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Paul Miner

THE FAIRGROUNDS COLISEUM: AN ILLUSTRIOUS HISTORY by Paul Miner Editor/Project Manager: Andy Klotz Layout/Graphic Designer: Katherine Martin Content Contributers: Kristen Wolfred, Ashlan Peterson Digital Publisher: Emmis Publishing - Keith Phillips, Shawn Grimes

Copyright Š 2014, Indiana State Fair Commission, 1202 East 38th St. Indianapolis, IN 46205 and Emmis Publishing, L.P., a subsidiary of Emmis Publishing, One EMMIS Plaza, 40 Monument Circle, Suite 100, Indianapolis IN 46204. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reported or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Indiana State Fair Commission & Emmis Publishing.


The First Fairgrounds Coliseum 1 The New Livestock Pavilion 9 The 1940s 17 The 1950s 27 The 1960s 37 The 1970s 49 The Long, Slow Descent 55 A New Era Begins 67 Significant Events 79



THE FIRST FAIRGROUNDS COLISEUM Before the current Fairgrounds Coliseum was erected in 1939, there was another one. The first Coliseum on the fairgrounds was built in 1907 and was the biggest place in Indianapolis to put on a show. Before then, the State Fair had not enclosed its main livestock exhibit and judging space, which had become expected by top livestock and equine producers and showmen in a premier agricultural state. At the heavens’ mercy, they exhibited their prize stock outdoors or under tents. Entertainment was staged at the racetrack grandstand when weather complied. Costing $100,000, the first Coliseum with its 4,000 seats ranked among the largest and grandest structures of its time and type, back when the still-rural State Fairgrounds was a mere 15 years old and 38th Street was known as Maple Road – named for the trees that lined it. Around then, street car service was extended from downtown.


For more than three decades, that dirt-floor venue hosted the Livestock Parade, vaudeville acts, “the Greatest Horse Show ever seen in Indianapolis,” president Woodrow Wilson, national bowling tournaments, evangelist and Prohibition champion Billy Sunday, three-ring circuses, the WLS Barn Dance, new car exhibitions and Harry M. Snodgrass, the “King of the Ivories.” (Snodgrass gained fame playing piano over the radio while in prison for robbery and was released only a few months before his 1925 Coliseum appearance). Gradually, the pavilion began to fall short. Hundreds were turned away nightly from the Horse Show and other events, and many seats afforded obstructed views of the arena due to an abundance of support pillars. The Indianapolis Star reported that Indiana’s Horse Show was “now one of the largest in the country,” with events for three- and five-gaited saddle horses, fine harness animals, hackney ponies and hunters and jumpers.


Ladies riding class at a Tuesday night horse show in the Coliseum at the Indiana State Fair, 1929.

Plans to remodel the aging structure by installing a heating plant and increasing seating in 1938 were scrapped in favor of something bigger. Despite the persistent throes of the enduring Great Depression, a new, colossal Coliseum would take its place.Modernizing the old, unheated and under-sized building priced out at $375,000. For about $1 million, a much larger and grander building could rise up in its place. Thanks to President Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal agenda, the decision was easy. Demolition and construction on a new Coliseum launched at the close of the 1938 State Fair.


Interior view of the Coliseum at the Indiana State Fair in 1907.

Scene from the Prairie Farmer WLS Barn Dance, broadcast coast-to-coast from the Coliseum in 1933.


Exterior view of the Coliseum in the early 1900s.

The dirt floor of the original Fairgrounds Coliseum.




4-H Club Steer Auction in the Coliseum at the 1931 Indiana State Fair.


Concert in the Coliseum in 1908.

Cattle Show held in the original Coliseum.




When the new Coliseum opened at the 1939 Indiana State Fair, it was unfinished – it didn’t even have doors. Still, thousands of people from across the state took seats around the bright, sunlit arena to watch champion livestock competitions, cheer 4-H’ers for their best efforts and enjoy “America’s finest light horse show.” It was the fairgrounds’ greatest building, a New Deal project done in Art Deco grand. “Rushed to virtual completion in time for the week’s activities,” the new 8,000-seat Live Stock Pavilion was something the Indiana Board of Agriculture had known for years was needed to meet the demands of a burgeoning legion of exhibitors and spectators. Throngs of visitors paid 50 cents to $1.50 each in “the world’s largest building devoted exclusively to fair purposes” to see the night horse shows.

Construction photo taken on May 17, 1939.


During the 1940 State Fair, more than 12,000 Hoosiers filled the great tan brick and limestone building for four-and-a-half hours to see and hear first-hand renowned blind pianist Alec Templeton and the singing stars of the WLS National Barn Dance. In addition, 28 million households from coast-to-coast tuned in on their bulky vacuum tube radios to listen to the show that included the crowning of the Indiana Tall Corn King. Fair officials boasted the Coliseum had the largest indoor horse show arena in the world (120 feet by 287 feet), adding that “The arches used to carry the roof are the largest of their type.” International Live Stock Exposition General Manager B.H. Heide declared it was “a Coliseum far superior than that at any other exposition.” And now that it had finally been ‘completely completed,’ it could be used for more than cattle and draft horse judging and the horse shows.


At the dedication ceremony on September 1, 1940, a crowd of 6,000 sang “On the Banks of the Wabash” and the Indiana University Festival Band performed. From a center-arena stage, the new Secretary of Agriculture, Claude R. Wickard (a farmer from Camden, Ind.) proclaimed the Coliseum’s completion was “a symbol of progress in the state.” “Progress is essential in any institution and to any nation,” Wickard said. “This Coliseum marks another milestone in such progress. It is an investment in education, happiness and well-being for the State of Indiana. It will pay big dividends for years to come.”


