep trying). The past few weeks the theme has been "Vacation Elvis Style", a 12 part series on the various venues in each of 50 states (and, I assume, D.C.) at which Elvis performed while alive (so, of course, that the true Elvis cultist could engage in a holy pilgrimage to visit each and every one of those venues). Today's installment has finally gotten to Missouri, and in this paragraph we learn of where Elvis played while visiting St. Louis:
On 10/21-23/55 Elvis was a part of shows at St. Louis's Missouri Theater. After that time, all of his shows in St. Louis took place at the Henry J. Kiel Auditorium. His show on 3/29/57 was the last time Elvis wore the pants to his gold lame´suit on stage, preferring for the rest of 1957 to wear the gold jacket with black slacks. Elvis stayed at the Hotel Chase during this visit. He had shows at Kiel Auditorium again on 9/10/70 and 6/28/73 staying at the Chase-Park Plaza Hotel. His last show in St. Louis was on 3/22/76, this time staying at the Bel Air Hilton Hotel.I mention this because I was present on the occasion of Elvis's last St. Louis concert, since I was at that time working as an usher at Henry J. Kiel Auditorium (now, unfortunately, torn down and succeeded by The Savvis Center, though ESPN.com tells us that the naming rights to The Savvis Center are in limbo (along with the future of the St. Louis Blues NHL franchise), as Wal-Mart heirs Bill and Nancy Laurie are finally deciding to cut their $30 million/year losses and run, selling the hockey team while Savvis, Inc. has negotiated an early termination of its 20 year naming rights agreement with Kiel Center Partners, LP (click on the link provided under "Recent Press Releases")).
Surprisingly, I have few memories of Elvis's last St. Louis concert. The show opened with some Las Vegas comic whose name has long since dropped out of my memory (though I do remember one of his one-liners: "Women don't get ulcers, but they're carriers." I remember that line mostly because a couple weeks after that concert I started dating a woman who was an ulcer victim), and I remember that during intermission some sleazy character frantically hawked silk scarves allegedly used by The King to mop up his sweat during the concert (and apparently, ownership of A Silk Scarf With Some of Elvis's Dried Sweat was A Real Big Thing, to judge from the number of people (mostly women) actually giving up coin of the realm for the same). That and, of course, the statutory rush to the stage by a mob of screaming middle aged women who should have been too embarassed, but weren't.
Dammit, if I knew I was witnessing history in the making I'd have brought a camera.
Anyway, for those of you attempting to make the Elvis Pilgrimage to St. Louis.... I don't think the Missouri Theater is still around (Dave? That reference ring a bell with you?) and of course the closest you'll get to Kiel Auditorium is to to pay homage to The Savvis Center. But if you want to stay in a hotel that Elvis stayed in, The Chase-Park Plaza, is still around (find out more about its storied history here); alas, I don't think the Bel-Air Hilton exists anymore.
And if you go, give my regards to The Kiel Opera House (on, Market Street just to the north of The Savvis Center), and tell it that Len Cleavelin still remembers it. Very fondly. And then rub the nose of the bears. For good luck. :-)
Len on 07.06.05 @ 09:17 AM CST