National Guard Armory

New Mexico National Guard Armory in Albuquerque, NM

Albuquerque was founded in 1706 and is the largest city in the State of New Mexico. In 1904 the First Infantry Regiment of the New Mexico National Guard was headquartered there. Company G had recently relocated to a "new" armory, essentially shared facilities in the Elks' Opera House which included a drill room, storeroom and toilets on the first floor, in addition to a well-equipped gymnasium, with lockers and showers.1

Albuquerque Armory at 5th Street and Silver Avenue SW - ca.1908
Albuquerque Museum Photo courtesy Albuquerque Public Library

As indicated in the annual report to the Dept. on Interior by the Governor that year, the rivalry with Company E and the expense of this armory which was in excess of the allowance granted by the territorial legislature necessitated an armory building there devoted primarily to military purposes. In the same report it was noted that a site for such armory had been selected and by 1908 the new Armory was built on the corner of 5th Street and Silver Avenue Southwest.1

First State Convention of the American Legion - October 16 - 18, 1919
Photo courtesy Library of Congress

Described as a rather stark building, from a performance point of view, the interior was not much to look at and featured red brick on all four walls. There was a stage and a balcony that ran along the left side. It could accommodate seating for about 2.500. In addition to its increased use for military purposes likely commencing in 1916 with the pursuit of Pancho Villa along the Mexican Border when the entire National Guard of the US was mobilized, through World Wars I and II, being the only large hall in town it also served civic functions hosting conventions, dances, agricultural shows, boxing and wrestling, musical events, political rallies and other public events. In October of 1919, it was the site of the first State Convention of the American Legion.

Ad for Mike London's Monday night Wrestling at the Armory - April 1956
courtesy Albuquerque Public Library

William S. (Bill) Previtti, who often emceed at the Armory during the 1950s said, "if it happened in Albuquerque, it was happening at the Armory. Any artist who was any artist who came through town would play there. It was like a who's who of country stars," he said. Robert P. (Bobby) Matteucci was a high school student at Albuquerque High School during the '50s and remembers seeing Hank Williams, Hank Snow and others there, including Elvis.2

Ads in the Albuquerque Tribune on April 8, and Journal April 9 & 10, 1956
courtesy Albuquerque Public Library

1956 was the year the city celebrated the 250th anniversary of its founding with visits from the Duke and Duchess of Albuquerque. That year, on April 12th, Elvis, Scotty, Bill and DJ made their first and only appearance there with two shows at the Armory and it was remembered locally as a particularly controversial event, prompting animated family discussions over whether the “kids” would be allowed to attend.3

Ads in the Tribune and Journal - April 11, 1956
courtesy Albuquerque Public Library

As Lee Cotten observed, the local misconception is that they opened for Faron Young but in actuality all ads showed Elvis as the headliner.4 By that time they had made seven appearances on national television, with the last being their first on the Milton Berle Show in San Diego the week prior and only days earlier Elvis had signed a contract with Paramount Pictures. They were on their last tour with acts that could be considered contemporaries which included Faron Young, Jimmy and Johnny, Gordon Terry and Wanda Jackson.

Alb. Journal Apr. 12, 1956
courtesy Albuquerque Public Library

Scotty, Elvis, DJ and Bill onstage (Albuquerque, April 12, 1956 ?*)
Photo © EPE Inc.

Advance tickets were available at Riedling-Thompson Music Co. on Third St. and K & B Radio at 4720 Central SE for $1.50 for the main floor, $1.25 for the balcony and .50 cents for kids. At the door they were .25 cents more. Carla Jeanne Hale, nee Singer, recalled attending the second show that night along with friends Nancy Kozikowski, nee Hebenstreit, Alice Skinner and another friend of Nancy's. The others had only met her that night, she said. Carla, Nancy and Alice were all students at St. Vincent Academy, the all-girl Catholic school staffed by the Sisters of Charity in Albuquerque, and generally hung together as a pack. Nancy's mother was originally going to take them to the show but called and asked Carla's mother to instead. They sat in the balcony in front over looking the stage. She wished she had brought a camera but seems to recall that they were not allowed.

