Oakland Auditorium
Oakland, CA

The north and east side of the Oakland Municipal Auditorium at 10 Tenth St., Oakland, CA - ca. 1915s
Photo courtesy UC Berkeley, Bankcroft Library

Efforts for a large municipal auditorium in Oakland, California began as early as 1910 at a time when there were only two convention halls located in the Western U.S. (Los Angeles and Denver) capable of accommodating large gatherings. The following year, on May 16, voters approved a $500,000 bond measure to construct one. Designed in 1912 by John Joseph Donovan who had supervised the building of Oakland's new City Hall, and Henry Hornbostel, the initial plan called for a building at 10 Tenth St. on the shores of Lake Merritt 450 feet long, 200 feet wide and 75 feet high with a 10,000 seating capacity in the arena with retractable roof and also an adjacent 3,000 seat lecture hall that could seat.1&2

The north and east side of the Oakland Auditorium at 10 Tenth St., Oakland, CA overlooking Lake Merritt
Postcard courtesy ebay

Ultimately they realized that cost were grossly underestimated and because of cost increases in structural steel along with the foundation being built on landfill it would cost an additional $500,000 to complete. After two more elections for another bond issue it was approved and work resumed in June of 1914. In December an associate architect, Walter Matthews, was added to the project to supervise construction and by April of 1915 the auditorium was complete.1

The interior arena of the Oakland Auditorium, Oakland, CA
Photo courtesy UC Berkeley, Bankcroft Library

Referred to at times as the Civic Auditorium, Municipal Auditorium or simply Oakland Auditorium, it featured an arena, entranced on the east end, with a flat hardwood maple floor 117 by 212 feet with when used as such had a seating capacity for 4,000 with an "unequaled system of overhead lighting together with a glass-covered roof garden for promenades. The surrounding balcony sat 3725 and 54 boxes sat 12 each. Additionally a 30 by 50 foot stage could seat 6-700 more.1 It also had a theater (Opera House), entranced on the opposite (west) end, which comprised a third of the building, in addition to exhibit halls and the Municipal art gallery.2 When it opened it was written that "Probably no building in America is better fitted out with conveniences such as permanent public telephone rooms, telegraph stations, checking facilities, rest rooms for women, elaborately fitted up smoking rooms for men ... parking station for automobiles and exits of a nature that provide for emptying the building of 9,000 persons in four minutes."1

The north and west side of The Oakland Auditorium in Oakland, CA overlooking Lake Merritt
Postcard courtesy ebay

The exterior facade featured two-story high Beaux Arts style arches designed by Alexander Sterling Calder depicting allegorical figures.2 They faced the lake. Above them running practically the length of the building bore the inscription "Auditorium of the City of Oakland dedicated By The Citizens To The Intellectual and Industrial Progress Of The People ANNO DOMINI MCMXIV (1914 A.D.)"

Examples of some of the arches and figures at the Oakland Auditorium
Photo © 2008 msuner48

Neptune in bass relief and the "Joy of Work"
Photos © 2008 msuner48

It opened with dedication ceremonies on Friday April 30 and festivities through Sunday that included a grand ball, pageant, concert, drill teams, a bagpipe band and child musicians from Oakland schools.1

Devlin's Zouaves with the Sells Floto Circus and Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show at Oakland Auditorium - May 1915
Photo courtesy Denver Public Library

With its unobstructed views the facility hosted a myriad of indoor events that included concerts, dances, banquets and parties to trade shows, exhibitions, conventions, fund raisers, circuses and even Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Sporting events included wrestling, tennis, gymnastics and basketball.3 At the time it opened the country's road systems had hardly been developed and what did exist were in poor condition.

The Oakland Auditorium at 10 Tenth St., Oakland, CA - ca. 1930s
Postcard courtesy ebay

In September the auditorium was the site of the Pan-American Road Congress which opened on the 13th and ran to the 17th. It was essentially a combined annual meeting of members of the American Highway Association (AHA) and the American Road Builders Association (ARBA), with the cooperation of the Pacific Highway Association and the Tri-state Good Roads Association. At that time a resolution was adopted calling on Congress to investigate the feasibility and necessity of a system of military highways throughout the country though several objected to the use of the word "military." Essentially it led to a draft bill that was the foundation for the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916, the first first federal highway funding legislation in the US.4

Volunteer nurses from the American Red Cross tending influenza sufferers in the Oakland Auditorium - 1918.
Photo by Edward A. "Doc" Rogers. From the Joseph R. Knowland collection, Oakland Public Library courtesy UC Berkeley

When the influenza epidemic that swept the world in 1918, one fifth of the world's population was attacked by this deadly virus. It killed an estimated 50 million people, more people than any other illness in recorded history. Indiscriminately, it was rampant in urban and rural areas, and in the US afflicted over 25 percent of the population. In one year, the average life expectancy in the United States dropped by 12 years.5 During this time the Oakland's Auditorium saw use as a temporary hospital.

