for Scotty Moore - Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory

Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory

Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory at 522 N. Howard Ave. Tampa, FL - Feb. 13, 1947
Photo by Burgert Brothers Archives courtesy Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System

The Fort Homer W. Hesterly National Guard Armory at 522 North Howard Avenue in Tampa, Florida  is located in the west area of the city in an urbanized, mixed residential and commercial area, approximately one mile west of downtown. It is a reinforced concrete, stucco covered building constructed with Works Progress Administration allocations totaling $361,880 during Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal program in 1938.  The Armory, built for the 116th Field Artillery Battalion was completed in 1941and on December 8 dedicated Fort Homer W. Hesterly in honor of Colonel Homer Wynne Hesterly, the commanding officer of the Battalion from 1934 to 1954. The Colonel was instrumental in reorganizing the Florida National Guard in Tampa after the First World War and continually lobbied the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County to sponsor a modern armory for his battalion.1

Maj. George Dunn, Major Brodie, former Confederate Gen. Joseph Wheeler, Chaplain Brown
of the Rough Riders, Col. Leonard Wood, and Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt. at camp in Tampa
Photo courtesy The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA 111-SC-93549)

The site of the Armory was originally part of a tract of land belonging to George Nelson Benjamin, an orange grower and West Tampa developer, city councilman, and businessman who donated the land to West Tampa for use as a public park.  Originally called "Benjamin Park" it was later renamed "Benjamin Field" and in June of 1898, at the outbreak of the Spanish American War, this area, a sand flat without a tree but surrounded by an extensive forest, was the camp site for Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders, the most unusual regiment in the history of the U.S. Army.  The Rough Riders (1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment) 1200 strong included cowboys, indians, polo players, ranchers, hunters, socialites, lawmen, trappers, et al. 2  In 1921, the City of Tampa leased the land to the Armory Board for use as a National Guard drill facility.

Rough Riders at camp in Tampa  June 1898
Photo courtesy The Florida Memory Project

In addition to providing arms storage, operations and drill space for the Guardsmen, the Armory also served Tampa’s community as a central venue for sporting events, social gatherings, speaking engagements and political events for over five decades. Continuing in the practice of a modern, community-centered national guard, the  Armory hosted company dinners, community dances, and school recitals from the 1940s through the 1960s. Wrestling matches were also frequently held events at the Armory through the 1980s, and local legend states that professional wrestling in Florida was born at Fort Homer W. Hesterly.  Music concerts were another common event at the armory.1

Banner advertising show at Armory
Photo courtesy Jimmy Rodgers Snow

Elvis and fan at Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory, Tampa, FL May 8, 1955
Photo courtesy Brian Petersen

Elvis outside Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory, Tampa, FL May 8, 1955
Photo courtesy Jim Curtin's Candid of the King, added Oct. 15, 2013

Elvis, Scotty and Bill performed there on four occasions, the first on May 8, 1955 just five days before their appearance in Jacksonville where at the conclusion of the performance, Elvis announces to a good portion of the audience of 14,000: "Girls, I'll see you backstage." The response was a full--scale riot, with fans pursuing Elvis into the dressing room and tearing off his clothes and shoes. In the opinion of the Colonel's advance man, Oscar Davis, this was the point at which Colonel Parker was irrevocably sold on the growth potential of Elvis Presley.3

Andy Griffith and Col. Parker with billboard for July 31st show at Armory
Photo courtesy Graceland Auctions

Andy Griffith on stage at the Armory - July 31, 1955
Photo courtesy Robert Gordon's "The King on the Road"

andy1.jpg (80487 bytes)
Souvenir Photo Album

560731StPeteTimesAd2.jpg (58554 bytes)They returned to the Armory again on July 31, 1955 on the bill with Andy Griffith, Ferlin Huskey and Marty Robbins.  Andy Griffith had recently made his mark in the Broadway production of "No Time for Sergeants", for which he was nominated for a Tony award.  It was a reprisal of the role he portrayed in Ira Levin's play on Television the year before and in 1958 would again reprise it in the film version.

Andy Griffith onstage at Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory, Tampa, FL July 31, 1955
Photo from Robert Gordon's "The King on the Road" courtesy FECC/e-cat

During their appearance at the Armory on July 31st the Colonel (Parker) hired local photographer William V. "Red" Robertson to shoot a series of photos.  One, commonly referred to as the "Tonsil" photo, in a cropped version would later be used as the cover of Elvis' first LP from RCA in 1956 and used extensively in newspaper and print to promote future shows.  It also became a famous Hatch show print.

