The Chicago Coliseum
Date: March 05, 2010 05:30PM
The Chicago Coliseum was a large building in Chicago, Illinois from the 1890s to 1982 that served as a sports arena, convention
center, and exhibition hall over the course of its history. It hosted
the 1896 Democratic National Convention as well as the 1904–20 Republican National Conventions and the 1912 Progressive Party convention.
The first Coliseum was built on a 14-acre (57,000 m2) site at 63rd Street and Stony Island Avenue in the Woodlawn neighborhood, across from the main entrance of the World's Columbian Exposition, opening on 4 April 1893 to host Buffalo Bill's
"Wild West" show. After the Fair, it was opened for general exhibitions
such as the 1896 Democratic convention. It was later replaced with the
Tower, a large cinema, and is now the site of a YMCA.
The second Coliseum was built on Wabash Avenue, between 14th and 16th Streets, by candy manufacturer Charles F. Gunther, in 1899. It took the place of the transplanted Libby Prison, a warehouse turned Civil War prison that Gunter had shipped, brick by brick, from its original site in Richmond, Virginia, in 1889, and operated as a Civil War museum
Gunter preserved part of Libby's facade, leading to the
misconception that the Coliseum itself had once housed Union prisoners
of war. In fact, the only penitents to "serve time" within the
Coliseum's walls were hockey players sentenced to the penalty box.
The Coliseum hosted the Chicago Blackhawks of the NHL from 1926–1929 with a seating capacity of 6,000. It was also the home of the Chicago Cardinals (later renamed
Chicago Americans) of the American Hockey Association 1926–27 and the Chicago Shamrocks of the American Hockey Association 1931–32. In June 1928, fight promoter Paddy Harmon announced plans to construct Chicago Stadium, with the Black Hawks as the marquee tenants.
As the 1928–29 NHL season approached, the Stadium was not yet ready, and Blackhawks owner Major Frederic McLaughlin had had a falling out with Harmon. Consequently, the Blackhawks
arranged to continue playing at the Coliseum. However, they could only
get ice time through January 1929; they played the remainder of their
"home" games in Detroit and in Fort Erie, Ontario, across the Niagara River from Buffalo.
The Hawks were back at the Coliseum as the 1929–30 season opened,
but negotiations with the Stadium resumed in the fall of 1929 after
Harmon was deposed as head of the Chicago Stadium Corporation. In
December 1929, they began play at the Stadium.
In 1932, another dispute led the Hawks to return temporarily to the
Coliseum, for their first three home games of the 1932–33 campaign. On
November 21, the Black Hawks defeated the Montreal Canadiens, 2–1, in their final game on Coliseum ice. Canadiens superstar Howie Morenz was the last player to score an NHL goal at the Coliseum, assisted by Aurel Joliat and Johnny Gagnon, at 7:06 of the second period.
With the Black Hawks gone, and the Depression on, use of the arena was limited. In 1935, promoter Leo Seltzer,
drawing on the Depression-era popularity of roller skating, conceived
the idea of a Roller Derby. in 1935, he staged the world's first Roller Derby at the arena. The event drew more than 20,000 people.
Refurbishing for use by the Chicago Zephyrs
The arena was re-furbished for use by the Chicago Packers, an expansion NBA team. Among the improvements was an increase of the seating capacity to 7000. After playing their first season in the International Amphitheater, the Packers changed their name to the Zephyrs and moved into the Coliseum in 1962. In 1963 they moved to Baltimore and once again renamed the team, as the Bullets. Today they are known as the Washington Wizards. The NBA would return to Chicago with the Bulls expansion team in 1966, but the Bulls opted to use the International Amphitheatre and then Chicago Stadium as their home courts, so the Coliseum remained without a major tenant.
After the Zephyrs' departure
The arena stood for a number of years after the Packers left,
serving rock concerts, and protests during the 1968 Democratic
Convention. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the radical antiwar organization, held their last national convention at the Coliseum in June 1969.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, The Coliseum saw duty as "The
Syndrome", a general-admission venue for rock music concerts. Many of
the popular bands of the era played there, including The Grateful Dead, Cream, Grand Funk Railroad, Steppenwolf, Jethro Tull, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, and many others.
In the middle '70s the building fell into disuse and it was demolished in 1982. Part of the Libby facade was given to the Chicago History Museum. Coliseum Park, in the 1400 block of South Wabash, commemorates this historic structure.