Opera House Ticket for Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd. Thursday Jan. 23, 1936
ticket courtesy Aquila Books

The Opera House, would see the likes of Ernestine Schumann-Heink, soprano Johanna Gadski of the Metropolitan Opera Company, Walter Damrosch and the New York Symphony, Emil Oberhoffer and Minneapolis Orchestra and even Alfred Hertz with the San Francisco Symphony from across the bay. Dancers like Nijinski and Anna Pavlova appeared there. sang ticket-holders were told that “this evening's concert will be as audible to those in the general admission seats as to those occupying boxes, the acoustics of the theater being at the best." Paderewski, Galli-Curci, the Kneisel Quartet, violinists Maud Powell and Efrem Zimbalist, contralto Sophie Braslau, Margaret Malzenauer all were booked. The acoustics, though billed to be the best, often competed with events taking place in the adjacent theater so that twenty years after its opening audiences dropped off and the great artists began to pass up Oakland for Sacramento, San Jose and San Francisco.6

The Oakland Municipal Auditorium at 10 Tenth St., Oakland, CA - ca. 1940s
Postcard courtesy ebay

In June of 1956 Elvis, Scotty, Bill and DJ returned to California for their second, and most controversial television appearance to-date, on the Milton Berle show. The show was surround by area performances, the first of which was at the Auditorium Arena in Oakland.

June 1st, 2nd, and 3rd 1956 ads in The Oakland Tribune

Elvis' June 3rd shows advertised on Oakland radio (click if it doesn't play)
clip courtesy FECC, and youtube


Elvis Presley, the young singer and guitarist who in little more than a year has become the Nation's No. 1 recording star, will bring his stage show into the Oakland Auditorium Arena Sunday for performances at 3 and 8 p.m.
Besides Presley and his unit the package will include Benny Strong's Claremont Hotel Orchestra, ap dancer Vera Mason, and comedian Paul Desmond (not to be confused with the alto saxophonist of the same name).
Presley's most widely known number probably is "Heartbreak Hotel," though "Tutti Frutti," and "Blue Suede Shoes" are close behind.
Ata concert appearance in Oklahoma City last April 20, the Daily Oklahoman reported 6,500 youngsters packed the auditorium for Presley's first show while another 6,500 waited patiently outside to get in for the second run. A similar instance occurred more recently in San Diego.

May/June 1956 Oakland Tribune announcement courtesy web

The Del Courtney Band at Loew's Theater in New York City
Photo courtesy "Hey! The Band's Too Loud" by Del Courtney

Though early articles in the Oakland Tribune mentioned that the variety acts would be backed by Benny Strong's Hotel Claremont orchestra, they were in fact billed as backed by Oakland native and San Francisco band leader Del Courtney and his Orchestra. Courtney had formed his first band at the Claremont Hotel in the '30s and performed in major hotels across the country and Hawaii.


Presley Confuses Music Definition

"Jazz is, above all, a total freedom to express yourself."
If you accept this definition at face value it would seem to follow that practitioners as disparate as, say, Elvis Presley and Duke Ellington. must be lumped together. And before any Ellington fan starts screaming, he should realize that it was the Duke himself who laid down these ground rules. Maybe he should have stopped after he said that Jazz really cannot be defined.
Certainly the great majority of jazz musicians and aficionados would not for a moment maintain that Presley, a rock ’n’ roll belter, could be admitted to their field. Yet on the other hand there are among these same brethren those who would likewise bar Ellington.

Plays Two Shows
Before probing this further it should be pointed out that Presley will appear at 3 pm. and again at 8 pm. today at the Oakland Auditorium Arena in shows which also will include Benny Strong's Hotel Claremont orchestra; Vera Mason, a tap dancer, and Paul Desmond, a comedian, who is not to be confused with the alto saxophonist of the Brubeck Quartet. (This is not to imply that the musical Desmond cannot, on occasion be comical)
Apparently there is no middle ground for the reaction to Presley. TV critic John Crosby referred to him as "a shouter . . . who yells a song and seems to have some sort of St. Vitus dance." A teen-age girl- one of tens of thousands who buy Presley's records- remarked: "I have a funny feeling I'll see Elvis Presley in the near future; that will be the day I have a heart attack."