The 1939 Coliseum seating chart.

Interior photo of the Coliseum construction on July 17, 1939.


The Coliseum would serve many needs and pay for itself, Gov. Clifford Townsend added. Coliseum architects Merritt Harrison (later termed “the dean of Indiana architects”) and William Earl Russ then handed over a yard-long gold key to the building. Their $1.2 million creation put 400 men to work and gave Indianapolis its first major exposition center. A product of the Modernist Era and built with structural steel, brick, stone and glass bricks, the “Indiana Live Stock Pavilion (Project No. IND. 1651-F) at 38th Street and Monon Railroad” was designed for an original seating capacity of 1,226 box seats and 6,696 balcony seats. (It later became the model for Lucas Oil Stadium and Bankers Life Fieldhouse.)

Construction photo taken on September 15, 1939.


Workers install the ice floor, 1939.

The state put up 55 percent of the building’s cost and the federal government covered the balance. A Chicagoan named Arthur M. Wirtz covered the cost of the $200,000 ice rink floor. Wirtz played a major role in the Coliseum’s early history and, in fact, made much of that history possible. The Coliseum wasn’t planned originally to have an ice floor, but Wirtz talked the Indiana Board of Agriculture into it. He brought vision to the table promising events with world-class ice skaters and even a pro hockey farm team.


Close-up view of the ice floor installation, 1939.

He became the president of the Indianapolis Coliseum Corporation, and leased the venue from the Indiana State Board of Agriculture for 10 years beginning in June, 1939. He booked ice shows (“glamorous girls and dazzling costumes”), sporting events and other big activities, and managed the facility year-round. He brought in Olympic figure skating gold medalist and feature film star Sonja Henie to perform numerous times, and he introduced professional ice hockey to the city with the formation of the Indianapolis Capitals. The corporation had exclusive rights over the Coliseum between Oct. 1 and May 1 each year, putting the facility entirely under Wirtz’s control.


The original ice rink in the Coliseum.



THE 1940S

As the new “colossal” Coliseum was opening, war was brewing in Europe. Then came the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, and the Coliseum became just another governmental asset to aid the American war effort. Initially, the War Department wanted the entire fairgrounds – “everything within the fence on the four sides and between the two railroads” – for the Army Air Corps. The State Fair was a “nicety,” fair officials were told bluntly. Beyond being a critical depot, the fairgrounds was the only advanced armament school in power gun turrets. In fact, thousands of airmen went through training for bomb sight and turret repair between May, 1942 and March, 1944.


The 1942 State Fair, set for Sept. 4-11, was cancelled on March 25, but the State Board of Agriculture held off from abandoning plans for a 4-H club fair it approved in early April. At one point, the Fair Board considered convening the fair elsewhere. Only the Coliseum and the old saddle horse barn remained under Board control, along with 16 adjacent acres south of the Coliseum and the tourist camp across Fall Creek. The fairgrounds depot was stacked high with more than $1 billion in war material, from bomber tires to barrels of oil. Storage shacks filled the infield. Board member Levi Moore observed “civilian demands, however meritorious, would have to be waived in the face of the military urgency.” But the Coliseum was vital, as “its existence as a large auditorium suited for public gatherings and sports events basic to maintaining public morale, was of more value if continued at its present use.” So the Coliseum remained a host for the 4-H club fairs through 1945. The building became an oasis during this difficult time. Getting there was more involved due to heightened security, but the Coliseum and parking lot were fenced off from the rest of the fairgrounds for public use.


In May, 1943 Billboard magazine printed a guest column by Moore entitled “Indiana Considers Its 4-H’ers” in support of holding the club fair. The magazine also said the Coliseum “was considered the finest on any state fairgrounds in the country.” That year, the WLS Barn Dance and the Barnes-Carruthers revue would provide entertainment in the Coliseum on what was reported to be the world’s largest stage (64’ by 48’), complete with red, white and blue bunting and the second-largest U.S. flag in the state. Outside of the 4-H club fairs, the Coliseum also hosted a number of other war-time events. Among them, troops marched for public gatherings; the American Legion broadcast there; a huge Victory Garden Harvest Show for relief for servicemen’s families took place; and Rudy Vallee and his orchestra performed “This is the Infantry.” The war actually caused another big event to be moved into the Coliseum. The Indiana High School Athletic Association’s 33rd annual State Basketball Championship got moved here due to the Navy’s occupation of Butler Fieldhouse. The semi-finals and finals were played at the Coliseum and Ft. Wayne Central eventually captured the title by beating Lebanon 45-40.

1943 IHSAA State Semi-finals, Bedford vs. Lebanon.


The Coliseum saw numerous “firsts” and significant events throughout the 1940s, including: • Numerous ice shows starring Olympic gold medalist and feature film star Sonja Henie • Professional wrestling match between “Jumping Joe” Savoldi and Maurice “The French Angel” Tillet (1940) • Indianapolis Capitals hockey (won the Calder Cup in 1942) • Indiana high school All-stars vs. Kentucky All-stars in first basketball game (1942) • National “Double or Nothing” radio quiz show (1943) • Shortridge High School commencement (1944) • The All Indiana Hymn Sing with 10,000-member choir broadcast nationally (1947) • Spike Jones & his City Slickers Musical Revue (1948)

Among all the events of this era, perhaps the most impactful was Dr. Walter Maier’s 10th annual International Lutheran Hour radio message in 1942, which reached an estimated 10 million listeners over 240 stations across the country. Nearly 200,000 letters reportedly arrived in the mail in response to the broadcast centering on child welfare.


Indy Capitals player on the ice, 1940.


Sonja Henie performs on the ice in 1948.


