Sportcenter
Austin, TX


Aerial views of the Austin Sportcenter at 501 Barton Springs Rd. - 1959(2) and 1968
Photos courtesy The Portal To Texas History

The Austin Sportcenter, or "Sports Center" as it was sometimes billed, was located at 501 Barton Springs Road, on the south side of the Colorado river across from the triangle bordered by South 1st St. and W. Riverside Drive.  It was a large rectangular structure believed by some to be originally a National Guard Armory.  It was built probably in the 1940s or very early '50s a block east of Disch field, an area that would eventually be occupied by the City Coliseum and Municipal Auditorium.  It featured a tiled floor and bleacher style seating on the sides with a large stage on one end.


Bleacher and floor seating for a Stars of the Hayride show at the Sportcenter - July 21, 1955
Photos by Neal Douglass courtesy Portal To Texas History

The Sportcenter was a regular venue for many performers on the Louisiana Hayride, among others, when they took their show on the road.


Jimmy and Johnny at the Sportscenter in Austin - July 21, 1955
Photo by Neal Douglass courtesy Portal To Texas History


Hillbilly comics (Chester Ayers and the Hungry Mountain Boys) - July 21, 1955
Photo by Neal Douglass courtesy Portal To Texas History


Irene Franklin with Chester Ayers at the Sportcenter - July 21, 1955
Photo by Neal Douglass courtesy Portal To Texas History


Irene Franklin, performers and fans off stage at the Sportcenter - July 21, 1955
Photo by Neal Douglass courtesy Portal To Texas History


Betty Amos and Tillman Franks at the Sportscenter in Austin - July 21, 1955
Photo by Neal Douglass courtesy Portal To Texas History

Just over a month after the July Stars of the Hayride show at the Sportcenter, Elvis, Scotty and Bill made their second appearance in Austin on August 25, 1955 when they performed with many of the same acts on another Hayride show at the Sportcenter.  This was part of a weeklong tour promoted by Horace Logan that had included other Texas stops in Wichita Falls, Bryan, Conroe and Gonzales.  An article in the Statesman read:

Chance Record Gives Presley Start To Top

Elvis Presley, a young man whose boppish approach to hillbilly music has made him one of the hottest performers of the day, will be headlining a troupe of Louisiana Hayride stars when they stage a Western music jamboree Thursday at 8 p.m. in the Sportcenter.
Appearing with Presley will be guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black, his recording partners, plus a dozen or so headliners from the. nationally famed Louisiana Hayride show in Shreveport.
Included on the bill will be such folk music specialists as Johnny Horton, Betty Amos, David Houston, Dalton and Lulu Jo, Sonny Tremmell, Ray Gomer, Tillman Franks and Willie Birdbrain, the hillbilly comic.
During his comparatively short career in the music world, young Presley, the star of the show, has made a spectacular climb to nationwide popularity.
About a year ago, Presley, Moore and Black were teaming up to make a personal record when they were accidentally heard by a recording manager.
Impressed by the rocking style of Presley and his friends, the manager contracted the group to make a pressing whose immediate success started the 20-year-old Presley on the way to his present position of prominence.
Since that first disc—"That`s All Right, Mama" — Presley has applied his half-bop, half-Western style to such tunes as "I Don't Care if the Sun Don't Shine." "Good Rockin' Tonight," "You're a Heart-breaker," and "Milk Cow Blues Boogie," each of which has enjoyed wide popularity throughout the country.

Austin American Statesman Aug. 1955 courtesy The Elvis Album


Ad in the Austin American-Statesman - Aug. 25, 1955
Courtesy Austin History Center

Another Austin article read:

About a year ago, a young amateur singer and a couple of his musician friends decided to make a record-mainly for their own amusement.
But while they were busy recording it their efforts were accidentally heard by a recording manager who, impressed with the singers rhythmic style, offered the boys a recording contract.
The tune they made as a result of that chance meeting was "That's All Right, Mama," and the youthful singer with the bop-flavored style was, of course, Elvis Presley. 
Presley, who'll be at the Sportscenter Thursday at 8 p.m. to headline a troupe of Louisiana Hayride stars during a big Western music show, has come quite a long way since that beginning.
In fact, from that obscure start, he has come to be regarded as one of the hottest hillbilly performers of the day and also one of the most distinctive to be featured on a nationally known Louisiana Hayride since the late Hank Williams.
In addition to his first hit, the 20-year-old singing sensation has applied his half-bop, half-Western style to such tunes as "I Don‘t Care if the Sun Doesn't Shine,"
"Good Rockin' Tonight," "You‘re a Heartbreaker" and "Milk Cow Blues Boogie," each of which has enjoyed wide popularity throughout the country.
Appearing with young Presley on the Sportscenter show will be guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black. the same two musicians who have accompanied him since the first record date.
And in addition to Presley, the show will also feature such Louisiana Hayride stars as Johnny Horton, Betty Amos, David Houston, Dalton and Lulu Jo, Sonny Tremmell, Ray Gomer, Tillman Franks and Willie Birdbrain, the hillbilly comic.

courtesy Ger Rijff


Souvenir program (reconstructed) for Hayride show at the Sportcenter - Aug 25, 1955
Courtesy Ger Rijff's Long Lonely Highway

Of the show, Lee Cotten wrote, tickets were 75-cents in advance and $1.00 at the door. Children’s admission was 50-cents. The stage was low, and when Elvis began his portion of the show, teenagers got out of their chairs and rushed up front to sit on the floor. One song that Elvis sang on this date was I Forgot To Remember To Forget. As soon as the show finished, teens scrambled on stage to get his autograph, at the same time pushing Elvis against the fake fence backdrop. Later, it was reported by the Austin Statesman (September 29, 1955) that “enthusiastic fans (mainly teenage girls) practically ripped him apart before he even got on stage.1