Elvis in his dressing room at the Oakland Auditorium - June 3, 1956
Photos by Robert B. Stinnet courtesy Bonhams

Fantastic Sale
Those recordings, incidentally, are selling at the rate of 50,000 a day. His first long play album has sold more than 100,000 copies, and his most popular single, "Heartbreak Hotel," more than 1,000,000. The income from these, from his shows, and from the movie contract he recently signed with Paramount is expected to total some $200,000 in 1956. And this is the year he became 21.
This also is the year that Edward Kennedy Ellington attained age 57, disclosed that the Cleveland and the New Haven Symphony Orchestras are going to do one of his works this summer, and became the first jazz personage and first native American to be nominated for honorary membership in the national music fraternity Kappa Gamma Psi. (Other honorary members include Ignace Pederewski, Bruno Walter, Eric Leinsdorf.)
Instances such as these, plus Ellington's ability in to create works which are outside of conventional jazz (such as "Black, Brown and Beige. a Tone Parallel to the History of the American Negro," which runs nearly an hour and was premiered in Carnegie Hall in 1943) have led some misguided souls to the belief he is not a jazz musician. They fail to remember, "It don't Mean a Thing if You ain't Got That Swing," "Caravan," "The Mooche," "Mood Indigo," and a dozen others which he has written and which have become standards of the idium.
Nor, apparently, do they recall the jazz musicians who reached their peak in the Duke's band, which was launched nearly 30 years ago in Washington, D.C,—men like Jimmy Blanton. Bubber Miley, Cootie Williams, Tricky Sam Nanton, Barney Bigard, Ben Webster, Juan Tizol, Sonny Greer, Lawrence Brown and saxophonists Johnny Hodges and Harry Carney, who still are on the band.
The Duke's not only in jazz, he's a big chunk OF Jazz.
Currently the band is playing in Las Vegas. It will open a 10-day engagement at the Macumba in San Francisco next Friday. On the same evening, Erroll Garner comes the Blackhawk, replacing the Dave Brubeck Quartet. The Garner Trio was scheduled in last Friday but the famed pianist was incapacitated by minor injuries suffered in an automobile accident. The Hi-Lo's vocal quartet opened at Fack's Friday, following Matt Dennis.

June 3, 1956 The Oakland Tribune

Gene Smith and Elvis escorted by Oakland Police at the Oakland Auditorium - June 3, 1956
Photo by Arthur Mensor courtesy '50s fan mag

The shows were reviewed the press the following day as follows:

Tribune photo

Pandemonium-Shrieking teen-agers, waving programs frantically, jam against the stage of the Auditorium Arena to get Elvis Presley's autograph during the singer's riotous appearance here yesterday.

Elvis Sends 6,400 Here Into Frenzy

Elvis Presley fans all but tore the roof off the Oakland Auditorium Arena -not once, but twice -as the youthful singing sensation proved yesterday he is, without a doubt, the most amazing of entertainers.
Presley whips through a song as if he had grabbed a live wire. Some 6,400 madly screaming fans at two performances responded as if they, too, had been jolted by the same current.
The South's 21-year-old gift to modem teen-age hysteria gave out with such widely acclaimed hits as "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Heartbreak Hotel" to such pandemonium that he was all but drowned out in the screams of under-age listeners who went mad, Mad, MAD.

Elvis escorted by Oakland Police in the Oakland Auditorium - June 3, 1956
Photo by Arthur Mensor(?) courtesy '50s fan mag

He had to be escorted through a secret entrance to keep him from being mobbed.
Let Pa and Ma have their Liberace and their Lawrence Welk - the youngsters have their Elvis Presley.
He is a boy in a Kelly green tweed jacket with an unruly forelock, darkly lashed gray eyes and a pouting mouth. 'He is a kid with two diamond rings, a $700 diamond encrusted wristwatch (“They are useless but I've always wanted stuff like that") four cars and a motorcycle. A lad who will make over $100,000 this year, and for whose record contract RCA-Victor paid $40,000, the highest ever given.
He has built his parents a $50.000 home in Memphis, where the youngsters with whom he grew up avoid him, now that he has hit the "big time."
"Heck, I haven't changed, not a bit," he said.

