City Coliseum
Austin, TX

Undated photo of two men in a spinach crop where the City Coliseum will be
Photo courtesy Austin History Center

Town Lake in Austin, Texas is the section of the Colorado River delimited by two dams (Tom Miller Dam on the west) that mark the upstream and downstream ends. The area on the south side of Town Lake from Lamar Boulevard east to South First Street is known as Auditorium Shores.1  The area between Barton Springs Road and Riverside Drive was at one time farmland used to grow spinach. Census data for 1915 reported that there were 56,000 farms in Texas. That number had dwindled to 2,092 by 1954.2

Land cleared for the City Coliseum near Disch Field - Aug. 20, 1948
Photo by Neal Douglass courtesy The Portal to Texas History

Aerial view of City Coliseum looking West - July 3, 1954
Photo by Neal Douglass courtesy The Portal to Texas History

In 1947 a minor league baseball field was built on the property and named Disch Field after The University of Texas "Longhorns" Baseball coach William J. "Billy" Disch.  In 1949 the City Coliseum was built on the land between Disch Field and Riverside Drive. It was said to formerly be an aircraft hangar bought by the city from Bergstrom Air Force Base and reconstructed there.

Dancing in Coliseum at the inauguration of Gov. Allan Shivers - Jan. 20, 1953
Photo by Neal Douglass courtesy The Portal to Texas History

The Coliseum was used to hold many events and hosted a variety of acts from the Austin Symphony to Hank Williams. In 1953 the Coliseum was the site for the inauguration for Texas Governor Allan Shivers who had been reelected in 1952. On January 18, 1956, Elvis, Scotty, Bill and DJ performed at the Coliseum while on tour in Texas that week as an extra to Hank Snow's Grand Ole Opry show.  Dates that week included shows in San Antonio, Galveston, Beaumont, Wichita Falls and Fort Worth.  According to an article in the July issue of Pageant Magazine that year, Elvis said when he got to Austin he discovered a girl in his room shining his shoes. She announced that she was his self-appointed slave, but refused to reveal her name or address. Elvis and his traveling companion, Cousin Gene, had to take her wallet from her by force to get the information they needed to ship her back home to San Antonio.

Just a week earlier, on the 10th, they had done their first session with RCA, at the McGavock Street studio in Nashville, where they recorded Heartbreak HotelI Got A Woman and Money Honey.  The session was the first time that D.J. had recorded with them. Of the date in Austin, Lee Cotten wrote, Elvis, “acclaimed by critics as the greatest singing star in the last 10 years," according to the ad in the Austin American, played the Austin Coliseum at 8:00 p.m. Along with the rest of the Hank Snow tour, Charlie Walker was also listed on the bill. A special section of 1,500 seats were sold at the low cost of $1.00.3

Elvis and Melba backstage at the Coliseum in Austin - Jan. 18, 1956
Photo by Jo Anne Phillips courtesy of Brian Petersen

In the audience that day was a young girl named Jo Anne Phillips, who had taken her cousin Melba along. They had already met Elvis twice before. One time was when Elvis had played Austin during the summer of 1955 and again at the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport in December of 1955. As soon as the girls arrived at the Coliseum, they went to the back door of the stage, to see if they could get to meet Elvis and talk with him before the show started. Melba and Jo Anne learned from D. J. Fontana that if they stayed around at the back door, they would be sure to meet Elvis, as this would be where he would come in. They were soon awarded as Elvis walked up to them. Jo Anne asked if Elvis would pose for a picture with Melba. After having changed his jacket Elvis put his arms around Melba, and Jo Anne, taking as much time as possible for the moment to last, took their photo. By now, several girls had started to crowd around for autographs. Elvis, who had borrowed a pen from Jo Anne continued to use it as she stood there waiting silently for him to return it. Elvis suddenly grabbed Jo Anne by her arms, pulled her closer to him and gave her a kiss. All the other girls turned green with envy and just wished that Elvis had kissed them like that. As it was becoming time for the show to start, the girls reluctantly left Elvis and took their seats. Most of the audience were teenage girls who had come to see Elvis, and it was very clear to the other entertainers that they were just the warm-up acts for the real star of the show. Elvis put on a great show, including such future hits as "I Got A Woman" and "Heartbreak Hotel," two songs he had recorded only about a week earlier. According to Jo Anne they had to add another show due to popular demand, but as there were no reviews of the shows on this tour and nothing was mentioned in the local papers prior to the show I have not been able to get this confirmed. However, on many occasions back then an extra show actually was added.

