The 24 Hour Church of Elvis in Portland, Ore., is not a church. It does not have much to do with Elvis. It's not even open 24 hours. Confused? You're not alone. The 24 Hour Church of Elvis is something all too rare: a clever yet accessible piece of performance art (in the form of a wacky museum tour) that is more fun than watching a dog eat peanut butter.
Located above a Thai restaurant, the Church is on the second floor of a century-old brick building at the edge of Portland's somewhat woebegone Old Town. Enter through a side door, climb 30 stairs, ring the doorbell, and you'll find yourself face-to-face with a small woman with wild dark hair and large glasses. This is Stephanie G. Pierce, self-described "artist to the stars, and celebrity spokesmodel/minister for the 24 Hour Church of Elvis."
Those brave enough to step inside will be rewarded with a guided tour of several small rooms chock-full of landfill-ready pop culture relics and found art. Stacked on every available surface and affixed to walls are mannequin parts, Smurfs, Barbies, Donny and Marie album covers, and more. In the words of Pierce, "If you can't get rid of it, you might as well worship it." Ergo, the Church of Elvis.
Rumor has it that Pierce set her sights on becoming a tour guide as a child growing up in Milwaukee, where she was impressed by the pluck and delivery of the Schlitz brewery guide. Then again, rumor also has it that Pierce has never even been to Milwaukee. As with so many spokesmodel/ministers, she is reticent about shining too much light on her past, lest it detract from the mystery.
Pierce delivers her monologue at breakneck speed, though she will slow down "if you are Canadian." The tour is interactive, and highlights include a ride on the Art-o-Mobile (a love seat on wheels) and a Days of Our Lives trivia game. You will also have a chance to bow down before the altar of the Church of Elvis, which features candles and a picture of the King.
If you are particularly appreciative and "bark like a dog" on cue, Pierce may reward you with a viewing of the Miracle of the Tortilla of Turin—a corn tortilla imprinted with the face of Elvis.
The tour is free, though participants are encouraged to purchase items from the gift shop, which carries T-shirts, Pierce's 2-by-2-inch book, Strange Mystery at the 24 Hour Church of Elvis, and the popular Elvis X rays "from when he tried to join the FBI in '69."
A warning: The Church isn't a Graceland-style tribute to Elvis. "If I'd known it was going to attract so many Elvis people," Pierce says, "I would have called it something else."
The Church is located at 720 SW Ankeny St. and is open noon-5 p.m. daily, (503) 226-3671, www.churchofelvis.com.
Photography by Bruce Forster
This article was first published in November 2000. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.