Elvis at the Oakland Civic Auditorium - June 3, 1956
Photos by Bob Campbell, courtes '50s fan mag and © The Chronicle

He has a gyrating, knee-knocking, tear-'em-apart style of whipping out a song with a vicious driving beat. He does everything but lie down and roll in front of his three-piece band.
On stage he is a song belting phenomenon who has only to appear to send his audience into a near hysterical frenzy.
Off stage, he is a natural appearing youth with a shrewd intelligence and a disarming frankness. He has the Valentino look for the gals and the "ma'am" kind of manners for their mothers.
“I don't like to stand still,” he said: “I get nervous."
"If the police and my managers would let me, I'd get mobbed all the time. It makes

Continued page 3, Col 1

GO, MAN, GO--Sandra McCune (left) rocks back on her heels, her hands raised high in wild excitement, as she listens to Elvis Presley belt out a song on stage at the Oakland Auditorium Arena. More than 6,000 fans created pandemonium during appearance of the teen-agers' newest idol.

Tribune Photo

FOR YOU ALONE-Gyrations on stage are a part of Presley's stock in trade. An amateur photographer stands entranced as he tilts forward, points and sings for her alone.
POUNDING IT OUT-Presley clutches the microphone, swings a leg out wide and starts singing passionately. The crowd loved it.  

Frenzy Reigns as Elvis Sends 6,400

Continued from Page 1 

you feel good. I would feel worse if they didn't swoon over me."
"As long as I keep on doing OK, I'll keep on doing what I'm doing. I really want to be an actor. A good actor.
"I don't blow anything, other than on four cars, a motorcycle, and stuff like that. I've got about 35 jackets and pants. My income taxes are really high. But I‘ve a manager who can get the most out of a deal. He drains 'em.
"I date quite a few girls but nothing real serious.
"I don't play the guitar as much as I used to, because I break too many strings.”

Fan club president Sandra McCune and fans - June 3, 1956
Photo courtesy '50s fan mag

Presley was the finale of a long stage show that presented a series of vaudeville acts including the top-notch Paul Desmond, impersonator, pantomimist and singer, The show was prolonged, but the audience was patient. They knew whom they had come to see and waiting only built up anticipation.
When Presley finally appeared, the crowd blew its top. A noise meter would have thought it was recording the '06 earthquake.
All he actually does is sing and throw himself about. There is very little audience patter. He finally abandoned his guitar. He clung to the mike and the curtains and he gave with the voice, doing the songs on which he has made his fame.
He was backed by a three-man combo of drums, guitar and bass. The Jordanaires, a male quartet, joined him in a number.
As he left the stage after the earlier performance, several hundred teen-agers stampeded into the building exit which they expected him to use. But young Presley collapsed in his dressing room with a soft drink. ("My throat gets dry when I sing.") He was dishelved, and he looked tired.
But whenever a pretty girl came — or even a 5-year-old, somehow eluding police — he said to let them in, and he did the autographing chore that probably makes the lucky few the envy of their schools today.

Elvis, Scotty, DJ and Bill onstage at the Oakland Auditorium Arena - June 3, 1956
Photos source Claude Francisci and Getty Images

One of the Jordanaires, Gordon Stoker, who has toured with him, said,
"I've never seen anything to compare with this guy. The reaction he gets is the wildest I've ever seen."
One teen-age girl put it more succinctly"
"OoooOhhh!" (this is an indescribable sound and starts low and goes way, way high. It's sort of a cross between a call for help and the call of the wild) "He sends you!"

The Oakland Tribune June 4, 1956

Elvis kisses a fan backstage at the Oakland Auditorium, and gets kissed back - June 3, 1956
Photos by Bob Campbell © The Chronicle, and courtesy FECC/Little Sister

The San Francisco Chronicle's review was as follows:

Elvis backstage at Oakland's Civic Auditorium - June 3, 1956
Photo by Bob Campbell © The Chronicle

This is Elvis

The owner of the quiet face and artistic hand is rarely photographed in such repose. He usually is flailing a guitar as he throbs his way through a program of hillbilly rock and roll.
Yesterday he appeared twice in the Oakland Auditorium Arena and sent two crowds of teenagers into screaming hysteria.  For details, see Page 20.



Elvis Hits Town and Teen-Agers Turn Out

By William McPhillips

A young man with a virile voice and twitching hip muscles yesterday supplied what was apparently a notable lack for a segment of Bay Area teen-agers: an idol.
Sort of between gods since Eddie married Debbie, 3500 squealing schoolkids found their man in Mississippi's gift to the arts, 21-year-old Elvis Presley.
It was only after one of the most elaborate warm—ups in local show business that they saw him performing on the stage of Oakland's Auditorium Arena.

