Hirsch Memorial Coliseum
Shreveport, LA

Hirsch Memorial Coliseum at 701 Hudson St in Shreveport, LA - Dec. 1956
Photo © courtesy of Louisiana Hayride Archives - J. Kent

Named for former fair president, manager and treasurer William Rex Hirsch, the Hirsch Memorial Coliseum in Shreveport was built by, for and on the grounds of the State Fair of Louisiana in 1954, the year of his passing.  It has served as its prime facility since.  The facility has a 90 foot ceiling, 28,000 square foot arena, permanent seating for 8,500 and a 10,300 seat capacity for concerts. It has 600 tons of air conditioning, five meeting rooms and four dressing rooms.1

Ad for Elvis' final Hayride appearance
courtesy of Louisiana Hayride Archives - J. Kent

Sometimes referred to as the "Youth building," the facility became the temporary home of the Louisiana Hayride during the summer months of 1956 while renovations were made to the city's Municipal Memorial Auditorium. Later that year the larger facility was chosen for Elvis' contractual return benefit performance on the Hayride on December 15th, when they performed for over 9,000 screaming fans.

The Browns, Jim Ed, Maxine and Bonnie with Elvis in Pine Bluff, AR - Dec. 14, 1956
Photo courtesy Maxine Brown

By this time Elvis already had completed one film, Love Me Tender, and would soon start on his second, Loving You.  Hal Kanter would make his directorial debut and write the screenplay for the film tentatively titled at the time Lonesome Cowboy. The film would be sort of a rock 'n roll bio-pic so Hal Wallis felt it beneficial for the skeptic Kanter to attend the performance and experience the Elvis hysteria first hand. He arrived in Memphis on the 14th and Peter Guralnick wrote, that night they left for Shreveport in the Lincoln, with Scotty and Bill driving the instruments in the big yellow Cadillac limo. Kanter rode with Elvis in the front seat, while cousins Gene and junior and the Colonel’s brother-in-law, Bitsy Mott, rode in the back.2  They stopped in Pine Bluff, Arkansas and dined with Jim Ed, Maxine, and Bonnie Brown, friends and Hayride alumni, and arrived in Shreveport at 5:00 a.m. the next morning.

Elvis on stage at the Hirsch Memorial Coliseum in Shreveport - Dec. 15, 1956
Photo by Jack Barham courtesy of Louisiana Hayride Archives - J. Kent

Later that night Elvis was driven to the show from the Captain Shreve Hotel by a two policemen in a patrol car. Another squad of police wait at the stage entrance of the auditorium, leaning heavily against the throng of fans straining for a glimpse of their hero. A shout goes up as the car wheels into view. It turns into screams, high-pierced, splitting the night air, beseeching, fanatic, as he leaps from the car and hurdles himself past clutching hands into the comparative safety of the auditorium.2

Elvis on stage at the Hirsch Memorial Coliseum in Shreveport - Dec. 15, 1956

Photo by Langston McEachern

"That's the night my car got stomped in," said Horace Logan, the head of the Hayride, who introduced Elvis wearing his trademark Stetson hat and pearl handled six-guns. "I parked it right behind the dressing room behind the Coliseum, and the little old girls stomped the roof in standing on top of it trying to see Elvis. That was the night they had roped off the front of the stage, about twenty-five feet. Nobody was supposed to get down there, and when we got there, they were jammed up against the stage. And the fire chief said, ‘Get them to move back or there is no show.' Well, you’re talking about eight thousand people on the lower floor, they had to move their chairs back, all eight thousand of them would have had to move. Now how am I going to do that? I told the fire chief I said, 'I’ll tell them there is not going to be any show, but I‘m going to tell them who canceled it — and they’ll kill you!' Then I got an inspiration. We had some kids out there in iron lungs, and I told them, 'Folks, I‘m sorry to have to do this, but these young people over here in the iron lungs are the only ones I’m going to allow down here. Every one of you has got to back up and move over, so we can put those kids in the front.' And they did it." 2

Scotty, Elvis and DJ on stage at the Hirsch Coliseum in Shreveport - Dec. 15, 1956

Photo by Langston McEachern or Jack Barham courtesy Alamy Images

The show itself lasted for about half an hour, and there was screaming from start to finish. Hal Kanter, who had admittedly come to scoff came away a true believer. When he had driven out to the Coliseum earlier in the day with Bill, the fans had converged on the car, thinking it was Elvis', and he thought he was going to be torn apart. Then, after they realized their mistake, he saw something he could scarcely believe. "I saw a young girl open her purse and take out a Kleenex, and she wiped her hand on the car, took some dust, put it in the Kleenex and folded it and put it back in the purse. I thought, ‘My God, I've never seen any kind of devotion like this anywhere, about anything.' " 2