courtesy The Atomic Powered Singer by Brian Petersen

This appearance was the last time they would perform together in Austin, this tour was the last time they would be a supporting act and soon after Bob Neal would no longer be officially associated with Elvis Presley.  Ten days after the Austin show they would make their national television debut on the Dorsey Brother's Stage Show in New York.

Aerial view of the Coliseum looking East - 1959
Photo by Neal Douglass courtesy The Portal to Texas History

Aerial view of the Coliseum looking South - 1959
Photo by Neal Douglass courtesy The Portal to Texas History

Aerial photo shows the Sportcenter, Municipal Auditorium and Coliseum - 1959
Photo by Neal Douglass courtesy The Portal to Texas History

Just two years later, on January 5, 1959 the larger Municipal Auditorium opened on the property east of the Coliseum. It would be the site of Bob Dylan's first live date with The Band.4  Elvis himself would return to Austin for an appearance at the Auditorium with the TCB band on March 28 1977. That brought the count to three of Austin's facilities that he performed at in immediate proximity of each other.

Aerial View of the Coliseum looking North - Nov. 1968
Photo by Neal Douglass courtesy The Portal to Texas History

Satellite view of the Coliseum and Palmer Auditorium in Austin, TX
Photo courtesy web

The Municipal Auditorium was renamed the Palmer auditorium in honor of Austin's former Mayor Lester E. Palmer in 1981.4 The Coliseum remained a popular venue through the years hosting a multitude of acts from Joni Mitchell to The Clash.  Today though, of all the structures in Austin and its vicinity that Elvis performed in, with Scotty and Bill or without, not one remains. 

Over time the number of events there dwindled and the last event to be held at the Coliseum was the Austin Lyric Opera's production of "Rigoletto" on May 20, 2002.5 The venue was demolished later that year.

The Coliseum (looking west) just prior to demolition - 2002
Photo by Kevin Dytrich courtesy Austin Explorer

The Coliseum in a state of demolition - 2002
Photos by Kevin Dytrich courtesy Austin Explorer

Rubble where the Coliseum once stood - 2003
Photos by Kevin Dytrich courtesy Austin Explorer

The Lester E. Palmer Events Center had been completed in June of 2002 and today shares the property with the Long Center for the Performing Arts, which replaced the (Municipal) Palmer Auditorium. Much of the remaining area was returned to green space and parks, trails and a man made pond occupy the site of the Coliseum.

Development of the park at Auditorium shores - ca. 2008
Photo courtesy Microsoft EarthData

Development of the park at Auditorium shores - ca. 2008
Photo courtesy Microsoft EarthData

The park and former site of the Coliseum - Oct. 14, 2010
Photo © James V. Roy

The park and former site of the Coliseum - Oct. 14, 2010
Photo © James V. Roy

The Coliseum shaped restrooms in the park - Oct. 14, 2010
Photo © James V. Roy

Today, a similarly shaped structure in Town Lake Park housing public restrooms sits in what was once Disch's right field, intentionally or not, gives a nod to the Coliseum that once stood nearby.

page added December 15, 2010

1 according to Town Lake Austin Texas courtesy Guide To Texas Outside
2 according to Austin Treasures: Austin at Work
3 excerpt from "Did Elvis Sing in Your Hometown?" by Lee Cotten
4 according to The Timeline Austin Arts courtesy The Austin Chronicle
5 according to Austin Explorer

Special thanks to FECC/unclefester for the initial inquiries about this venue which was the inspiration for this page.


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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