Apart from the rubble, there’s not much more than a gaping hole where the New Haven Coliseum used to stand on the corner of Orange and George streets. But what was once a 6,000-ton jungle of steel beams and concrete pillars is now safely enshrined alongside countless other cultural curiosities on YouTube, where a hasty search will summon dozens of homemade videos depicting the Coliseum’s spectacular demise.
The same search — if the searcher is persistent enough in scrolling through page after page of dynamite and detritus — will also turn up some absolutely riveting footage of a 1993 Guns N’ Roses concert held at the Coliseum. Compared with the avalanche of noise that Axl Rose receives upon pounding out the opening piano chords of “November Rain,” the hearty applause that greeted last Saturday’s implosion seems more like the soundtrack for a Vijay Singh tap-in.
The size and jubilation of the early-morning implosion crowd was probably good evidence that most New Haveners were more than ready to see the Coliseum go. But it’s hard not to wonder, with the Coliseum truly gone, whether a top-tier musical act like Guns N’ Roses (okay, how about Coldplay?) will ever again be able to find such a raucous reception in the Elm City. Big showbiz names still gravitate toward Toad’s and the city’s summer Concerts on the Green, but the visceral bravado of arena-scale entertainment may have vanished from New Haven for good.
“In a city marked by high culture, the Coliseum was definitely a populist venue,” said Paul Bass, New Haven’s resident guru and historian who now teaches classes at Yale. “It was somewhere you could go to see monster trucks or hockey games or Disney on Ice.”
Bass said he remembers taking his children to see an ice show at the Coliseum, and he also remembers seeing Bob Dylan perform there twice — once in 1978 with the notorious Rolling Thunder Revue and once in 1999, when Dylan and his band performed a rollicking cover of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.”
In its three decades of existence, the Coliseum played host to a veritable parade of attractions, musical and otherwise. Four different professional hockey teams — the Nighthawks, the Senators, the Beast and the Knights — claimed the Coliseum as their home. And for many fans, the arena became a second home as well, giving rise to the locally-renowned Section 14, a group of die-hard hockey devotees whose perennial place in the stands became synonymous with their unmistakable zeal and creativity.
But like the larger Coliseum itself, the seats and railings of Section 14 are now only ghosts in digital form. Section14.com, created in tribute to that loyal pack of New Haven hockey fans, is close to being the only evidence that New Haven hockey ever existed. Drew, who runs the web site and did not wish to give his last name, logged roughly 200 games in Section 14, starting with a Nighthawks game in 1986 at age 10.
“I saw my first hockey game and my first concert there,” Drew said. “I think most people in the Greater New Haven area can probably say the same thing. I became friends with a lot of people because of that building — and those are friendships I cherish to this day and will cherish forever.”
Bass said that, in the long run, the Coliseum simply wasn’t sustainable as a city property; whereas cities once saw big arenas as potential cash cows, New Haven has since decided that the Coliseum — ultimately a money drain, Bass said — doesn’t fit into its downtown scheme.
New Haven developers and city officials may be starting to lay the groundwork for more gentrified properties in the Coliseum’s place — including an addition to the Long Wharf Theater — but fans like Drew and his Section 14 compatriots are now left without their treasured stomping grounds. To borrow from Shakespeare: Sans hockey, sans concerts, sans everything.
Drew said he was among those spectators crowded onto the roof of the Temple Street Parking Garage last Saturday — not to cheer for the destruction of the Coliseum, but to bid farewell.
“That was perhaps one of the toughest days I can ever recall,” Drew said. “I really didn’t want to see the execution of the Coliseum firsthand, but I just had to go just to say one last goodbye. I owed it to myself, and I owed it to the Coliseum.”