Winners of the statewide Hymn Sing given scholarships to Columbus Boychoir School.

Seating at the statewide Hymn Sing, Sept 5,1948.


4-H Club Parade at the 1949 Indiana State Fair


Bert Wimmer wins Championship Honors with his Shortorn Steer at the 1940 Indiana State Fair.


Labor day crowd outside the Coliseum, 1941.



THE 1950S

In its second full decade, the Coliseum’s attraction grew thanks, in part, to sports firsts on a national scale. Boxing, basketball and Olympic level figure skating all contributed to drawing thousands of fans to the fairgrounds while millions more watched or listened at home on television and radio. The grand limestone edifice became an Indianapolis and Indiana entertainment center. In 1951, the Harlem Globetrotters attracted more than 13,000 spectators to its performance (you can’t really call it a game when the outcome is never in doubt). That’s the same year that the Indianapolis Winter Club hosted the Olympic figure skating trials. The Globetrotters returned by the end of the decade with one of the game’s most legendary players, Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain, on its roster in 1959.


Two of the National Hockey League’s “original six” teams squared off on the Coliseum ice in 1954 as the Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers played in an effort to revive Hoosiers’ interest in the sport of hockey, which had taken a back seat to basketball. It worked! The Indianapolis Chiefs began playing in 1955 as a member of the International League. Wrestling and boxing greats were also a big part of the Coliseum culture in the ‘50s. Dick the Bruiser, one of wrestling’s top box office draws, made multiple Coliseum appearances. During his 1959 victory over Cowboy Bob Ellis, he reportedly beat Ellis “into a hulking mass of blood.” The 1959 world boxing title fight between Floyd Patterson and Brian London not only drew a sold-out crowd, but also a national television audience on NBC. It was the first world title fight of any kind in Indiana.


By this time, some of music’s biggest names were also performing in the Coliseum, which was the primary concert venue during the Indiana State Fair. Guy Lombardo, Eddie Fisher, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Nat King Cole were just a few of the A-list entertainers to appear. Others included Bob Hope, Frankie Avalon, Rosemary Clooney and Pat Boone.

Thousands of people also turned out to hear prominent politicians and preachers. Vice President Richard Nixon addressed the State Republican Committee during a $100 a plate reception in 1958. A brief excerpt of his speech included the following: “If we Republicans lose this campaign it will be our fault and not our opponents. We will lose if we continue to backpeddle (sic) and allow ourselves to be a punching bag for the cheap, below-the-belt cracks of Harry Truman and his ilk. We aren’t going to win by giving the voters a diet of dishwater and milk toast. But we can win if we start slugging with the truth about our own record and the truth about the frightening alternative offered by our opponents.” Just five months later, in 1959, Oral Roberts brought his “Million Souls of Faith” tour to the building for a nine-day crusade. Later that year, Rev. Billy Graham held a 24-day crusade at the Coliseum, which reportedly drew more than 300,000 visitors in what was reported to be Graham’s first visit to Indiana.


Boat Show at the Coliseum, 1956.


Crowd outside the Coliseum, 1950.

Cars parked at the fair, 1950.


Outside the Coliseum during a fair in the 1950s.

Livestock Judging contest at the 1951 Indiana State Fair.


Winter & Ice Show, 1952.

Nat King Cole signs autograph for girl at the 1955 Indiana State Fair.

Ice Capers show program, 1958.


Tennesse Ernie Ford receiving Indiana State Fair pin, 1956.


Pat Boone at the Indiana State Fair, 1957.


Eddie Fischer arrives at the Indiana State Fair, 1954.

Rodeo held in the Coliseum, 1958.



THE 1960S The decade of the 1960s was giant for the Coliseum with the biggest, the best and the brightest in a number of different respects. That is no exaggeration, nor is it hyperbole. Just a month before the Presidential election in 1960, candidate John F. Kennedy tried to sway Hoosier voters his way inside the building. Among other things, he said: “How much more are emergency programs in foreign aid costing us because we did not long ago take the steps we should have taken before a crisis was reached in the Middle East, in Latin America or in Africa? And how do you measure the cost to a country whose security is in danger of being nibbled away by brush-fire wars too limited to justify the use of the massive retaliation our defense budgets have forced us to rely upon?� Kennedy lost Indiana, but won the Presidency.


Top performing musical acts also continued to find the Coliseum. In 1964 alone, the Coliseum provided the setting for several groups that would influence the course of rock ‘n roll for decades to come, including The Animals, Dave Clark Five, The Beach Boys and The Beatles. It’s The Beatles’ show that is still talked about with great reverence now 50 years later. The four youth from Liverpool had made their American debut on the Ed Sullivan Show just seven months earlier, but had already accumulated an incredible fan base, especially with teenage females. The group played two State Fair shows on Sept. 3 – their only Indiana appearance – but it’s only the Coliseum show that people reminisce about. The day’s other show in the Grandstand goes nearly unmentioned.

Beatles fans hold The Indianapolis Times capturing the Beatles’ arrival.


The official attendance at the Coliseum show was listed as 12,413, but countless more still claim to have been there. Tickets were cheap considering the demand – just $3, $4 and $5. Yet, the Beatles didn’t demand much themselves. Their contract rider asked only for a television, some clean towels and a couple cases of Coke. The stories live on from that show, so does the music. The set list from that famous night reads like this: 1. Twist and Shout 2. You Can’t Do That 3. All My Loving 4. She Loves You 5. Things We Said Today 6. Roll Over Beethoven

The Beatles concert at the Indiana State Fair, 1964.

7. Can’t Buy Me Love 8. If I Fell 9. I Wanna Hold Your Hand 10. Boys 11. A Hard Day’s Night 12. Long Tall Sally


The Indiana State Fair Queen with the Beatles, 1964.


