On September 1, 1957, thousands gathered at Tacoma’s Lincoln Bowl to see Elvis Presley in concert. Then, at the height of his fame, the audience went wild even as their elders shook their heads.

The Road to Tacoma for Elvis

While the King of Rock and Roll started recording in 1953, he skyrocketed to national fame in 1956 when RCA put out an album titled “Elvis Presley.” He made a series of national television appearances, most famously on the Ed Sullivan Show, and toured extensively. He also began acting in movie musicals, starting with “Love Me Tender.”

Stores sold Elvis-themed everything from lipstick to pillows and scarves. His records were best-sellers. Rhodes Budget Annex, for example, brought in the masses in April 1957 when they gave away 200 signed photos to celebrate the debut of his newest album, “All Shook Up.”

Massively popular with teenagers, Elvis was also controversial. Many, particularly the older generations, disliked his singing style and considered his dancing vulgar. A Portland KEX radio disk jockey was even fired in 1956 for playing Elvis’ rendition of “White Christmas!”

Elvis Presley Concert Tacoma
Ad for Elvis Presley concert, Tacoma News Tribune, August 11, 1957. Photo courtesy: Washington State Library

Elvis Concert Announced in Tacoma

“Dig This, Kids!” proclaimed the Tacoma News Tribune on August 9, 1957. “Elvis’s Coming!” Tickets were available by mail order before the public sale began on August 16. Sold at the Bon Marche, Record Bar and Little Theater Building, tickets cost $1.50, $2.50, and $3.50.

Lincoln Bowl was the setting for Elvis’s concert. In 1911, the city of Tacoma deeded 15 acres of Lincoln Park to construct Lincoln High School. Dedicated in 1948, the Lincoln Bowl became an outdoor venue for community events.

Elvis’s Tacoma stop was part of a whirlwind tour of the Pacific Northwest over the Labor Day Weekend, a month before the debut of his newest and probably most famous film, “Jailhouse Rock.” Many of the songs in his concert were from the movie’s soundtrack. He performed in Spokane and Vancouver, B.C., before heading to Tacoma.  

Elvis Presley Concert Tacoma
Elvis rocks out at the Tacoma Bowl, 1957. Tacoma News Tribune, September 2, 1957. Photo courtesy: Washington State Library

Elvis Presley And His All-Star Show

Around 5,000 to 6,000 people attended Elvis’s 2 p.m. Tacoma concert, his only matinee performance of the tour. According to pictures, most of the audience were teenage girls. In fact, a few boys, jealous of Elvis’s popularity with the ladies, refused to pay to attend and watched from the trees in nearby Lincoln Park with binoculars—like Ken Morrill, a member of The Fabulous Wailers rock band.

Behind wooden barricades, fans sat in the grandstand and folding chairs on the field around the stage, facing G Street. Sixty traffic, auxiliary and off-duty police officers from Tacoma and Pierce County handled security and traffic. Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, suggested the extra police and fencing. All this cost $2,300, paid for by gate receipts.

Other singers warmed up the crowd before Elvis stepped onto the stage for his two-hour concert. According to the website Elvis Presley In Concert, the songs he performed included “Don’t Be Cruel,” “I Want You I Need You I Love You,” “Blueberry Hill,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “That’s All Right,” “Too Much,” “Ready Teddy” and “Hound Dog.” Tacoma reporters noted he changed “blueberry” to “blackberry.”

Reporters were not impressed by the screaming crowd or Elvis. “Often the great roar of the crowd snuffed out the words,” wrote Don Duncan in the Tacoma News Tribune. “But no stranger in the crowd could doubt ’twas Elvis at the mike…. He strutted like a duck, his hands dangling loosely in front of him. He went to his knees in an attitude of prayer, taking the slender microphone with him. And he finished with a burst of shimmying that left him limp, his thick black hair hanging over his eyes and perspiration pouring down his pancake makeup.”

Reporters met with Elvis when he gathered in the locker room with leaders of his Tacoma and Seattle fan clubs. He taped an interview for young fan Caroline Jardeen, who was too ill to attend the concert, wishing her a speedy recovery. He was polite and even a bit shy, Duncan observed. “The idol of America’s teenagers, a 6-foot, 1-inch, 180-pounder,” he wrote, “lowered his lashes over deep blue eyes and said, no sir, I certainly don’t mean to be vulgar when I wiggle my hips during a song. It’s just my way of expressing my inner emotions.”

Fans rushed after him as he left the stage for his limo. Some girls even dug up dirt where he had stepped and put it in purses and pockets. “That creator of mass hysteria” indeed! Days after the concert, fans could go see the trailer Elvis used while in Tacoma, which was on display at Glenn M. Betty’s dealership, 811 South Tacoma Way.

Elvis Presley Concert Tacoma
Elvis signs the forehead of fan Diana Steinke, age 15. Image from Tacoma News Tribune, September 2, 1957. Photo courtesy: Washington State Library

Best Story Written About Elvis Ever?

Elvis performed that evening in Seattle before moving onto Portland the next day. On September 3, he called reporter Don Duncan to talk “and instead of tearing me apart,” Duncan wrote, “he said nice things about the story and how it was the best ever written on him and how he wanted to be sure and see me the next time he’s in town.”

However, while local papers were quick to declare that Elvis’s fame was declining, they were anything but correct. Elvis’ career continued strong through the next decade, even after he was drafted. His songs and movies are enjoyed today. The King of Rock and Roll, it seems, has never lost his crown.