His teen-age audience broke up as Presley came onstage, flailed wildly at his guitar, sang passionately into mike ...
Photo by Bob Campbell © The Chronicle

But once he got there, they found Presley was everything they hoped for—and a lot more. 
Frank Sinatra, who went on to gain weight in his roles if not his physique, and Johnnie Ray, who sobbed his heart out on order. both appealed to an awakening maternal instinct.
Presley, 180 pounds of undeniably male characteristics built in a six-foot frame, appealed to something else.

... then dragged microphone around stage in crushing embrace, crooning and shouting all the while
Photo by Bob Campbell © The Chronicle

Said a disgusted Oakland cop, one of a dozen detailed to guard RCA-Victors new find from possible harm at the hands of autograph seekers:
"If he did that same stuff on the streets, we'd lock him up."
Dubbed "Elvis the Pelvis" by some critics, Presley stalked glowering out onto the stage for a mere 20 minutes after other performers teased the audience for an hour and a half.
The roar that met him subsided only when he launched his almost-powerful baritone into "Heartbreak Hotel," which under his handling has become the Nations top-selling record.

Leading the pandemonium Sandra McCune, president of Oakland's brand new E. P. Fan Club
Photo by Bob Campbell © The Chronicle

The crowd was quiet as he sang, in lyrics verging on the unintelligible ——— until one of his black-denim-clad knees shot out.
When the screams subsided, the right knee picked up where the other left off and gradually, as the movement spread upward, the famous voice was lost in bedlam.
Presley, his ducktailed, tawny hair now hanging in his eyes, grabbed the microphone as if it were alive and
dragged it around the stage, now petting it, now turning upon it the full vent of his manly wrath.
Every song sounded much the same. almost as identical as the reactions of the audience which paid up to $2.50 to see his writhings.

Scotty, Elvis, DJ and Bill onstage at Oakland's Civic Auditorium - June 3, 1956
Photo courtesy web

Composed mostly of teen-aged girls, the audience contained some oldsters and a sprinkling of weird-looking young men.
During a ten-minute intermission -after the build-up and before Presley's appearance—they had ample time to pick up a few souvenirs as provided by Presley's manager, former Tennessee carnival worker Colonel Tom Parker.
There were "programs" for 50 cents - which contained ten pages of pictures and a space for autographs.
There were song books which at $1 a copy contained words and music of the rock-and-roll-hillbilly tunes Presley has made famous.
Or there were autographed pictures of the singer, which sold at either 50 cents or a dollar, depending on the customer’s emotional pitch.
In the lobby, the day was dedicated to teen-agers, with soft drinks replacing the sandwich stand‘s usual beer and coffee menu.
In his dressing room, both before and after his performances, Presley, who two years ago drove a truck in Memphis for $35 a week, was surrounded by budding beauties.
One was 14-year-old Sandra McCune, who as president of the newly formed Oakland chapter of the Elvis Presley Fan Club wanted to know if he approved of their official dress-a quilted skirt with his name emblazoned in red.

Elvis checks out Sandra McCune "Elvis" skirt backstage in Oakland - June 3, 1956
Photos courtesy '50s fan mags

It was worn, she explained breathlessly, only with a locket containing his picture, which by club rules must be placed over the heart.
Presley absently put his arm around her and confided to reporters that he wanted to be an actor.
"But all this wild emotion in me " he said. "I’ve got to sing, and I think I do it well."
' A lone music critic in the audience agreed with him, at least partially.
"He's wonderful, I guess," he said. "From the hips down, anyway."

The San Francisco Chronicle, June 4, 1956 courtesy Francesc Lopez

The band made their second and last Milton Berle Show appearance on the 5th where coincidentally Elvis appeared with Debra Paget, the co-star of his first movie, Love Me Tender, filmed later that year.  The blistering performance of their yet to be recorded version of Hound Dog was deemed scandalous by the media which set the tone for many of Elvis' subsequent reviews and evoked promises of "non" appearances from both Steve Allen and Ed Sullivan on each of their shows. They would both yield. Some passing pieces in the Oakland papers, however, made no big deal of it. 

Elvis onstage at Oakland's Civic Auditorium - June 3, 1956
Photo from Vizier Magazine courtesy FECC

Excitement on 10th St.