Ticket to the Beatles Coliseum Concert, 1964.

Beatles press conference in the Communications Bldg., 1964.


The fact that the Beatles even played in the Coliseum in 1964 is amazing when you consider that the building was partially destroyed less than a year earlier in one of the greatest tragedies in Hoosier history. It was Halloween night, 1963, during a performance of “Holiday on Ice.� A leaking propane tank sparked an explosion under the seats on the south side of the arena. Of the 4,327 people in attendance, 74 lost their lives and nearly 400 more were injured. A marker in the Coliseum lobby memorializes the deceased.


Damage after the explosion, 1963.



Damage to the concession stand after the explosion, 1963.


Temporary display outside the Coliseum 50 years after the explosion remembering the lives lost in 1963.


Despite the tragedy, the Coliseum ended the ‘60s on a huge upswing. Basketball had become king in Indiana and Indianapolis wanted a professional team. The groundwork was laid in the early ‘60s as the National Basketball Association’s Cincinnati Royals, led by local legend Oscar “The Big O” Robertson, played four games in the Coliseum from 1962-1966. In 1967, the Indiana Pacers debuted in the American Basketball Association calling the Coliseum home. The Pacers thrived during their ABA days. Led by another Hoosier Hoops legend, Bobby “Slick” Leonard, the Pacers had just one losing season – their first. Their 343-233 regular season record landed them in the ABA playoffs in each of their seven seasons. They went on to win three championships, which cemented the reputations of star players Mel Daniels, George McGinnis, Bob Netolicky, Jerry Harkness, Darnell Hillman, Billy Keller and Roger Brown. It was the decade of hastening change and the greatest incarnation of the Indiana Pacers. It was the decade of the British Invasion. There were calls for civil rights and the anti-war movement. Part of it all happened inside the “Live Stock Pavilion.”


Ticket window for skating at the Coliseum in the 1960s.

Shrine Circus at the Coliseum, 1967.

The Supremes performing in the Coliseum, 1968.

Pat Boone at the Coliseum, 1961.


Bouncing Bill Baker DJ’s a public skating session in the fairgrounds Coliseum, 1964.


Public skaing, 1968.



THE 1970S When the ‘70s rolled around, the Coliseum was still the premier entertainment facility in Indianapolis. Music’s biggest names – Neil Diamond, The Jackson 5, Elvis Presley, Sonny & Cher, Johnny Cash and The Eagles, to name just a few – all paid a visit to the building, but that would change by decade’s end. Modern music was demanding more than what the stately edifice was ever intended to offer. The kind of music first heard in the Coliseum did not come from powerful amplifiers, so the eventual problem wasn’t initially that big of a problem. But as guitar rock started taking over and stage productions started getting bigger, the Coliseum began showing its age.

The Indiana State Fair Queen with the Jackson 5, 1971.


Sonny & Cher at the Indiana State Fair, 1972.

William Webb, who supplied the Fairgrounds’ sound system for decades, told the Fair Board in 1974 the building’s acoustics were “impossible.” He recommended improvements. A media report on a Fair Board meeting quoted him as saying, “There’s a five-to-six second reverberation period in the building, which means that an entertainer can sing or speak about 12 words before the sound of the first one dies.” As built, clear Coliseum audio fidelity was out of the question. In addition to the changing demands, the Coliseum also started suffering from increased competition. In 1974, Market Square Arena sprang up just a few miles away in downtown Indianapolis. Its improved acoustics and larger seating capacity stole away more than just the A-list musical acts, it also landed the Pacers and the city’s minor league hockey franchise. Suddenly, the Coliseum started being viewed as a second-tier facility, unable to adequately host the prime performers of the time.


George McGinnis drives against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 1973.

Still, there were firsts in the arena, from cigarette-sponsored women’s tennis (the Virginia Slims Grand Prix in 1972) to the nation’s biggest tractor pulls and United States Auto Club midget racing. Once, fans inside even watched an event that took place across the country – an auto race in California that was shown on a 33-foot high closed-circuit television screen in the Coliseum. And while the Pacers moved downtown, the IUPUI Metros matriculated uptown. Coached by Kirby Overman, the Metros played their 1976-77 and ’77-78 home seasons in the building. George McGinnis versus Kareem Abdul Jabbar


The writing was on the wall – the Coliseum was no longer the city’s shining star; nostalgic, charming and suitable, yes… but not the venerable venue that used to capture the country’s biggest names.

IUPUI Metros men’s basketball.

First IUPUI Commencement in June 9,1970.


Midget racing at the Coliseum in the 1970s.


Johnny Cash at the Indiana State Fair before his performance, 1970.

Indiana Pacers Team at the Coliseum.



THE LONG, SLOW DESCENT With the city’s biggest shows and sporting events going on downtown, Fairgrounds officials knew that improvements would need to be made to keep everything from leaving the Coliseum. Public skating sessions remained popular and other annual fixtures like the Shrine Circus and the Indianapolis Boat, Sport and Travel Show kept folks coming back to the building, but upgrades were needed to have more significant events.

Public skating, 2008.

Working on a shoestring budget through most of the 1980s and early ‘90s made improvements tough for the State Fair Commission to finance. “New” seats were installed in waves, sometimes coming from other venues like the Hoosier Dome that had already given them their best use.


