24 Hour Church of Elvis disappears again - is it gone for good?

PORTLAND, Ore. - The 24 Hour Church of Elvis, a kitschy, coin-operated window display that has caught the attention of street walkers for decades, has once again disappeared from downtown Portland.

A boarded up window is all that's left at 408 N.W. Couch.

Now of course, anyone who has lived in Portland long enough knows that the 24 Hour Church of Elvis has come and gone over the years at different locations.

But could this really be it for a quirky part of our city that was here long before those Keep Portland Weird bumper stickers and Portlandia?

We talked to the woman behind the window, longtime Portland resident Stephanie G. Pierce, to find out what's going on.

Pierce was honest about what happened - she said she is on unemployment and simply could no longer afford to pay rent on the space. And she added that it had become somewhat of a chore to keep it operating.

So for now, at least, this little piece of Portland is gone.

Pierce said while she's not actively looking for another space, she does hope that the 24 Hour Church of Elvis will be able to return to Portland someday. She said what she would really like is for it to end up in a museum, perhaps even the Portland Art Museum.

What exactly is the Church of Elvis?

Longtime Portlanders will know but for those who don't, you might want to check out some of the videos on YouTube before reading any further.

The Back Story

In the 1980s, Pierce rented a 10,000 square foot space in downtown Portland. Back then there was no such thing as the Pearl District and the rent was only around $1,000.

She had an idea to rent it out to artists and instead of having them pay rent, they would create uniquely designed wallpaper that folks could easily attach and remove from their walls.

Pierce thought a 'removable wallpaper' would be a great idea for apartment dwellers and she hoped to make some money off of her idea. But it never really took off.

However, when Pierce decided to use some of her window space for a coin-operated art display, that's when a bit of Portland history was born.

Elvis Presley (photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

Her first coin-operated window debuted in 1985 at 1109 S.W. Washington Street. And there were other themes before Elvis entered the picture.

"My original window was going to be spoons and forks on a motor - each on a different motor. And back then it was before computers - they had the Rolodex. And so there was going to be like five of them spinning. You would put a quarter in and everything would start spinning. And the Rolodex, each one would have like a preposition, noun, verb, whatever so that it would make a sentence and it would change every time.

"This guy was like 'I can do that.' And he came by like three days later and hadn't done anything like I had mentioned at all. He had taken a Commodore computer, which was brand new at the time, and he programmed it for a little Valentine's window. And it gave out a little Valentine's card."

Pierce said she also did a Christmas window with free gift suggestions and a Prince Charles and Princess Diana window (back then it was the wedding of the century). But it wasn't until Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye that what we now know as the 24 Hour Church of Elvis was created.

Tammy Faye Baker (photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

"Jim and Tammy Faye were like major - everywhere you turned they were there," she said. "And it's funny because the TV market is so scattered now - you don't get the same demographic. Everybody doesn't have the same popular culture literacy anymore. But back then , it was Jim and Tammy Faye everywhere. And I decided I wanted to make a church like Fred Meyer - one-stop shopping. It was going to have confessions, catechisms, sermons and for the baptisms, there was going to be this little thing that sprinkles glitter on you."

"So I was building it and getting it ready for the window - just kind of figuring out where the motors were going to go and all that stuff - and these two high school kids left me a note under the door saying 'we love your store.' And they cut out all these little magazine pictures and stuff," she added. "And they put on there 'why don't you do an Elvis window?' and I was like that will never happen.

"So then a week later they came by and it was these two high school girls," she said. "And they're like 'did you get our letter? And I was like 'yeah.' And they're like 'are you going to do an Elvis window?' And it was my first fan letter ever. So I'm like, well, I guess I could do a Church of Elvis. And that was it."

"I don't even like Elvis," Pierce said. "It's a very common misconception.

Did You Know?

The actual name of the window has always been 'Where's the ART!!?'

For years, Pierce used Commodore 64 computers to power her coin-operated windows. The computer had just come out when she first started doing this.

By 1986, Pierce lost her space and her unique coin-operated window display disappeared. But the next year, Pierce created another window, this time at 219 S.W. Ankeny.

That one stayed there until 1994 when it was moved to its third location at 720 S.W. Ankeny.

In 2008, the Church of Elvis reopened at 408 N.W. Couch Street but now it's gone from that location as well.

The church had lost some of its appeal at this last spot and didn't get quite as much attention as it used to years ago. However, Pierce still has a website devoted to the 24 Hour Church of Elvis where folks can buy t-shirts and such. She said she doesn't get many orders these days but she keeps the site alive and is more than willing to send folks some memorabilia.

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