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Levitt Shell, Memphis

#5 of 27 in Nightlife in Memphis
Theater · Concert / Show
The Levitt Shell (formerly Overton Park Shell and Shell Theater) is an open-air amphitheater located in Overton Park, Memphis, Tennessee. Elvis Presley gave his first paid concert there on July 30, 1954.

The Overton Park Shell was built in 1936 by the City of Memphis and the Works Progress Administration for $11,935, as part of the New Deal. Designed by architect Max Furbringer, it was modeled after similar shells in Chicago, New York, and St. Louis. The WPA built 27 band shells, the Overton Park Shell is one of only a few that still remain.

During the 1930s and 1940s, the Shell was the site of Memphis Open Air Theater orchestral shows, along with various light opera and musicals. However, on July 30, 1954, Elvis Presley opened for headliner Slim Whitman, and performed what music historians call the first-ever rock and roll show.

In the mid-1960s, the Shell was turned over to the Memphis Arts Center, who planned to raze it in order to build a $2 million theater. However, a campaign led by Noel Gilbert, long-time conductor of the Memphis Concert Orchestra, gathered 6,000 signatures in order to prevent its destruction. Later, in 1972, the Shell was nearly removed in order to build a parking garage, but was again saved by the outcry from the community.

In 1982, the National Conference of Christians and Jews proposed a restoration, and the Shell was renamed in honor of Raoul Wallenberg. However, they could not raise the necessary funds, so by 1984, the previous plan for a parking lot began once again. This time, the Shell was saved by Mayor Richard Hackett. He pledged to fund a renovation if a private group would spearhead an arts program.

In 1985, the Shell lay dormant for the first time in its history. In 1986, a corporation was formed by private citizens named Save Our Shell, Inc. For the following 20 years, Save Our Shell presented hundreds of free programs there.

In 2007, the Shell was renamed Levitt Shell at Overton Park and a large-scale renovation funded by the Levitt Foundation took place. The renovation was conducted by Memphis firm Askew Nixon Ferguson Architects with state-of-the-art audio and visual design. With the completion of the renovations on September 8, 2008, free concerts are now once again held in the Shell. The Shell offers concerts on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights during its spring and fall seasons. In the summer of 2011, Indie Memphis debuted The Concert Film Series, presenting free concert films for the public on weekends during the summer months.
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TripAdvisor traveler rating 4.5
246 reviews
  • This is worth a visit to stand on the stage where Elvis played his first concert. It's set a beautiful park including the zoo.  more »
  • This iconic location is well worth a visit. See the beautiful stage where Elvis played his first paid gig. Stroll through the park and generally chill out.  more »
  • A concert at the Levitt Shell is a unique experience. This is an outdoor amphitheatre! It is a great atmosphere! Bring your blanket or lawn chairs, picnic foods if you desire, and family and enjoy a relaxed evening of music. They host both free and ticketed concerts. They have seats available , picnic tables, etc. in a nice area. A Memphis treasure!
  • Fabulous venue, and great music the night we went. Plenty of grassy area to sit and enjoy. All ages, many people brought their dogs but all were on leash and well behaved. And the night we went was cooler weather. Perfect!

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