Elvis backstage at Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory, Tampa, FL July 31, 1955
Photo by William V. "Red" Robertson © EPE.Inc.

Elvis backstage at Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory, Tampa, FL - July 31, 1955
Photo by William V. "Red" Robertson?

Elvis and Bill at Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory, Tampa, FL July 31, 1955
Photo by William V. "Red" Robertson © EPE.Inc.

Scotty and Elvis at Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory, Tampa, FL July 31, 1955
Photo by William V. "Red" Robertson © EPE.Inc.

Elvis and Bill at Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory, Tampa, FL July 31, 1955
Photo courtesy Brian Petersen

Elvis outside Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory, Tampa, FL Feb. 19, 1956
Photo courtesy Brian Petersen, added Oct. 15, 2013

Elvis' first Album released by RCA in March of 1956 and Hatch Show print

Baptist preacher Robert Gray denounces Elvis in Jacksonville, FL
Photo by Robert W. Kelley © Life Magazine

Elvis' popularity though was not without controversy.  Just days after their final appearance at the Armory a local Juvenile Court judge in Jacksonville, Florida called Elvis a "savage" and threatened to arrest him if he shook his body while performing at Jacksonville's Florida Theatre, justifying the restrictions by saying his music was undermining the youth of America.  Throughout the performance, Elvis stood still as ordered but poked fun at the judge by wiggling a finger.4

Elvis heading for the stage at the Armory - Aug. 5, 1956
Photo courtesy Ger Rijff'

Bill and Elvis onstage at the Armory - Aug. 5, 1956
Photo © Bob Moreland courtesy Ger Rijff's "The Cool King"

Elvis, Scotty and DJ onstage at the Armory - Aug. 5, 1956
Photo courtesy web (credit unknown)

By the time of their final two appearances at the Armory on February 19 and August 5, 1956, each of which followed recent television appearances (The Dorsey Bros.' Stage Show and The Steve Allen Show), they had gone from supporting act to headliner.  DJ was now a regular member of the band and performed there with them also.

Elvis, Scotty, (Bill and DJ) onstage at the Armory - Aug. 5, 1956
Photo by Dan Fager, courtesy Ger Rijff

Elvis, Scotty and DJ onstage at the Armory - Aug. 5, 1956
Photo © Bob Moreland

Elvis onstage at the Armory - Aug. 5, 1956
Photo © Bob Moreland

The August 5 appearance was photographed by Tampa photographer Bob Moreland for the St. Petersburg Times, reviewed in the August 6th edition by Anne Rowe and depicted in the photo book "The Cool King" by Ger Rijff.  Peter Guralnick wrote in "Last Train To Memphis", "there were two shows that day in at the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory, sponsoered by the Seratoma Civic Club, with seats at $1.50 and $2.00.  There were boxes set up for a stage, no house PA, two microphones, and two amps, with the same incongruous procession of vaudeville acts that Al Dvorin, the Chicago booking agent, had been supplying since the spring, amounting to an hour and a half of mediocre warm-ups preceding the main 20 minute show."

Elvis onstage at the Armory - Aug. 5, 1956
Photo courtesy web (credit unknown)

Elvis onstage at the Armory - Aug. 5, 1956
Photo © Bob Moreland

The interior of the Armory consists of a drill hall surrounded by storage rooms, offices, and open spaces. Significant interior features are arched doorways, projecting metal guard stands attached to the east upper wall of the drill hall, and clerestory windows lining the drill hall.  Most of the interior doors in the offices surrounding the drill hall appear to have been replaced with newer metal or particle board doors; however, a few of the original, solid wood doors still exist.  During segregation in Tampa, the Armory was used for many African-American social events. Fort Homer W. Hesterly also hosted many famous speakers, including the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and President John F. Kennedy.  Kennedy’s speech at the Armory to the Florida State Chamber of Commerce businessmen occurred only four days before his assassination in Dallas.1

JFK addresses the Tampa Chamber of Commerce - Nov. 18, 1963
Photo © Tony Zappone courtesy "Big 13"

JFK prepares to speak at the Armory - Nov. 18, 1963
Photo © Tony Zappone courtesy "Big 13"

Alterations to the Armory are relatively minor. In 1959, a one-story concrete addition was added to the structure’s rear (west) façade. Glazed metal doors replaced the original wooden doors in each of the entrances, circa 1960s. Interior modifications include an acoustical tile dropped ceiling in both the drill hall and several offices, and industrial vinyl flooring throughout. Photographs show that the drill hall originally contained a wood plank basketball court and that the steel bowstring roof trusses were exposed. Although the steel trusses are now covered by the acoustical ceiling, they remain intact.During the '50s and early '60s at least there appears to have been balcony like bleacher style seating on both of the upper sides of the drill hall, but they have since been removed.  