It helped when minor league hockey returned in 1982 after a nearly 20-year absence as the Indianapolis Checkers, an affiliate of the National Hockey League’s New York Islanders, brought many talented players to town. However, it wasn’t until after the Checkers left and the Indianapolis Ice took their place in 1988 that there was significant team success. The Ice, playing in the International Hockey League, won the Turner Cup in 1990. The largest Coliseum crowd in more than 40 years, 8,567 strong, was reportedly on hand to watch the team hoist the trophy. It was around this time that the Coliseum also underwent a name change. On April 1 (no fooling), 1992, the building got a title sponsor in a deal that was ahead of its time. The Pepsi-Cola company paid $800,000 over five years for exclusive soft drink pouring rights in the building and throughout the fairgrounds. They also got to put their name on the fairgrounds’ signature building, and the Pepsi Coliseum was born.


Despite the new revenue stream for the State Fair Commission, the deal was not popular at the time. “In the latest bow to commercialism…,” started an Indianapolis Star report. A Marion Chronicle Tribune editorial said, “We’d be the first to admit that the Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum needs a major facelift… None of this, however, is just cause for fair directors to sell their soul to the devil – or, more accurately, to Pepsi Cola. But that’s precisely what they have done.” A Bloomington Herald Times columnist even equated the new sponsorship deal to prostitution. But the sponsorship and an influx of funds in the mid-‘90s from Indiana’s new riverboat casinos provided enough support for some long overdue renovations. By the end of the ‘90s, the Coliseum received nearly $1 million in improvements that included new seats, renovated dressing rooms, repairs to the exterior awning, fresh paint, restroom upgrades and roof repairs. The improvements were enough to breathe some new life into the aging facility. While it was still past its prime, the Coliseum again found itself hosting some significant events that drew large crowds. Boxing returned in ’95 as local promoter Fred Berns strung together several years of popular bi-annual “Fight Night” events. Local female fighter Kristy “Rose” Follmar got a raucous, near capacity crowd on its feet several times in 2004 as she captured the North American Boxing Council super featherweight title by unanimous decision. Former Olympic figure skater-turned-boxer Tonya Harding even laced up the gloves later that same year.


Politicians also returned to the building. Most notably, George W. Bush became the first sitting U.S. President to speak in the Coliseum on May 13, 2003. Long lines of people snaked along the entire south side of the fairgrounds waiting to get in to the ticketed, but free event. Thousands of people got turned away, but those who made it inside heard the president talk about the country’s war on terrorism and economic issues.


President Bush at the Coliseum, 2003.


“There needs to be fiscal sanity in Washington, D.C., and at the same time, have policies which grow the economy so we can get more revenues coming into the Treasury. If you’re interested in the deficit, you ought to be supporting fiscal discipline on the one hand and aggressive policies to make sure people can find work on the other hand,” Bush said. Less than two years later in 2005, Mitch Daniels, Bush’s former budget director, became Indiana Governor and brought his inauguration party to the “old barn.” Another capacity crowd turned out. “Enroute to Philadelphia in 1776, to put his life, his fortune and his sacred honor all at risk, John Adams wrote in his diary that it was all well worth it,” Daniels said. “’Great things are wanted to be done.’ And so it is with us… in our day, Adams’ excitement and Churchill’s iron resolve should be our own. Great things are there to be done. This is our moment.”


Foreshadowing? Perhaps. It was Daniels who ultimately gave the green light to issue State-backed bonds that enabled the State Fair Commission to finance a massive, much needed overhaul of the fairgrounds’ most treasured resource. By 2012, the Coliseum was in woeful shape in regard to ADA accessibility and certain life safety issues. It still had original parts that helped the chillers make ice for skating. Restroom, lighting and sound problems were also more persistent. A temporary makeover by NFL-employed designers, carpenters and engineers allowed the Coliseum one last hurrah when it hosted the VH-1 Pepsi Fan Jam concert for Super Bowl XLVI in February, 2012. But as B.o.B, Gym Class Heroes, All American Rejects and Adam Levine worked the crowd into a rockin’ frenzy, the final touches were being put on a financial deal that would secure a new future for the antiquated facility. On September 26, 2012, following a rodeo at the FFA National Convention, Fair Commission Chairman Andre Lacy, Executive Director Cindy Hoye and First Lady Cheri Daniels led the capacity crowd in a countdown… “3…2…1… Lights out!”


Public skaing at the Coliseum, 2008.


Indiana Ice vs. Dubuque, April 21, 2012.




VH-1 Pepsi Fan Jam concert for Super Bowl XLVI in February, 2012.


VH-1 Pepsi Fan Jam concert for Super Bowl XLVI in February, 2012.



A NEW ERA BEGINS The lights stayed out for 18 months. A massive $63 million renovation that included a brand new adjoining 30,000 square-foot companion facility, the Youth Arena, began with a complete demolition of the Coliseum’s interior. Approximately 80 percent of all the materials removed from the building were recycled. The exterior received a thorough tuck pointing and replacement of 37,000 glass block windows, but its appearance remained virtually the same as it did in 1939. Overall, more than 200,000 man hours and 630 tons of new steel went into the project.


Populous did the architecture and engineering work on the facility while Hunt Construction Group of Indianapolis handled the construction. In the end, much of the building’s 75-year history was preserved by reinstalling 96 original seats; recreating the original terrazzo lobby floor; and leaving original walls and steel support beams exposed. They mixed beautifully with all the new amenities like a spacious lobby with two new elevators; an overhead LED video scoreboard and matching video ribbon board; more than 70 wall-mounted flat screen television monitors; full ADA accessibility; a two-tiered seating bowl with fantastic views from even the highest seats; a state-of-the-art sound system; and a main concourse bar area that allows patrons to see right into the arena while they place their order.


