Elvis Presley's post-midnight arrival in Seattle draws throngs of fans on September 5, 1962.

  • By Peter Blecha
  • Posted 4/12/2010
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9364
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In the wee hours of Monday September 5, 1962, Elvis Presley rolls into Seattle, where he is slated to begin 10 days of work filming  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's Take Me to the Fair (soon renamed  It Happened at the World's Fair) on the busy grounds of the 1962 Century 21 Exposition (Seattle World's Fair). This marks Presley's second Seattle visit: On September 1, 1957, he and his rock 'n' roll trio passed through while on their first national concert tour. Their legendary show at Seattle's old outdoor ballpark, Sicks' Stadium (Rainier Avenue and McClelland Street), was a musical watershed that was attended by an estimated 15,000 lucky fans -- an audience that included many of the area's budding, and wannabe, rock musicians including young Jimmy "Jimi" Hendrix (1942-1970) and Merrilee Gunst (who would later, as Merrilee Rush, score a Top-40 national hit with 1968's "Angel Of The Morning"). Upon his 1962 return, Presley comes to act, not to rock -- but his loyal fans hope, and rumor-monger that he just might.

Rock On Columbia

Presley's 1957 stay in Seattle went fairly smoothly with few fans discovering that he and his band were booked into the grand Olympic Hotel (4th Avenue and University Street). His 1962 visit to the Northwest would be vastly more chaotic, with Presley's hotel surrounded by hordes of teenaged fans.

The star and his nine-man entourage -- who had left Los Angeles in a two-vehicle convoy early on the 3rd -- tried to avoid unwanted attention by driving 30 miles past Portland, and pulled off Highway 99 (I-5 had yet to be completed) to spend most of the daylight hours of the September 4, 1962, sleeping in rooms (No. 219 and 220) at the obscure Columbia Inn Motel in the tiny backwater berg of Kalama, Washington.

Despite Presley's desire to remain incognito, the all-knowing teenage grapevine was soon thrumming with rumors of his whereabouts, and before long hundreds of young fans from little towns up and down the highway had gathered in the motel parking lot (today's Kalama River Inn, 602 North Frontage Road). By all accounts Presley was quite gracious to his fans, and after eating breakfast late in the day, he stepped outside around 6:30 p.m. to greet them and sign autographs. That evening Presley and his posse got back on the highway to begin their 137-mile journey northward to Seattle.

Take Me To The Fair

The M-G-M film producers had selected Presley's shooting dates very carefully. Concerned that the production would be disrupted by crazed fans storming the set -- the movie was, after all, going to be filmed during the daytime on the Century 21 fairgrounds right in the midst of the busy fair season -- they selected September 5, 1962,  to begin work. That was opening day for Seattle public schools, and the dream was to limit the number of kids who could complicate things.

By late-afternoon on September 4, 1962, word had leaked that Presley would be staying downtown at the Doric New Washington Hotel (1902 2nd Avenue) -- a suitable lodge for the King of Rock 'n' Roll as it had hosted other dignitaries over the decades including President William Howard Taft and baseball great, Babe Ruth -- and a trickle-turned-torrent of teens began streaming to site at the Northeast corner of Stewart Street and 2nd Avenue. All evening 300 of them waited with hopes of glimpsing the star, but as night fell their numbers dwindled. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported, "one after another of the younger set explained to his or her neighbors" that "'I gotta go to school tomorrow'" before abandoning his or her post and heading home (Dunsire).

But then a second wave of slightly older reinforcements started arriving. Midnight passed and hopes dimmed, but finally at about 1:00 a.m. on September 5, 1962,  a reconstituted crowd of several hundred were on hand to see Presley's caravan -- a black Chrysler station wagon and a Dodge House Car -- roll up to the hotel. Presley's group checked into rooms on the 14th floor. This would be their sanctuary where the guys would be virtual captives during a 10-day siege.

Rock the Casbah?

During Presley's stay, hotel staff -- and a hired force of six off-duty policemen -- would be plagued by clever kids who devised various ways to try and sneak in to try and meet their hero: "Some aggressive fans tried to penetrate the security shield using strategies like climbing fire escapes or claiming to be Elvis’s friends. Others posed as reporters for high school newspapers, and a few even tried to convince hotel staffers that they had a date with Elvis. Hundreds of love notes and letters for Elvis piled up at the front desk. Items dropped off there for Presley included pizzas and flowers. Dozens of girls constantly filled the lobby waiting for their idol to come down the elevator" (Hanson).

Given those conditions, neither Presley nor his posse got very much exposure to Seattle. Although he would manage to escape to conduct his daily work, Presley and his bodyguards mainly hunkered in rather than going out on the town. They reportedly ordered room-service meals from the New Washington's restaurant, but there is no evidence that they were able to hang at the Casbah, the hotel's cocktail bar which often featured talented regulars like Seattle's popular sax-led band, the Johnny Lewis Trio, an Italio-lounge-jazz ensemble, the Gene Boscacci's Quintet, or the old-timey sounds of Galen McReynold's Dixie Band.

But perhaps it was best that the Memphis boys didn't rock the Casbah that night (or subsequent ones).  Presley needed to be rested and ready when filming commenced bright and early at 9 a.m. at the fairgrounds' Monorail Terminal. 

Sources: "'Twas Real 'Swing' Shift Vigil -- Fans Wait Until Wee Hours To Greet Elvis," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 5, 1962, p. 19; Charles Dunsire, "Elvis! Female 'Siege' Keeps Hotel Staff Harried," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 15, 1962, p. 7; Gordon Bowker, "ROCK!," Seattle Magazine, February 1970, p. 19; Alan Hanson, "Heartbreak Motel in Kalama: Elvis Slept Here in 1962," February 2008, elvis-history-blog.com website accessed on February 25, 2010 (http://www.elvis-history-blog.com/elvis-slept-here.html); Don Duncan, "Taken To Fair: Presley Rides Red Train To and Fro," The Seattle Times, September 5, 1962 p. A;  and Peter Blecha archives.

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