City throws Coliseum a frigid farewell bash

After a 35-year history of trouble, brief glory and destruction, the Coliseum is gone, but many of the issues surrounding the use of the site remain.

Most people present at the implosion greeted the legendary building’s destruction with enthusiastic cheers and clapping. But some officials and residents said they think the city may come to regret the destruction of one of its large historical monuments.

Photo Essay: Coliseum Implosion 01/20/07
Chris Young
Photo Essay: Coliseum Implosion 01/20/07

Some spectators at the implosion of the Coliseum recalled childhood memories of the building: a Bob Hope concert, hockey and wrestling matches, and monster truck shows. Over the course of its history, the arena had hosted Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and The Who.

“It breaks my heart to see the Coliseum come down,” one long-time resident said. “I have many memories attached [to it], and it will be hard to see the past go away.”

Another 15-year resident of the Elm City said he is happy to see the destruction of a building he found aesthetically displeasing, though he recognizes that the city has lost one of its most noticeable landmarks. Unlike some of the city residents who had attachments to the building, he said the “awkward” structure held no special place in his heart.

The Coliseum consisted of an indoor arena on the ground floor used to host cultural and athletic events, as well as a 2,400 space parking lot on the roof. Originally, the city planned to renovate the building, which had a number of structural problems, but these alterations were never completed — in part because of managerial problems, Yale architecture professor Alan Organschi said.

But Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances Clark, in whose ward the Coliseum is located, said the building’s demise was inevitable after the state legislature granted money for Bridgeport, a neighboring city, to build a 10,000-seat stadium that was completed in 2001. The acts that previously would have come to the New Haven Coliseum now play in Bridgeport, she said.

Clark said members of her ward are very happy to see the destruction of what had become a “glowering” presence for most of them, and they are looking forward to the Gateway Downtown Project, which will relocate Gateway Community College and Long Wharf Theater to the downtown area and create new housing and mixed-use areas.

“Large numbers of people who lived down there did not like it,” she said. “They felt it was overwhelming and out of scale.”

But with the Coliseum’s destruction, Clark said, the city has irretrievably lost a landmark monument of contemporary architecture, which may be seen as a mistake in years to come. The destruction of landmark buildings that exemplified a particular age in architecture has happened in the past, she said. In the early 20th century, for example, when Victorian architecture was out of vogue, the University brought down a Victorian building at the corner of Chapel Street and College Street and built in its place the neo-Gothic Bingham Hall building that still stands today.

Organschi said it was a mistake to bring down the Coliseum, as he thinks the giant building was well-structured and useful to the city, even though it was widely perceived as ugly. He said he liked the way the Coliseum’s tall structure created a barrier between the I-95 highway bridge and the city’s downtown, and the 2,400 rooftop parking lot provided the city with much-needed and efficient parking spaces.

The challenge facing city officials, Organschi said, is to redevelop the area in a manner that suits the surroundings. He said the city’s ability to arouse the enthusiasm of local developers and entrepreneurs will determine the success of the redevelopment project.

“There should be no sense that we are simply replacing one mega-concept with another mega-concept,” he said.

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