On April 29, 2014, the entirely renovated, fully completed Fairgrounds Coliseum Complex officially opened… on budget and three months ahead of schedule. “This is a glorious day in the long history of this remarkable campus,” Indiana State Fair Commission Chairman Andre Lacy said. “Not only have we resurrected an antiquated facility, but we’ve breathed new life into the entire fairgrounds. This project ensures that the Coliseum will be here for many more generations of Hoosiers to come make lasting memories.” “The renovation is simply amazing – better than we ever imagined,” Indiana State Fairgrounds Executive Director Cindy Hoye said. “This is one of the most iconic structures in all of Indiana and we hope visitors appreciate the mix of past and present that went into the design.”

Cindy Hoye speaking at the Coliseum opening.


People did appreciate it. At a public open house held that day, hundreds of people toured the new Coliseum and praised all the nods to its glorious past. One gentleman showed up with a photo of the old building and a red mark on the spot in the Coliseum where he first met his wife more than 50 years earlier. He wasn’t the only one who had found love at the fair or in the Coliseum.

“The Coliseum is a special place to me and the First Lady as it was the site of our first date and many Pence family outings since then,” Governor Mike Pence said. “Today’s reopening is a fitting example of honoring the past while looking to the future and ensures this historic Hoosier building will continue to serve the people of Indiana for decades to come.” The State Fair Commission also honored agriculture with the renovation by keeping multiple animal entry/exit points to the arena floor and by rebuilding the 9 ft. wall that surrounds it. Draft Horse exhibitors around North America laud the wall for its gradual curve that helps guide teams of horses naturally around the arena. In addition, visitors of all Coliseum events will see a special one-minute video message detailing the importance of contemporary agriculture and the key role that Indiana plays in feeding the world.


All these new features, and several others, will enhance the experience for all Coliseum guests, including those of the building’s two new anchor tenants, the Indy Fuel, a professional ECHL hockey league team, and the IUPUI basketball program, which has upgraded to NCAA Division I status since it played in the building back in the 1970s. The Coliseum will have approximately 6,200 seats for hockey games and about 6,500 seats for basketball games while concerts will be able to accommodate anywhere from 6,000 to 8,200 people. “The new Coliseum is a one-of-a-kind, family friendly facility that is ready to bring more memorable experiences to Hoosiers of all ages for many more years,” Executive Director Hoye said. It already has.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, State Fair Commission Chairman Andre Lacy, State Fair Executive Director Cindy Hoye and Govenor Mike Pence at the ribbon cutting for the Coliseum opening,


Nov 5, 2012.

December 3, 2012.


December 18, 2012.

Feburary 13, 2013.


July 3, 2013.


Oct. 4, 2013.

Nov. 7, 2013.


Jan 15, 2014.

Feb 28, 2014.


March 12, 2014.

Finished interior of the rennovated Coliseum.


Finished concession located on the main concourse of the Coliseum.

Finished front lobby of the Coliseum.



May 3, 1942 Sept. 28, 1947 April 2, 1948

The Indiana Grand 125-Piano Festival “Night of Stars”, many famous performers of the day Spike Jones & his City Slickers


1951 Dennis Day* 1952 Phil Harris* Jan Garber and His Orchestra* 1953 Guy Lombardo & His Royal Canadians, Patti Page, Ink Spots* Jan Garber and His Orchestra* 1954 Eddie Fisher, Julius LaRosa, Mills Brothers* Jan Garber and His Orchestra* 1955 Frankie Laine, Ernie Ford, Nat King Cole* Russ Morgan Orchestra* 1956 Tennesse Ernie Ford, Pat Boone, McGuire Sisters, Mills Brothers* 1957 The Fontaine Sisters, Joni James, Guy Mitchell, Four Aces* Jan Garber and His Orchestra* 1958 Bob Hope, Everly Brothers, Paul Anka, Betty Johnson, Ernie Ford, Mills Brothers, Molly Bee* 1959 Ricky Nelson, Homer & Jethro, Francis Brunn, The Chordettes, Jimmy Dean, Rosemary Clooney, Frankie Avalon* Jan Garber and His Orchestra* * State Fair Show



1960 Pat Boone, Lennon Sisters, Jack Durant, Jane Morgan, Duke Ellington, Les Brown Orchestra, Ernie Ford, Anita Bryant, Wanda Jackson* Jan Garber and His Orchestra 1961 Duke Ellington, George Shearing, Al Hirt, Andy Griffith, Anita Bryant, Johnny Matson, and Wiere Brothers. Dick Clark and the Caravan of Stars.* May 1, 1962 Twist Spectacular presented by Lee Gordon, starring Chubby Checker 1962 Red Skelton, Beverly Hillbillies, Rafael Mendez and Tina Robin* 1963 Jimmy Durante with Sonny King and the Beverly Hillbillies* Sept. 3, 1964 The Beatles* Oct. 9, 1964 The Animals Nov. 6, 1964 Dave Clark Five Dec. 29, 1974 The Beach Boys 1965 Jim Nabors, with George Gobel and DeeDee Sharp. Lawrenece Welk, the Lennon Sisters, Myron Floren, Barbara Boyle, Bobby Burgess, Joe Feeney and Jo Ann Castle* July 9, 1966 The Rolling Stones with Ike and Tina Turner 1966 Perry Como with the Young Americans* Nov. 11, 1966 The Yardbirds Feb. 5, 1967 Grand Ole Opry March 4, 1967 Buck Owens 1967 Herman’s Hermits, with The Blue Magoos and the Who, Lawrence Welk, Eddy Arnold, Baja Maarimba Band, Rowan and Martin, Andy Williams* May 2, 1968 Simon and Garfunkel Aug. 3, 1968 The Temptations, Martha & The Vandellas, The Monitors 1968 Rowan & Martin, Minnie Pearl, Andy Williams, Henry Mancini, Lawrence Welk, Ed Ames, Nancy Sinatra, Lee Hazelwood* Dec. 1, 1968 Aretha Franklin and the Drifters May 11, 1969 Jimi Hendrix with Chicago 1969 The Association, Lee Michaels, Anita Bryant, Glen Campbell, the King Family* * State Fair Show



