Local Current Blog

Then and Now: Minneapolis Auditorium, where Elvis and Jimi Hendrix once performed

The Minneapolis Auditorium / Sketch via Hennepin County Public Library

Text by Andrea Swensson and Steve Cohen
Research and “Now” photos by Steve Cohen

Now that every address is available with a quick Google search and every concert is Instagrammed from 100 angles, it can be hard to remember a time when things weren’t so heavily documented.

Even massive concerts like the Beatles’ visit to Minneapolis in 1965 and Elvis’s stop through town a decade earlier were scarcely photographed (at least by today’s standards). It can make photos from that era feel like long lost relics, like rarely opened windows that peer into a forgotten time.

In the spirit of remembering and revisiting our history, we dug through the archives of the Minnesota Historical Society, Minneapolis Public Library, Old Minneapolis, and other sources to find the influential venues that predate today’s popular clubs like First Avenue. Step back through time to see the spaces where everyone from Elvis to Iggy Pop to Jimi Hendrix came to play, and take a look at what those historical sites look like today courtesy of a fresh batch of photos by Steve Cohen.

For the fourth installment of the “Then and Now” series, we’ll revisit the Minneapolis Auditorium, which is now the Minneapolis Convention Center.

 

Minneapolis Auditorium


1980s photos courtesy Randy Johnson, Old Minneapolis / 2013 photo Steven Cohen

Built in 1926, the Minneapolis Auditorium was a municipal space intended for a wide variety of gatherings, and in its early years it was used for everything from circuses to political functions to Lutheran rallies. It was actually the second incarnation of the Minneapolis Auditorium; the first, opened in 1905, was just a few blocks away on 11th St. and Nicollet Ave. (That space was rebuilt and renamed the Lyceum Theater in 1924, and was eventually demolished in the ’70s to make way for Orchestra Hall.) In 1947, it became the home for the newly formed basketball team the Minneapolis Lakers.



Photos courtesy Hennepin County Public Library

The Auditorium started hosting concerts in the 1950s, and one of the most notable acts to ever perform at the venue was Elvis Presley, who came through town on May 13, 1956. After playing an afternoon show at the St. Paul Auditorium (a precursor to the St. Paul Civic Center), Elvis crossed the river to play the Minneapolis Auditorium. Attendance was much lower than expected—about 4,000 fans attended the Minneapolis show—and columnist and DJ Bill Diehl panned the performance in the paper the next week.

A few choice excerpts:

Last Sunday we met you for the first time. Remember Sunday? It was a day of disappointments. The weather was disappointing. Your crowds both at the St. Paul and Minneapolis auditoriums were disappointing (a Twin Cities total of something like 25,000 was expected and the combined total was only about 6,000). And Elvis, we’re sorry to say it, but your act was disappointing.

Do you wonder why flops No. 2 in St. Paul and No. 3 in Minneapolis happened? Oh, they’ll blame the weather and Mother’s Day and anything else. We’ve been asking around, though, and I’ll tell you one big reason: Moms and Dads had seen you on TV and didn’t like your unnecessary bump-and-grind routine.

Why, Elvis, do you resort to your “Pelvis Presley” routine? You’d better drop it before more and more people drop you.


Elvis Presley in 1956 at the Minneapolis Auditorium / MNHS

Despite the poor reviews, fans ate up the performance and relished the opportunity to see the rising star in person. Elvis even took the time to sign a few autographs with fans backstage after the show. Elvis Presley guitarist Scotty Moore has a surprisingly detailed history of the Minneapolis Auditorium at his website.


Elvis fans at the Minneapolis Auditorium / Photo from the Star Tribune, courtesy MNHS


Elvis signing autographs at the Minneapolis Auditorium / Photo from the Star Tribune, courtesy MNHS

In the 1960s, the Minneapolis Auditorium’s role as a concert venue was at its peak. In that decade, artists including Aretha Franklin, the Doors, Simon and Garfunkel, Tony Bennett, U2, and Jimi Hendrix. Photos of Jimi Hendrix’s show recently resurfaced on history site Old Minneapolis, taken in the front row of the concert by fan Lindsay Smith.

The Auditorium was demolished in 1989 to make room for the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Minneapolis Auditorium under construction in 1926 / MNHS

Minneapolis Auditorium in the 1980s / photo courtesy Randy Johnson, Old Minneapolis
  • Janelle

    If the 1950’s reporter thought Elvis’ show was too wild, I wonder what he thought of Jimi Hendrix and The Doors 10 years later?

  • Barry Steinman

    My father was a promoter and booked many shows there. The Pop Corn was THE FINEST in the Twin Cities…The old barn had great sound…I grew up and worked Security for many Rock n Roll Concerts there…Great memories of the old joint! Thank you..bks San Diego, CA

  • funoka

    Saw dixieland jazz great Al Hirt there with my dad — my first concert — early 70s.
    Johnny Cash used to play there and one of the shows is a common poster re-print you can still order I think.

    http://www.thecitytraveler.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Johnny-Cash-poster-photo-courtesy-of-the-Country-Music-Hall-of-Fame-and-Museum.jpg

    The biggest shows I remember there from my youth were the late 70s/early 80s shows by The Kinks.