The Fat Lady often sings for historic stadiums

While Portland preservationists fight to save their historic Coliseum, another sports venue is destined for a cheesy end.
Crosscut archive image.

Portland Coliseum, at completion in 1960

While Portland preservationists fight to save their historic Coliseum, another sports venue is destined for a cheesy end.

Stadiums tend not to get much respect, preservation-wise. While folks revere some old ballparks and sports arenas, few venues are exempt from the fickleness of the sports business. Indeed, part of sports is remembering through the misty haze of nostalgia great moments that occurred in stadiums that no longer exist. Athletics is, after all, youth-oriented, a profession in which anyone over 30 is over the hill. Few active athletes ever become eligible for preservation, at least without the help of illegal performance enhancers.

In Seattle, tearing down stadiums is almost a tradition in itself, as the demolition of the Kingdome, Sick's Stadium and the proposed razing of Seattle Center's Memorial Stadium attest.

In Portland, there's also an arena controversy. Earlier this year, the city was actively considering tearing down the Rose Quarter's Memorial Coliseum, former home of the Portland Trailblazers and venue for rock concerts from Elvis and the Beatles to the Grateful Dead. The Coliseum is unusual, an International Style modern glass box, designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill in the late 1950s, and opened in the early '60s. It is notable for being, effectively, "transparent," and offering great views. It was an engineering feat in its time.

The site, however, has been eyed for a possible new AAA ballpark for the Portland Beavers baseball team and the city would like to see the Rose District rejuvenated. Critics say the existing facility is under-utilized. But preservationists stepped in, concerned that the structure wasn't being given its due. To stop the redevelopment-by-demolition momentum, Portland architect Peter Meijer entered the fray and put together a nomination to add the Coliseum to the National Register of Historic Places.

Such designations can't always protect structures from demolition, but they can shift momentum. Recent successful nominations of two mid-20th Century modern buildings on the University of Washington campus in Seattle, the Nuclear Reactor Building and the Paul Hayden Kirk- and Victor Steinbrueck-designed Faculty Club, were motivated in part by concerns over the future of the structures.

National Register status can swing the moral high ground to preservation over the wrecking ball. "The rationale behind the nomination is that the city of Portland lacks any protective measures for historic buildings unless a building is on the national register," Meijer told the Portland Tribune last summer. A National Register designation can also open up financial incentives for renovation. As a result of Meijer's efforts, the Coliseum was successfully added to the National Register last September.

The question is: what's next? The Portland Business Journal reports that this week is the deadline for groups to submit to the city concepts for reinventing the Coliseum. A committee plans to make recommendations to the mayor later this year. These concepts include a $150 million plan by the Veterans Memorial Arts and Athletic Center Group. According to the Journal, the Coliseum would be renovated into a mixed entertainment and athletic facility featuring "a pool, music rehearsal spaces, performance spaces, a gallery, bar, catering facilities, a jazz club and educational facilities as well as a multimedia center."

On the other extreme, consider the city of Irving, Texas, home of legendary Texas Stadium where the Dallas Cowboys played for so many years. The city is moving ahead with stadium's demolition, and according to Advertising Age, they've even found a sponsor for it. Yes, the blowing up of Texas Stadium will be brought to you by Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, which is paying $150,000 to re-brand the demolition as "the Cheddar Explosion."

Everyone is cognizant of the importance of the occasion. Says the city's mayor, Herbert Gears: "We're very proud to form a partnership with such a widely recognized and appreciated brand. We wanted to make sure that the world got to experience the demolition of such a historic facility." (Italics are mine.)

Yes, in some places historic demolition is a money-making spectator sport. Let's hope no one in Portland mentions this to Tillamook.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.