Feb. 14, 1970 The Byrds, Steppenwolf April 4, 1970 Led Zeppelin 1970 Buck Owens and the stars of HeeHaw, Art Linkletter with Paul Revere & The Raiders, Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, The Guess Who, The Who* Feb. 27, 1971 Three Dog Night May 9, 1971 Neil Diamond May 29, 1971 Jackson 5 1971 Red Skelton, Glen Campbell, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans* Oct. 10, 1971 Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention March 11, 1972 King Crimson March 28, 1972 Bad Finger April 12, 1972 Elvis Presley May 2, 1972 Jethro Tull 1972 Sonny & Cher, Johnny Cash, David Cassidy* Sept. 20, 1972 Yes, with The Eagles and Gentle Giant Dec. 2, 1972 Deep Purple with Fleetwood Mac Feb. 27, 1973 Uriah Heep with Spooky Tooth April 6, 1973 REO Speedwagon April 21, 1973 King Crimson May 13, 1973 The Doobie Brothers 1973 Lynn Anderson, Sonny & Cher, Donna Fargo, Will Haggard, Jim Nabors, Ray Price* 1974 Liza Minelli, Rich Little Show with Olivia Newton-John, Red Skelton* 1975 Mac Davis, the Olivia Newton-John Show with Jim Stafford, Helen Reddy, Lynn Anderson, Chicago* March 8, 1975 Styx, with Blue Oyster Cult May 6, 1975 Foghat April 6, 1976 Ted Nugent Oct. 9, 1976 Black Oak Arkansas Dec. 3, 1976 Foghat

* State Fair Show


1976 Neil Sedaka, Johnny Cash, Mac Davis, LeRoy Van Dyke Show* 1977 Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton* 1978 Mel Tillis & The Statesiders, Oak Ridge Boys, Roy Clark, Crystal Gayle, Mac Davis* 1979 Tony Orlando, Dolly Parton, Statler Brothers with Barbara Mandrell, Bill Monroe, Rex Allen Jr.*


1980 Manhattan Transfer, Martin Mull, Anne Murray, Larry Gatlin, Red Steagall, Moe Band, Joe Stampley, Barbara Mandrell, Don William, David Rowland, Marshall Tucker Band* 1981 John Schneider, Statler Brothers, Brenda Lee, Loretta Lynn, Steve Warriner, Charley Pride, Janie Fricke* 1982 Rick Springfield, Beach Boys, Robert Goulet, Mel Tillis, Tammy Wynette, David Frizzell, Shelly West* “Let the Good Times Roll” 50s Rock n Roll Show* featuring Little Anthony, The Diamonds, The Crystals, Dee Clark, Stormy Weather, Lou Christie, Rockin’ Robin, and Rhythm Kings 1983 Greg Kihn Band and the Statler Brothers* 1984 Jefferson Starship, Conway Twitty, Wayne Newton, The Bar-Kays, and the Bill Gaither trio* 1985 Tom Jones, Vern Gosdin, Sammy Hall* 1986 Willie Nelson, Bobby Vinton, Bill Gaither Trio* July 18, 1988 Def Leppard

1990s Dec. 6, 1993 April 21, 1995 Dec. 7, 1996 Jan. 12, 1997

Smashing Pumpkins Queensryche with Type O Negative Stone Temple Pilots Pantera * State Fair Show


Feb. 12, 1997


Jan. 19, 2001 March 17, 2001 March 18, 2001 Dec. 8, 2003 April 17, 2004 Nov. 18, 2004 May 8, 2005 Sept. 15, 2006 March 22, 2008 May 2, 2008 Nov. 23, 2008 Dec. 22, 2008 Feb. 3, 2009 Dec. 29, 2009

Marilyn Manson

Vanilla Ice A Perfect Circle Pantera with Nothingface Puddle of Mudd A Perfect Circle, with The Mars Volta TobyMac & The Diverse City Band Good Charlotte David Lee Roth Three Days Grace, Breaking Benjamin, Seether, and Neverest Casting Crowns Seether with Staind and Papa Roach Hinder with Trapt and Rev Theory Slipknot with Trivium , Coheed, and Cambria The Zac Brown Band, Nic Cowan, Levi Lowrey and Sonia Leigh


Nov. 10, 1939

Indianapolis Capitals vs. Syracuse Stars (1st ice hockey game)


Aug. 28, 1942 Indiana High School All Stars vs. Kentucky High School All Stars March 20, 1943 33rd IHSAA Basketball Championship May 29, 1946 1st Professional Boxing Event: Johnny Denson vs. Chicago’s Clayton Worlds


April 18, 1951 Harlem Globetrotters Dec. 21-22, 1951 Olympic Trial ice skating


May 28, 1952 Feb. 19, 1954 March 9, 1954 Sept. 11, 1954 1955-1962 March 1, 1959

First televised boxing match in Indianapolis Chicago Blackhawks vs. New York Rangers New York vs. Milwaukee and Minneapolis vs. Rochester. (NBA Double-header) Indiana vs. Kentucky College All-Star Basketball game IHL Indianapolis Chiefs bring back hockey Harlem Globetrotters