You may have read of Mr. Elvis Presley, the singer who shivers, shudders and twitches like a men wearing underwear four sizes too smell. You no doubt have read the baffled reporting of the musicale which on Sunday at the Auditorium enthralled Bay area youngsters.
So you may be interested in Police Officer 230's reaction to this event which for one day made Oakland the cultural capital of the teen-age world.
Presley a mild-mannered, pleasant young man offstage, becomes something else again when mooing his songs. He is accompanied by three young men blaring a jungle rhythm, undoubtedly rock-and-roll. Each twitch of Presley's hip, each alternate pounding of the heels drove the young ladies present into a pandemonium of screams, shouts and shrieks which, along with the band,
contrived neatly to drown out the singer‘s words. It was not exactly necessary to hear the words however; one got the idea.
And when Mr. Presley staggered about the stage like a man walking in mud at the same time dragging behind him the microphone with which he engages in an occasional wrestling match, teen-age girls for some obscure reason could hardly contain themselves. They howled like banshees. They visibly trembled. They jumped up and down.


So back to Officer 230. He was standing in an entryway when Mr. Presley concluded his musicale and he was astounded when the arena doors burst open and hundreds of young girls stampeded toward him. They were stalking the singer either for autographs or to tear him apart, and they gesticulated and shouted and vibrated. Naturally. Officer 230 looked for a place to hide, of which there was none. Afterwards, visibly affected, he made a report.
"One doorway!' he moaned "and what must have been 3,000 girls come running through it, and they wedge tighter and tighter, and I am in the middle of them. It is a wonder somebody didn’t get hurt. It was awful.
"I’ve never seen anything like that before in my life," said Officer 230 dazedly, "and I never want to again."
Mr. Presley, who understandably is called Pelvis Presley by his admirers, seems to have felt the same way, too. After the show, dripping perspiration, he sipped a soft drink.
Outside could be heard the outcries of his fans as they stalked him.
"I'm gonna stay here," opined Mr. Presley thoughtfully, ‘and get me some rest."

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The Oakland Tribune, Daily Knave - June 5, 1956


Where are all those show—business characters who are forever discovering talent? There's discovering to be done—of Paul Desmond, the former student at Oakland's Bret Harte Junior High who panicked 6,000 customers at the Elvis Presley show with his excruciatingly funny act. A clean show-stop.
Desmond, 26, has come along tremendously in the last few years and now tops many of the vaunted comedians seen in the better night spots and on television. What’s more, he has a surprisingly fine voice which sets him up for musical comedy. ("I've just started to sing," explains Desmond. "In the Army, the fellows didn't go for it.")
Some manager is going to make a fortune with this boy, although right now, believe it or not, he's playing casuals. Personal note to Ed Sullivan: How about again using Desmond on your show?...

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The Oakland Tribune, Daily Knave - June 6, 1956

This appears to be the only appearance that used these "local" acts.  The subsequent shows that month in LA, Long Beach and San Diego were comprised of the Flaim Brothers Orchestra with Jackie Little who had toured the Midwest with them in May and also the Jordanaires, Frankie Conners and Phil Maraquin who would tour through the summer with them. Paul Desmond apparently continued to work as a comedian at least through the '90s. After the end of the band era, Del Courtney opened a television dealership in Oakland, CA, and also worked in radio, as a disc jockey and an owner. He returned to band leading though, including leading the band for the Oakland Raiders in the seventies before relocating to Hawaii in 1978. He died there in 2006.7

Inside Oakland Auditorium's Theater/Opera House - Oct. 1957
Oakland Tribune Photo

The following year, 1957, the city council voted more than $150,000 to redecorate and refurnish the theater portion of the Oakland Auditorium. Improvements included new paint in the theater, new red and gold carpet in the foyer, a hydraulically operated orchestra lift, a gold stage curtain, new chairs in the balcony, indirect cove lighting which could be dimmed for special effects and spot lights to illuminate the orchestra lift.6

Around that time Elvis, Scotty, Bill and DJ returned for their second and last appearance in Oakland. Tickets for the October 27th show went on sale on the 19th and early sales suggested that demand might be high.


Elvis Presley, rock 'n roll singer with a new twist, hasn't lost a mite of his Oakland area popularity.
That was evident when the Oakland box office of Sherman Clay and Co. reported it was "swamped" with orders for tickets to his performance scheduled for the Oakland Arena Theater Sunday evening, Oct. 27.
"I wouldn't want to guess at the demand . . . 10,000 would cover it," the head of the box office said.
The sale started yesterday morning.

Oakland Tribune - October 20, 1957

The piece mentioned that the show would be held in the theater but in fact it was in the arena as it was the last time.  Coincidentally, it was noted that on the 20th, the Crickets with Buddy Holly performed at the Auditorium also, in a show billed as the "Biggest Show of Stars for 1957."  The show also featured Paul Anka, Fats Domino, LaVern Baker, the Every Brothers, Clyde McPhatter, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Knox, Jimmy Bowen , the Drifters, Frankie Lymon, Chuck Berry and Paul Williams.