SouthWest corner of Drill hall from front entrance

NorthWest corner of Drill hall from front entrance

South side entrance to the Armory

Elvis signs an autograph for a fan outside the south side entrance Aug. 5, 1956
Photo by Bob Moreland © St. Petersburg Times

The building was home to the National Guard from 1941 until October 2004, when the guardsmen moved to a new facility in Pinellas County.  However, the National Guard continues to occupy the northern half of the original site.Sadly to say, since the tragic events on September 11, 2001, like all the Armories and many other structures across the country, steel reinforced concrete jersey barriers now surround the site.  In recent years there have been various plans for re-use of the Armory and the site (see article) but because of its rich history the city isn't taking lightly plans to redevelop the site. Officials insist that any new use enhance the area and spark redevelopment in West Tampa.5

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 Photos below courtesy City of Tampa, Florida Historic Preservation Commission and Microsoft
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page added October 10, 2007

1 City of Tampa, Florida Historic Preservation Commission Local Landmark Designation Report June 13, 2006
2 from a plaque on the grounds Erected by the 1st U.S Cavalry Regiment Rough Riders, Inc.
3 according to Peter Guralnick and Ernst Jorgensen in Elvis Day By Day
4 according to Wikipedia
5 Susan Thurston - St. Petersburg Times

Monday August 6, 1956

St. Petersburg Times

Rock 'n Roll King Wows Suncoast (And One Fan In Particular)

Elvis Presley, the rock 'n roll king, is all wrapped up in "Heartbreak
Hotel." He put on a show stopping performance yesterday at the Ft. Homer
Hesterly Armory in Tampa.

Photos © Bob Moreland

Time out for the press...                    ...He ponders                             ...Eatin' and talkin'

That's a good one...               Its only peaches.

He Loves Everyone, They Love Him
Broom-Sweeping Elvis A Regular Guy 
by Anne Rowe

Dressed as sharp as a cat in black pegged pants, striped belt, blue shirt, white tie, maroon jacket and white bucked shoes, the king of rock 'n roll picked up a broom and started sweeping out his dressing room.

This was my fabulous introduction to the four-Caddie Elvis Presley whose reputation had given this reporter reason "to proceed with caution" in his presence.

No need for alarm though, for Presley posed willingly for press photographers, answered questions without hesitation and seemed to us like a real regular guy during the hour we spent with him in his dressing room before his first appearance at the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory in Tampa yesterday. Presley will appear at the Florida Theatre here Tuesday for three performances.

Appearing just a little bit nervous, Elvis swept the floor clear of cigarette butts, and then transformed the broom into a microphone, crooning "Don't Be Cruel" into its handle.

Putting the broom aside, he walked outside, where it was only slightly cooler than the stifling heat in his dressing room, surveyed the curiosity seekers lined up at the gate, laughed and hollered, "I'll be right with you" -- with no obvious southern accent.

Elvis gave me the impression that he would have enjoyed going over to the gate and talking with his fans. He signed autographs of those who were permitted to talk with him and seemed to enjoy playing with a couple of tots nearby who were observing the commotion with wide-eyed wonder.

Returning to his dressing room, Elvis picked up his leather covered guitar, plucked a few strings and began singing "Don't Be Cruel" once again ... his favorite of all the songs he's recorded because "it has the most meaning." Soon he was joined by the Jordenaires, the boys who back Elvis on many of his records. Elvis' nervousness apparently left him. He was doing what he loves best ... singing. He sang the song through, put down his guitar and when asked for an interview, was more than willing to submit to our questions.

Asked what he thought of those who imitate him, he said, "I think it's good. It shows I'm doing well enough, otherwise why would they want to imitate me?"

