Taking Back Our Neighborhoods: The Overton Park Shell Reopens - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Ben Watson

Taking Back Our Neighborhoods: The Overton Park Shell Reopens

Midtown's historic outdoor amphitheatre has a new name and a new look, and this fall Levitt Shell will bring live music back to Overton Park.

Built back in 1936 and known as the Overton Park Shell or simply "The Shell", it would become the place where Elvis Presley realized his star power over audiences: he gave his first paid performance on The Shell's stage in 1954.

"Well, he discovered his power as a performer...I mean, the audience...young ladies went nuts," said Chip Pankey, Executive Director of the Levitt Shell at Overton Park.

Through the years, Memphians attended concerts, musicals and symphony performances at The Shell, but by the 1980's, age and weather had taken a toll on the facility.

Several years ago, the landmark was nearly destroyed and redeveloped as a parking lot, until a community-wide project called "Save Our Shell" intervened.

"If it wasn't for "Save Our Shell", we wouldn't be standing here today," said Pankey.

He says the facility was renamed the Levitt Shell after the Mortimer Levitt Foundation became involved.

The foundation cut a lease deal with the city, laying out a blueprint to renovate and turn the facility into a classy venue for live music.

"We're going to have everything from jazz and bluegrass to musica Latina, country, world music, Gypsy," said Tracey Cayolle of Levitt Shell.

Staffers say when renovations are finished, concertgoers will be able to see some 50 performances for free.

"You can bring beach chairs, you can bring blankets...of course, we do have some new bench seats to accommodate our physically challenged," said Cayolle. "You know, we'll have accommodations for about 200 people on bench seats."

It took a great deal of hard work from a lot of dedicated citizens to bring back The Shell, but that commitment is coming to fruition: the first concert is set for September.


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