Here Tomorrow

Presley Film Opens Friday At Paramount

"Jailhouse Rock," starring Elvis Presley who is appearing at the Oakland Auditorium tomorrow, opens Friday at the Paramount.
In the movie Presley goes to prison on a manslaughter charge after being involved in a barroom fight. Embittered by a cell mate (Mickey Shaughnessy), he fights his way to the top of the music world.
Judy  Tyler, who was killed in an auto accident July 4 just after the picture was completed, plays a music agent.
The cast also Vaughn Taylor and Jennifer Holden.

Oakland Tribune  - October 26, 1957, photo courtesy Ger Rijff

For Elvis, Scotty, Bill and DJ, their show was the second stop of the last tour the band would make together which started the day before across the bay in San Francisco.  It coincided with the release of Elvis' third film, Jailhouse Rock, and coincidentally Andy Griffith was in the area filming his third movie, "Onionhead."  They had toured together early in their careers in 1955.

Oakland Tribune ads - Oct. 25, 26, and 27, 1957

A piece in the Daily Knave of the Oakland Tribune days before the show mentioned a young fan who had been hospitalized during one of Elvis' appearance on the Ed Sullivan show and after hearing about her she had been sent a package and letter.  Its not known though if when he returned if she actually got to meet him or not.

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The Beau Geste

Could understand the excitement filling Oakland's Maurine Moore, 14½. now that Elvis Presley will be in town Sunday. Maurine, you'll recall was the little girl who a year ago tossed trash into a fireplace, suffered 40 per cent third-degree burns when a can of hair spray exploded.
The child, critically injured, was in Alta Bates when Presley appeared on the Ed Sullivan show, begged to be allowed to watch the singer. She was.
Then someone-no one knows who-wired or phoned the singer, for on the following Thursday in came a big package from Presley for Maurine-a picture, records, a charm bracelet, various garments-and a letter in which he wished the child well and expressed a hope that he might meet her when he returned to Oakland.
Maurine's an Oakland High sophomore now; her morale is tremendous, although there's more repair work to be done; and she's tremulously wondering-Will Elvis Presley remember? . . .

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The Oakland Tribune, Daily Knave October 25, 1957

Onstage at the Oakland Auditorium Arena - Oct. 27, 1957
Photo courtesy FECC/denon3910

The Tribune reviewed the show briefly as follows:

Elvis Ducks Frenzied Teen Fans

A shrieking, foot-stomping crowd of 7,000 young people last night filled the Oakland Municipal Auditorium to see rock and roll singer Elvis Presley in a personal appearance.

Onstage at the Oakland Auditorium Arena - Oct. 27, 1957
Photo courtesy ebay

Elvis, clad in a bright green sport coat, black slacks and black shirt, sang 14 songs in 30 minutes on stage. The remainder of the 110-minute stage show was made up of variety acts and the Jordanaires singing group.

Onstage at the Oakland Auditorium Arena - Oct. 27, 1957
Photo courtesy ebay

Presley appeared as a cordon of 40 uniformed policemen flanked the front of the stage. The teen-agers remained in or near their seats as he sang. They sang, danced, whirled and called out as Presley performed. only one girl tried to run up onto the stage and she made the edge of it before officers stopped her and ordered her back to her seat.

Onstage at the Oakland Auditorium Arena - Oct. 27, 1957
Photo courtesy ebay

The singer brought loud shrieks with virtually every smile, glance and body gyration. While singing he dropped, flat on his stomach, and then on his back sprawled across a plane holding the microphone. The audience, 90 per cent girls, loved it.
Many teen-aged girls in the audience cried as he sang. Others slid out of their seats and onto the floor. As Elvis sang his song, "Treat Me Nice," a chorus of voices from the audience cried back:
"I will."

Onstage at the Oakland Auditorium Arena - Oct. 27, 1957
Photo courtesy ebay

His last song was "Hound Dog," by prearrangement with the protective police. As he sang the closing bars he edged to the back of the stage and jumped down, through the rear door of the Auditorium Theater. He left the building by the theater entrance and was driven off in a car. Many of the young people, refusing to believe he had gone so abruptly, waited in the auditorium another 30 minutes before leaving.
One bobby-soxer walking out commented to a girl friend that "I'm absolutely weak. I've got Elvisitis something awful."

