Uline Arena is making a comeback.
Douglas Development, known in the Washington region for buying and holding onto properties for years, a few months ago began selective demolition at the site in preparation to turn the fabled arena, now a parking lot, into a 200,000-square-foot mixed-use property.
And fabled it was. It was built by ice supplier Miguel Uline to capitalize on the popularity of skating rinks in the 1940s, says historian Brett Abrams, author of “Capital Sporting Grounds: A History of Stadium and Ballpark Construction in Washington, DC.” But it also hosted the Beatles' first U.S. concert ever, the Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan, served as home court for the Washington Capitols, led by legendary coach Red Auerbach (and the team that drafted Earl Lloyd, the first African-American basketball player).
Pro boxers fought in the arena, some of the only events African-Americans were allowed to attend in the early years of the stadium. "Uline said, 'Why should I be the pioneer? I'm a businessman,'" Abrams says. Eventually, after intense protests from the African-American community, the arena was integrated.
In the 70s, the arena hosted roller derby. In the '80s, go-go bands rocked the house. It served for a time as a church--the Miracle Faith Centre, but by 1994, it was a trash transfer station. Now, it's a parking lot—ironic, Abrams says, because a 1970's basketball team failed when it couldn't attract crowds, partially due to a lack of parking.
That was the end of the arena's legacy. But for a while, "It was Washington's location," Abrams says. "It allowed Washington entry into professional sports."
In 2011, the coliseum became the venue for a theatre production called Swampoodle!, by contemporary Irish arts companies Solas Nua (based here) and The Performance Corporation (based outside Dublin). The play's short run arguably did more to catapult the Uline Arena back into modern D.C.'s consciousness than much else.
It also exposed Washingtonians to a building many didn't even realize was still standing. Swampoodle! actor Jason McCool perhaps said it best on the play's blog
: "I believe the first three words I spoke in the place, even after having spent a week studying it, were 'No. Effing. Way.' (Seriously, folks, you have never been in a building like this. It’s like being in the Titanic without the danger of drowning.)"
Union Station, less than a mile away, reopened in 1988, and the NoMa metro station opened in 2004. The rapid development in the area has brought thousands of new residents and a stunning appreciation in property values for those lucky enough to have owned buildings.
Douglas Development has owned Uline since 2003, when city records show the company paid $6,000,000 for it. Representatives from the company did not return repeated requests to comment by press time, but according to the developer's website, current plans call for the building to be renamed "The Coliseum" and include over 50,000 square feet of retail and 150,000 square feet of office space. There will be a 175-car parking garage. And the building will keep its iconic shape.
For historian Abrams, that's enough. "I like the proposal," he says. "It keeps some of the--if not literally the same material, it keeps some of the resonance of it."
Below: see our photo gallery of Uline Arena/Washington Coliseum's past, present, and future.
1941: Architect's sketch of Uline Arena
1948: Picket signs protesting the segregation at Uline
1964: The Beatles play the arena just two days after their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. This ticket sold by Heritage Auctions in 2011 for $1500
20082011: Solas Nua and The Performance Corporation put on Swampoodle! in the arenaPresent day: seen better daysFuture: The Coliseum will become offices and retail
Future: The Coliseum references the famed Beatles concert
Do you remember Uline in its glory days? Tell us in the comments.
Photo credits, in order: DCPL, Washingtoniana Division; Henderson Family Collection;Heritage Auctions; Josh Howell;Solas Nua; Jennifer Reid; Jennifer Reid; Douglas Development/Antunovich Associates; Douglas Development/Antunovich Associates.