Alb. Tribune Apr. 12, 1956
courtesy Albuquerque Public Library

Scotty, Elvis, DJ and Bill onstage (Albuquerque, April 12, 1956 ?*)
Photo © EPE Inc.

Bill Previtti introduced Elvis onstage and he recalled that the Armory that night was a melting pot of Anglo, black and Hispanic youths, he said. "I couldn't believe it. You never saw these people together, but here they were."2  After the show, coming down the stairs, Nancy and Sandra went off in one direction while Carla and Alice in another. Carla remembers passing Elvis in the auditorium and making eye contact. He said Hi, and she said Hi back. They and many others went out back to the alley after the show hoping to see him again coming out and Nancy somehow wound up on the other side of the roped off section. Alice, unfortunately, was accidentally hit in the throat by one of the policemen's batons attempting to maintain order. Their efforts were rewarded though because Nancy got kissed and Carla got "really" kissed. One girl's parents called the newspaper about the kiss, who in turn contacted Carla for the story which ran the next day as follows:

Presley's WONDERFUL--
Singer's Kiss Leaves Girl, 13, Real Shook
By Naomi Callarman

"He kissed me and ... oooh!"
Those older and more sedate may find 13-year-old Carla Singer's statement a bit incoherent. But not any of her fellow teen-agers enraptured by the nation's current bobby-sox favorite, singer Elvis Presley.
Carla, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph singer, 4916 San Luis, NW, is the envy of all her feminine classmates at St. Vincent's Academy today--she was kissed, "really kissed" by Presley following his performance at the Armory last night.
Her big moment came when Presley was leaving the Armory about 11:30 following his final performance.
As Carla breathlessly tells the story (. . . all the girls want to know just everything that happened):
"We were all crowded up there at the door waiting for him to come out and when he did all the girls started swarming around him and pushing to get up closer ( . . . and he almost had his coat pulled off) and some of them begged him to kiss them. . . ."
"Freindly Kisses"
"So he kissed two or three of the girls . . . but they were just sort of friendly kisses on the cheek . . . he kissed Nancy (classmate Nancy Hebenstreit) like that. . . ."
"I was just sort of standing there and he looked over at me real sweet and reached out his arms and put them around me and kissed me, not just a friendly kiss (Nancy said he even closed his eyes).
". . . I'm still just dazed, I'll never forget it ever, it was the MOST wonderful thing that's ever happened to me."
Carla, "still just dazed" as she is, and Nancy, (even though she got only one of the "friendly kisses") are fired today with plans for starting a local chapter of the "Elvis Presley Fan Club."
"I'm going to have to write back to his main fan club in Tennessee and see what I have to do to start one here (I want to see if I can get his picture too). . . I know there are at least 12 girls here in school who'll want to join right away," Carla says.
Attracts Big Crowd
Presley, a "rock 'n roll" singer who was recently signed to a long-term movie contract on the basis of his sudden success with the teen-agers, attracted one of the largest crowds ever to attend a performance at the Armory.
Police Lt. Walter Coleman said that 10 off-duty policemen were hired by the Armory management to handle the crowds, mostly composed of teen-agers like Carla and Nancy.
After the show the police officers had to form a "guard" around Presley to keep him from being completely mobbed by his eager fans.
about the only comment that Carla can manage today on Presley's performance is " . . . Oh, he was just wonderful."
"I'll never forget it," she breathes dazedly.
The London Daily Mirror flew its Hollywood correspondent here to report Presley's appearance.

Albuquerque Tribune - April 13, 1956 courtesy Albuquerque Public Library

Elvis, by at least one account, spent that night at the Bottger Mansion in Albuquerque and the next day they performed in Amarillo.

When the nuns at St. Vincent heard about it they called Carla's mother and asked her how she could let a strange man kiss her daughter like that. She replied that the only reason she should be mad was that she herself wasn't grabbed and kissed. As a result, Carla was evicted from the school before completing the eighth grade and was required to meet with the Superintendent later that year to proceed to the next grade in Valley High later that year. Several other girls, including Nancy, would be dismissed from St. Vincent as well.

