Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mecca Can Move Through Time: The 24 Hour Church of Elvis

The 24 Hour Church of Elvis was holds a fond place in my memory as a child of Portland. While it may run the spectrum of fondly remembered to kind of recollected, I have to say my little heart warmed again when I saw the newest iteration of the church on NW Couch.

My memories of the Church of Elvis go back to the second store front version of this temple which began circa 1987. Located on Ankeny, in the block where Berbatti's Pan, Valentin's, and Dan and Louis Oyster Bar all intersect, I remember pink, glitter, computers, and spinning doll heads and assorted items dispensing wisdom beyond my adolescent mind. Everyone came by at some point to drop a quarter into the  slot to see just what would happen. The coin-operated kitsch was a marvel harkening back to the penny arcades, but with more tinsel and an eerie Speak-and-Spell voice. During a late night trip to the Oyster Bar, I recall seeing Stephanie, the proprietor/chaplain/curator of the Church doing work with a glue gun and soldering iron. 

When this store front disappeared, I waited until the new Church opened. My friends and I would go there after chain-smoking cigarettes at Umbra Penumbra and drinking coffee walking up the flights of stairs on our knees given that the Church of Elvis was sacred ground. One friend even volunteered there as some form of "intern." From my understanding, his job was moving boxes all day long.

And then one day it was all gone. 

My 24 Hour Church of Elvis tee-shirt wore through with holes and eventually turned into unsalvageable rags. Portland changed. People didn't wear flannels anymore and there was a sudden influx of people from places other than Seattle. The 24 Hour Church of Elvis was now the "Hey, whatever happened to..." conversation point that would begin and then drift away forgotten.

Walking down Couch and finding the new, scaled-back version of the Church send a wave of nostalgia over me. It was back! In all of its garish pink and sparkly glory, like a beat up Mary Kay Caddy after a drive in a hail storm, it was back. 

You see, The 24 Hour Church of Elvis quite possibly the ur-concept from which The Wonderful World of Clutter was born. The kitsch, the oddity, the spectacle, it all can trace back to this one source where a young boy was mesmerized by a sparkly display in a storefront in a tiny street in 1987. 

Maybe I wax too poetic about it. But hot damn is it great to see this place again.
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