May 25, 1960 Archie Moore triumphed over Willi Besmanoff for the American Light Heavy weight title. Jan. 9, 1962 NBA: Cincinnati Royals vs. Chicago Packers Dec. 13, 1962 NBA: Cincinnati Royals vs. Chicago Zephyrs Dec. 1, 1964 NBA: Cincinnati Royals vs. Detroit Pistons Nov. 7, 1965 Harlem Globetrotters Dec. 25, 1965 Wrestling: Dick the Bruiser beat Gene Kiniski March 9, 1966 Los Angeles Lakers vs. Cincinnati Royals Oct. 14, 1967 NBA: Indiana Pacers opening game Dec. 27, 1967 Blackjack Lanza’s first Coliseum match-up, won the WWA title


June 20, 1971 May 3-6, 1972 Feb.-May 1974 March 9, 1974 April 3, 1976 Jan.- Feb. 1978

ABA vs. NBA stars The Virginia Slims Grand Prix Tennis Tournament Four wrestling matches including Dick the Bruiser, Ernie Ladd, Cowboy Bob Ellis, Jimmy Valiant, Johnny Valiant and Stan Kowalski USAC “Indy Indoor” Miget Auto Racing Boxing: Marvin Johnson defeats Ray Anderson AABA Indiana Wizards


Jan. 26-28, 1982 U.S. Figure Skating National Championships 1988-1999 IHL Indianapolis Ice



April 25, 1991 1999-2004


2004-2012 Nov. 19-21, 2004 Nov. 23, 2004 Jan. 13, 2007


March 1, 2011

World Champion Wrestling “Rolling Thunder Tour ‘91” Rick Steiner, Sting and Ric Flair, and Dick the Bruiser as special referee CHL Indianapolis Ice

USHL Indiana Ice Indiana Figure Skating Championship NABC Latino super featherweight championship Naptown Roller Girls debut

Premier Cage Fighting/Total Warrior Challenge


Feb. 6-10, 1940 Sonja Henie skated in the Coliseum May 24, 1940 First State Republican Convention June 27, 1940 First State Democrat Convention Sept 1, 1940 Coliseum Dedication Sept. 7, 1940 Roller Derby Jan. - Feb. 1941 Sonja Henie and the Hollywood Ice Revue Dec. 5-11, 1941 Sonja Henie and the Hollywood Ice Revue Sept. 26-27, 1942 Victory Garden Harvest Show Nov. - Dec., 1942 Sonja Henie Aug. 27, 1943 “Double or Nothing” radio quiz show Nov. 18-28, 1943 Sonja Henie May 24, 1943 Roller-Skates Revue May 27, 1943 Indianapolis’ first Military Ball


June 12, 1944 Nov. 16-26, 1944 Nov. 15-25, 1945 Nov. 14-27, 1946 Aug. 31, 1947 Sept. 29-Oct. 5, 1948 April 6, 1949


May 24, 1950 Oct. 10-11, 1951 Oct. 9-28, 1952 Jan. 22, 1954 March 22-25 1956 1958 Sept. 29, 1958 Feb. 6-15, 1959 March 1959 Oct. 6 - Nov. 1 1959


Oct. 4, 1960 May 26, 1960

“This is It! The Fighting Fifth” war bond drive Sonja Henie performs first ice show with giant turntable Sonja Henie “sensational all-new postwar ice spectacle Opening of Sonja Henie’s coast-to-coast ice skating tour All Indiana Hymn Sing Wonder Horse Trigger The Original Amateur Hour with Ted Mark

“Cast of 40 in a Great Two-Hour Stage Review” International Dairy Show Hollywood Ice Revue “Hit Show of 54” The Polack Brothers’ Shrine Circus First Indiana State Fair Queen Crowning* Vice President Richard M. Nixon speech Oral Roberts “Million Souls for Christ” First Indianapolis Boat, Sport & Travel Show Billy Graham Crusade

Candidate John F. Kennedy speech The Wyatt Earp Spectacular


Oct. 31, 1963 Oct. 15, 1966


May 13, 2004 Jan. 10, 2005 Oct. 9 2008

Coliseum Explosion The Sammy Davis Show President George W. Bush speech Indiana Govenor Mitch Daniels’ Inauguration NBA: Pacers Pre-season Game vs. Charlotte Hornets

Pre-season Game: Pacers vs. Charlotte Hornets, 2008.



Capitol Photographers - Page 14,15 Filmcraft - Page 35, 36 (left) Foster Photos - Page 23, 46 (top-left)

Indiana Historical Society IHS offers several online resources, including its complete collections catalog and approximately 60,000 digitized images. You can find them at Bass Photo Co. Collection - Page 5 (bottom), 8 (top), 42, 43, 44 (top) Bretzman Collection - Page 4 (top) Indianapolis Recorder Collection - Page 51, 52 J.C Allen and Son, Inc. - Page 2, 3, 4, 7, 8 (bottom), 10,17, 18, 24, 25, 26, 32 (bottom) Indiana State Archives - Page 38, 39, 40, 41, 42 Indiana State Fair Commission - Front cover, title page,table of contents, page 12, 20, 27, 28, 31, 32 (top), 33 (bottom left and right), 34, 42 (top), 44 (bottom), 45, 46 (bottom left and right), 47, 49, 50, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 87, 88 James McCutcheon - Page 16 Michael Vaughn - 59, 60 Morgan - Page 9, 11, 12 (bottom),13 Robert Hoye - Page 58 Robert Lavelle - Page 21, Terry Bateman - Page 69, 70, 71 The Indianapolis Star - Page 22, 29, 30, 33 (top), 36 (right), 37 46 (top-right), 48,



Profile for Indianapolis Monthly

The Fairgrounds Coliseum  

The Fairgrounds Coliseum: An Illustrious history.

The Fairgrounds Coliseum  

The Fairgrounds Coliseum: An Illustrious history.