The Oakland Tribune, p14 October 28, 1957

The tour concluded the following two nights at the Pan Pacific in LA and then two later dates were added in November in Hawaii.

Construction at the Oakland Auditorium for the ABC bowling tournament in 1964. Jan. 20, 1964
Photo: Bob Campbell, The Chronicle

A finished image from the ABC bowler's tour at the Oakland Auditorium in 1964. Feb. 21, 1964
Photo: Art Frisch, The Chronicle

Through the 50s and 60s the auditorium also hosted Roller Derby and Bowling conventions. It was also the only major venue in Oakland until the '60s open to mixed race audiences. Though it hosted many of the top talent of the day including James Brown and Rick James its probably best renown for the numerous appearances by the Grateful Dead which included many New Years Eves there.2

1967 poster for James Brown at the Oakland Auditorium and 1971 Black Panther event w/ Grateful Dead
Photos courtesy web and West County

One peculiar Grateful Dead show at the Auditorium was an appearance at a Black Panther Benefit. Not particularly known for politics the band is believed to have loaned support of the Panthers opposition to the Vietnam War, especially in the time following the Kent State shootings.

Grateful Dead at the Oakland Auditorium Arena: distant view of the stage - Dec. 31, 1979
Photo by  Joseph P. Niehuser Jr. courtesy Grateful Dead Archive Online,

In 1984, after a renovation that exceeded $11 million it was renamed the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center.2 Kaiser, an American industrialist founded more than 100 companies, including Kaiser Aluminum and Kaiser Steel. He organized combinations of construction companies to build the Hoover, Bonneville, and Grand Coulee dams and other large public projects. Known also as the father of modern American shipbuilding, he ran seven shipyards during WWII and used assembly-line production to build ships in less than five days. He established the first health maintenance organization for his employees which became a model for later federal programs. He was also was one of the earliest and biggest boosters of the Hawaiian tourist industry, and built The Hawaiian Village Hotel complex where Elvis first stayed only weeks after his 1957 appearance in Oakland.8

The West Facade (Calvin Simmons theater end) of the Henry J. Kaiser Auditorium - 2008 
Photo © msuner48

The Calvin Simmons Theater in the Henry J. Kaiser Auditorium, Oakland, CA - Nov. 2011
Photo courtesy San Francisco Business Times

In 1988 the theater portion was named Calvin Simmons Theatre at the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center.  Simmons was the first African-American conductor of a major orchestra, becoming musical director of the Oakland Symphony Orchestra at age the age 28. He died in a canoeing accident at the age of 32.9

The Auditorium lobby at the Henry J. Kaiser Auditorium - Nov. 2011
Photo courtesy San Francisco Business Times

An exhibit hall in the the Henry J. Kaiser Auditorium - Nov. 2011
Photo courtesy San Francisco Business Times

The Henry J. Kaiser Auditorium Arena - Nov. 2011
Photo courtesy San Francisco Business Times

The building however was not considered profitable and in 2005 the city of Oakland closed it lacking funds to give it a much needed retrofit.1 It has remained closed since while several attempts to sell it have or otherwise find another use for it have been met with little success.2

Behind the fence at the Henry J. Kaiser Convention center - Jan. 28, 2012
Photo © sfgate.com

In January of 2012 protesters of the Occupy Oakland movement tried to move into the building to hold a festival but were intercepted and thwarted by police which resulted in 400 arrests during the clash. Residents and others remain hopeful though that the building can be someday be reopened and returned to its former glory as a viable entertainment venue.2

The south and west side of Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center at 10 10th St. in Oakland, CA - July 2012
Photo © by Oaklandparks, All Rights Reserved

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Satellite views of the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center in Oakland
courtesy Microsoft

page added November 5, 2013


Most of the ads and articles presented here unless otherwise specified are courtesy of Newspaper Archive online.

1 according to Days Gone By: Rapidly growing Oakland votes to build the city an auditorium, by Nilda Rego, September 18, 2011
2 according to Once the center of civic life, former Oakland Auditorium now vacant with future still uncertain, by Ryan Phillips courtesy Oakland North, February 13, 2012
3 according to Kaiser Arena and Oakland.com
4 according to U.S. DOT Highway History
5 according The Influenza Epidemic of 1918 courtesy the National Archives and Records Administration
6 according to Festival of Concerts Recalls Golden Age, a supplement to the Oakland Tribune, October 28, 1957
7 according to Modesto Radio Museum
8 according to Henry J. Kaiser entry on wikipedia
9 according to Calvin E. Simmons entry on wikipedia


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