Elvis on stage at the Hirsch Memorial Coliseum in Shreveport - Dec. 15, 1956

Photo by Langston McEachern or Jack Barham

The review in the Shreveport times read:

Frenzied Elvis Fans Rock Youth Center

Member of Times Staff

Fans watch Elvis at the Hirsch Memorial Coliseum - Dec. 15, 1956
Photo © courtesy of Louisiana Hayride Archives - J. Kent

Elvis (The Pelvis) Presley came to town yesterday, and last night 9,000 rock 'n' rollers "flipped."
His appearance on the stage of the Louisiana Hayride at the Fair Grounds Youth Center set off what was undoubtedly one of the finest displays of mass hysteria in Shreveport history.
Presumably he sang: you couldn't hear him over the screams of the frenzied 9,000. But at least his lips were moving, and his pelvis certainly was. He wasn't halfway through "Heartbreak Hotel" before it became apparent nobody ever had a more appropriate nickname.
It was a hectic evening for Elvis all around. A scheduled press conference more nearly resembled a mob scene with representatives of the press and radio lost among the throngs of fans, autograph-seekers and the curious who infiltrated the meeting.
A brief talk with the Pelvis - who finally managed to escape the mob with about two minutes remaining in his 60 minute "press conference" - disclosed that he was glad to be back in Shreveport, has four Cadillacs and a Lincoln Continental and apparently enjoys all the fuss made over him.

Scotty, Elvis and the Jordanaires on stage at the Hirsch Coliseum - Dec. 15, 1956
Photo © courtesy of Louisiana Hayride Archives - J. Kent

But there wasn't any such commotion during most of Elvis' stay in town. Probably Khrushchev and Bulganin wouldn't have been better guarded than was the young singer during most of the day.
To get to him in his room at the Captain Shreve you had to pass guards, policemen, business associates of one kind or another and numerous members of his entourage whose immediate function was not apparent.
For his appearance on the Hayride, Elvis was clad in white shoes with blue soles, a green coat, blue pants, and white shirt, tie and silk scarf. At the hotel, he settled for slacks, the scarf and a kind of smoking jacket.
Despite adulation enough to turn the head of an oriental potentate, Elvis is friendly enough. He also appears to find plenty of humor in the spectacles he stimulates.
A talk with Janelle Alexander, president of the Shreveport/Bossier Presley fan club, and Kay Wheeler from Dallas, president of the first and biggest Presley Club, amply illustrates the fervor The Pelvis stirs in the hearts of his admirers.
Says Kay, who has encountered the singer several times previously: "I flip every time I meet him."

Elvis, Scotty and DJ on stage at the Hirsch Memorial Coliseum - Dec. 15, 1956
Photo © courtesy of Louisiana Hayride Archives - J. Kent

Janelle defines "flipping" as experiencing in an extreme form and simultaneously the emotions of love, hate, anger, hero worship, anxiety and a few others whose names she didn‘t have on the tip of her tongue. She said other teenagers react similarly.
She didn‘t speculate on the effect of all of this on the autonomic nervous system.
Kay says, a little more conservatively, "He's the most fascinating human I‘ve ever known." She adds, rather frighteningly, that Elvis is a living denial of the notion teenagers should be seen and not heard."
Well, they could certainly be heard last night. If you haven't heard 9,000 persons shrieking for half an hour at the top of their lungs in a closed building there's no point trying to describe it. They couldn't hear Elvis - presumably why they were there - but they didn‘t seem to mind. Just looking at him must have been enough.
The motions, gyrations, bumps and grinds, or whatever you want to call them, Elvis goes through wouldn’t be tolerated in most burlesque houses. They do, however, undoubtedly call for considerable acrobatic talent.
Probably never before have so many been stirred so much by an acrobat.

The Jordanaires, Elvis and Bill on stage at the Hirsch Coliseum - Dec. 15, 1956

Photo by Langston McEachern or Jack Barham

Elvis has reportedly made a million dollars or more in the last couple of years - he commands top pay for his performances - but last night he did his gymnastics for nothing. Both the singer and the members of the KWKH Hayride contributed receipts to the Shreveport YMCA's expansion program.
Elvis seemed to be glad to perform for nothing - and certainly he didn‘t spare the gyrations. For 35 minutes or thereabouts he gave what can certainly be described as an "unforgettable" performance.
It was a big night for the Shreveport police force, too. With teenagers giving every indication of tearing the Pelvis limb from limb out of sheer admiration and animal spirits, the police threw up more or less effective barricades throughout the building.
They were effective enough to keep Presley from being mobbed, but just barely. It required considerable agility to keep up with him as he fled from one room to another - always a step or two ahead of his admirers.
All in all, it was a big event in several respects and a good time was had by all, maybe Elvis more than anybody else. Whether Shreveport will ever be the same again remains to be seen.