Scotty, DJ, Elvis and Bill at the Sportcenter - Aug. 25, 1955
Photo courtesy Ger J. Rijff

It was around this time that DJ started touring with them regularly. When Scotty and Bill suggested to Elvis that he needed a drummer, he agreed with them, but said he couldn't afford to hire one. Scotty and Bill talked it over. If Elvis would hire D. J. to tour with them, they would share the cost of his $100-a-week salary. D. J. already was performing with them every week at the Hayride (after their first appearance, he was allowed to come out from behind the curtain and be seen by the audience), and they all liked him.2


Elvis, DJ and Bill at the Sportcenter - Aug. 25, 1955
Photo courtesy Ger J. Rijff

It would however not be until December that DJ would officially be on the payroll.  Their next appearance in Austin would be in just over a month, in October at the Skyline club though DJ would not be on most dates around that time due to gallbladder surgery.


Inside he Armadillo World Headquarters - ca.1970
Photo by Jim Richardson courtesy AWHQ


The Armadillo World Headquarters (behind the skating palace) - ca.1970s
Photo © Sam Yeates

The Sportcenter building was empty when in August of 1970 it was reopened as the Armadillo World Headquarters. Now with a listed address of 525 1/2 Barton Springs Road, it operated as one of Austin's premier music and entertainment centers through December 31, 1980.  The unique blend of country and rock music performed at the hall became known by the terms "The Austin Sound," "Redneck Rock," progressive country or "Cosmic Cowboy." Artists that almost single handedly defined this particular genre and sound were Michael Martin Murphy, Jerry Jeff Walker and The Lost Gonzo Band. Many upcoming and established acts such as Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, and ZZ Top played the Armadillo. Freddie King, Frank Zappa, and Commander Cody all recorded live albums there. Bruce Springsteen played five shows during 1974. AC/DC played their first American show at the Armadillo in July 1977.3


Aerial view of the property where the Sportcenter once was - 2010
Photo courtesy Microsoft EarthData


The building currently on the site of the Sportcenter location in Austin - Oct 14, 2010
Photo © James V. Roy

Today, like much of the property south of the Colorado River in Austin, it has been redeveloped and a new high rise office building and parking lot now occupies the site.

page added December 15, 2010 (Armadillo World Headquarters appeneded December 16, 2020)

1 excerpt from "Did Elvis Sing in your Hometown?" by Lee Cotten
2 excerpt from "That's Allright Elvis" by Scotty Moore and James Dickerson
3 excerpt from Wikipedia

Special thanks to E5RSY of the TDPRI for his input about the Armadillo World Headquarters


Irene E. Franklin


Irene E. Franklin
Photo courtesy Franklin Family and www.MeM.com

I just found the Scotty Moore web site and am enjoying the music history there. I have lived in the Austin area all my life (63 yrs) and remember some of those places in your photos and text. In particular, I saw some photos on your website of a Louisiana Hayride show at the Austin Sportscenter on 7-21-55.


Photo courtesy Franklin Family and www.MeM.com

In a couple of the photos, there is a woman who apparently tentatively was believed to be Jeanette Hicks. There must be some question about that identity because there is a question mark after her name there. When I saw those photos, I believed that the women in those pictures could possibly be Irene Franklin. Irene Franklin was born in Austin in 1928 and was very active in country music here in the 50’s.


Photo courtesy Franklin Family and www.MeM.com

My earliest memory of experiencing live country music, was in the mid 50’s when my parents took me (I was 5 or 6 at the time) to a country music show of some sort that was held in the old skating rink next to the building that later housed the Armadillo World Headquarters on Barton Springs Road. Irene Franklin sang there, and I remember for some reason that they must have had country music shows there regularly, in the old skating rink, during that time period. I also remember that Irene Franklin’s daughter was either in my first or second grand class at Ridgetop school (1954 or 1955). Irene Franklin passed away in 2007 and here is the link to her obituary in the Austin Paper.


Photo courtesy Franklin Family and www.MeM.com

Irene E. Franklin, 79, of Austin, passed away on November 12, in an Austin Hospital. Irene was born on January 25, 1928 in Austin to parents Raymond Patterson and Eula Josephine Matthews. She had retired from the University of Texas as a PBX Operator. Irene had a special kindness, found something special in everyone she encountered, and loved everyone she met. She had a fantastic sense of humor and brought smiles to all she knew. Irene was an accomplished musician and was a pioneer of country and gospel music in Austin and nationwide. Her love of music and talent inspired many of her family and friends to continue in her legacy.

Published in Austin American-Statesman on November 15, 2007

I also captured a few of the photos of Irene Franklin from a “memory book” of photos that were on the funeral home website at the time. I have attached some of them for your review and comparison to the photos of the woman tentatively identified as Jeanette Hicks.

There are some “hillbilly comics” in one of the pictures on your website with the woman who is possibly Irene Franklin. It is possible that the “hillbilly comics” could be a group called “Chester Ayers and the Hungry Mountain Boys”, who were around Austin in the 1950’s. The main group member in the photo jogs my memory as to the appearance of Chester Ayers; and I remember seeing him with an extremely wide tie like that. I remember seeing a show that they played at the Ridgetop Elementary School auditorium one evening in the mid 1950’s and I think that they also had some spot appearances on local early tv shows here in the 50’s at TV station KTBC. I hope some of this information helps. I am very interested in early country music, especially in the Austin area.

Sincerely, 
Chester Johnson
August 18, 2011

All photos on this site (that we didn't borrow) unless otherwise indicated are the property of either Scotty Moore or James V. Roy and unauthorized use or reproduction is prohibited.

 
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