Naturally we asked him if he was interested in girls. To this he replied with a wink, a smile and a mere "yes," said he had a "steady at one time," but hasn't given much thought to marriage or the type of girl he would choose.

Queried on his recent motion picture pact with Hal Wallis, Elvis replied, "I won't give up singing for acting. I think I'll make about one picture a year, and whether I like it or not depends on how well I do." Elvis also said his screen favorites are the late James Dean and Marlon Brando.

What will he do when this rock 'n roll "fad" passes? "I'll probably sit back and think about what I once had ... with no regrets. Right now, I don't think about that," Presley retorted.

Apparently Presley wasn't pleased with his much publicized performance on the Steve Allen show, when he appeared in a dinner suit and was forced to stand still while going through his act. "All I thought about that suit," said Elvis, "was getting out of it."

He has no quarrel with the critics who've panned him since he first won not only the admiration, but the hearts of almost every teen-ager in the country. "Those people have a job to do just like me. I think when you're in this business you've got to expect that sort of treatment. Some people wouldn't pay a nickel to see me. But as long as my records keep selling and these folks keep turning out to hear me sing, I'm happy."

Elvis is amazed at his sudden success, but is enjoying every minute of it. He does feel bad that his busy schedule gets him home only about once a month. He is very close to his parents who live in the $40,000 air conditioned ranch home he bought for them in Memphis. He says his mother and father encourage his career, feel he is not contributing to juvenile delinquency and accept his absence from home as a matter of course.

"I used to travel by plane all the time," replied Presley when we asked him how he commuted, "but once I got scared flying so now I travel down here on the ground in a car." Elvis did not arrive in one of his four Cadillacs, but instead propelled a slinky white, $10,000 Lincoln Continental which he purchased in Miami because "I couldn't very well appear on Ed Sullivan's show if I wasn't driving his sponsor's product, could I?"

Like little boy with a new toy, he lifted the hood of his newest purchase, displayed the engine to several onlookers and when asked how fast the car could go, laughed "You mean how fast can it FLY?" Touching the hood ornament fondly he said, "This thing cast $350!"

Besides his cars, Elvis is an avid motorcycle fan, although he has little time to ride his own.

Our interview came to a halt when a knock on the door informed Presley that it was time for him to go on.

He thanked me for taking time out to talk to him and hurried out to the crowd eagerly awaiting his appearance.

He was greeted with deafening screams from the audience of about 1,000 teen-agers which oddly enough, was sprinkled liberally with adults.

Now Presley was in his glory. He rocked 'n rolled his way through seven numbers, laughing, winking, pointing and wriggling in the well-known Presley manner. While his fans yelled, cried, pulled their hair, held their ears, jumped, clapped and laughed, Elvis displayed his terrific showmanship. It was more than obvious that he loved every scream and yell and ... every minute on that stage. He wrestled with the mike, breaking two apart in his frenzy, and finally with perspiration pouring down his face, he practically tore his jacket off and let go on two more numbers.

He may be an ex-truck driver from Mississippi, a rockbilly whose "gimmick" has carried him to success, but the ovation he received yesterday proves that Presley is the biggest thing in show business today.

Who says Elvis bites reporters? Times writer
Anne Rowe found him very nice and most congenial.
Photos © Bob Moreland courtesy Ger Rijff's "The Cool King"

review added August 6, 2008

StPtTimes560806.jpg (60275 bytes) article by Anne Rowe © St. Petersburg Times courtesy St. Petersburg Public Library.   Photos by Bob Moreland used in this section are courtesy Ger Rijff's "The Cool King" and cropped to appear as originally published where possible.

The "Tonsil" Photo

The last date on the July '55 Florida tour was on July 31st in Tampa. There the Colonel hired Tampa photographer William V. "Red" Robertson of Robertson & Fresh Photographers to take a series of photos of Elvis, several you've seen already covered on this this page.

Scotty, Elvis and Bill at Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory, Tampa, FL - July 31, 1955
Photo by William V. "Red" Robertson © EPE.Inc.

One of the photos, known as the "tonsil" photo because you can practically see Elvis' tonsils, would be used quite extensively for advertising and still is.  It was also used as the cover of Elvis' first LP from RCA.

William V. "Red" Robertson of Robertson & Fresh Photographers, at Peter O. Knight Airport, Davis Islands, ca. late 1930s.
Photo courtesy

section added July 9, 2013


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