Shreveport Times - December 16, 1956 as transcribed by Brian Petersen in The Atomic Powered Singer

Bill, Elvis and Horace Logan at the Hirsch Coliseum - Dec. 15, 1956
Photo by Langston McEachern or Jack Barham

Backstage there were milling scores who want to slap his back, shake his hand, "remember me" him. Then the reporters, the photographers, the disk jockeys with their tape-recorders, city officials, civic dignitaries, fan club presidents, business associates. . . 2

Horace Logan, deejay Ed Hamilton and Elvis at the Hirsch Coliseum - Dec. 15, 1956
Photo by Langston McEachern

At least two of the photographers there that evening were friends and competitors, Langston McEachern of The Times and Jack Barham of The Shreveport Journal who between them took many of the more famous black and white pictures of the event. “The Times was on one side of the building, the Journal on the other,” Barham recalls. “We’d go on assignment together. We’d be in real competition until one of our cameras didn’t work or ran out of film, and we’d swap.” 3

XERF Deejay Paul Kellinger interviews Elvis as Johnny Horton looks on - Dec. 15, 1956
Photo by Langston McEachern or Jack Barham

Paul Kallinger from 150,000 watt station XERF in Mexico, which broadcast unimpeded, and essentially unregulated, just across the border from Del Rio, Texas, got Tillman Franks to introduce him, but Elvis spent at least an equal amount of time with Tillman's daughter, Darlene.2

Elvis waves farewell to Shreveport and the Hayride - Dec. 15, 1956
Photo by Langston McEachern

Nobody had seen anything like it before. If there had been any doubt that Elvis Presley had outgrown the Hayride, that doubt was now erased. It was, in a way, the end of the Hayride itself. 2

Aerial view of the Hirsch Memorial Coliseum
Photo courtesy Stadiums USA

The Hirsch  has since hosted thousands of attractions such as major concerts, circuses, rodeos, ice shows, sporting events, motor thrill shows, and many other events and activities. In 1969, the coliseum received its first major renovation, adding a completely closed roof with 600 tons of air conditioning. In 1992, the Coliseum received more renovations which allowed for a basketball arena. Hirsch officials purchased the floor which was exclusively made for the 1991 NBA All Star Game. The arena lights were upgraded for television requirements, seats were added and remodeled, and a new scoreboard was installed.1

Guitar Showdown at The James Burton International Guitar Festival - Aug. 22, 2009
Photo © Michael Charles courtesy Guitar Showdown

During the mid-90s, over $750,000 of remodeling was implemented into the Coliseum. A new front entrance and box office were added and a new women's restroom was constructed. Renovations totaling nearly $800,000 to install a permanent ice surface were completed in September of 1997, as the Hirsch became home to over 35 Western Professional Hockey League games per season. In  addition to hockey, several other ice-related events are held in the Hirsch.1

Guitar Showdown at The James Burton International Guitar Festival - Aug. 22, 2009
Photo © Michael Charles courtesy Guitar Showdown

The Hirsch has seen its share of celebrities throughout the years. Some standouts include the Harlem Globetrotters, Bob Hope, Gene Autry, Lawrence Welk, Roy Rogers, Elvis, Reba McEntire, George Strait, ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Van Halen, just to name a few. In 1997 Garth Brooks performed three sold-out concerts in the Hirsch, totaling more than 30,000 fans. That same year, the Coliseum and the city of Shreveport gained worldwide exposure by hosting the Miss USA Pageant. The Miss Teen USA Pageant was held in the Hirsch for the first time in 1998, returning in 1999 and completing its three-year contract in 2000.1

Tom Kelly and James Burton Guitar Showdown - Aug. 22, 2009
Photo © Michael Charles courtesy Guitar Showdown

In 2009 the Coliseum was the site "Guitar Showdown," a guitar competition for local talent which kicked off the The James Burton International Guitar Festival in Shreveport. The Festival brought together an eclectic mix with a line-up of award-winning, guitar-picking jazz, country, and pop guitarists at the Municipal Auditorium to raise money to purchase guitars for school kids, patients young and old and American Veterans. The showdown at the Coliseum was followed by a Guinness World Record by Burton, his fans and friends to attempt to have the most guitars playing the same song. Unfortunately they fell short of the record.

Hirsch Coliseum - Aug. 17, 2010
Photo © Rick Crofts

Page added February 9, 2012

1 according to and/or excerpt from the State Fair of Louisiana
2 according to or excerpt from Last Train To Memphis by Peter Guralnick
3 according to "Blue Christmas with Elvis in La. Museum" AP feature by Janet McConnaughey, December 24, 2007


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