Other performers like Little Richard and Fats Domino would play the Armory and also turn it into the city's melting pot. Previtti described it as "the country club mixed with the barrio because it was the only game in town. It was like we only had one well in town and this was where we came to get our water." A year later though, in April of 1957, the 6,000 seat Civic Auditorium opened and the Armory's days became numbered.2

The Armory building at 5th St. and Silver Avenue SW - Dec. 1958
Tribune Photo courtesy Albuquerque Public Library

On January 30, 1958, the Armory was sold by the state on a sealed bid for $115,000 to the Mountain States Mutual Casualty co. who within a year spent an additional $275,000 in remodeling to convert it to a modern office building. Renovations stripped the building of its arched doorway and brick towers. The parapets were removed and brick facade was covered with stucco and the spacious dance floor turned into offices. It was occupied principally by insurance firms headed by U.S. Senator Clinton P. Anderson. The Mountain States Telephone company also leased space in the building.5

The renovated former Armory building at 5th St. and Silver Avenue - 2000
Journal Photo by Aaron Wilson courtesy Albuquerque Public Library

The Civic Auditorium was itself not without problems. The acoustics were never said to be good and rioting there in the mid '60s led to the banning of rock concerts by the city. Popejoy Hall, Tingley Coliseum and University Arena became more popular for shows and the Auditorium was demolished in the late 1980s.6 In 2000, PNM Resources, an energy holding company based in Albuquerque purchased the the former Armory building at 5th and Silver from the Casualty company who demolished it and built a parking garage. Though the original character of the building was lost in the remodeling many of the old timers with fond memories of the "old Armory" like Bob Matteucci and Bill Previtti were sorry to see it go.2

The new parking garage at 5th St. and Silver Avenue - Oct. 1, 2011
Photo © James V. Roy

Today Bill Previtti is the owner of Westland communications in Albuquerque and Bob Matteucci, who served as Chairman of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, is on the governing board of Central New Mexico Community College. St. Vincent Academy closed in 1969 after 85 years, a victim of decreasing enrollment.7 Nancy would get to see Elvis again only weeks after the Armory appearance, at the New Frontier Hotel when she accompanied her parents to a golf tournament in Las Vegas. Carla never saw him again but would reconnect with Nancy years later after their story about that night and her pictures from Las Vegas were published in an article in the Albuquerque Tribune. The girls all got together about a year ago as sort of a reunion and they still referred to Carla as "the trouble maker".

Page added November 8, 2011

Special thanks to Carla J. Hale, Bill Previtti and Bob Matteucci for their assistance with this page. All ads and articles are courtesy of the Albuquerque Public Library.

1 according to 1904 Report of the Governor of New Mexico to the Secretary of the Interior by New Mexico Governor, United States Dept. of the Interior
2 according to Armory To Be Demolished by Oliver Uytterbrouck - Albuquerque Journal - September 7, 2000
3 according to Fashion in 1950s Albuquerque - The Albuquerque Museum - City of Albuquerque
4 according to Did Elvis Sing in Your Hometown? by Lee Cotten
5 according to
Sen Anderson's Gamble - Face of an Albuquerque Landmark Is Sharply Lifted in $275,000 Job - The Albuquerque Tribune, July 10, 1959
6 according to Albuquerque's Civic Auditorium went from a landmark to the dustbin of history by Mo Palmer - Albuquerque Tribune, February 14, 2008
7 according to Alumnae of St. Vincent Academy Recall Life Lessons From Nuns Ahead of Reunion by Rick Nathanson, Albuquerque Journal - June 06, 2010

*The pictures displayed here of Elvis, Scotty, Bill and DJ onstage have yet to be confirmed for actual date and location.  While they have been assumed by some to be from Albuquerque and certain elements in them suggest that time frame, no one that was there that was asked readily remembers the cactus and hay decor depicted onstage.


All photos on this site (that we didn't borrow) unless otherwise indicated are the property of either Scotty Moore or James V. Roy and unauthorized use or reproduction is prohibited.

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