Frank Lloyd Wright quipped in an October 4, 1953 issue of the NYT Magazine that “The physician can bury his mistakes, but the architect can only advise his client to plant vines.”.Bring out the Kudzu!This was a big mistake.
Rising up from the pavement like a mushroom from a bad dream, the Richmond Coliseum has remained vacant on 7.8 acres of prime land in Downtown since 2018.The facility was value engineered in the 1970’s, but that revenue positive formula has been thrown hard into reverse.By the early 2000s, the Coliseum had taken on almost $8M in debt.The Coliseum that once hosted Elvis now costs taxpayers an estimated $800,000 per year, with no offsetting revenue.The City government seems hamstrung as to how to clean up the situation, even though they appropriated emergency funds to prevent it from being used as a makeshift shelter for the unhoused when a security fence was erected around the perimeter in May, 2022.
As if it wasn’t dreary enough to begin with.Looking upon the Coliseum is about as cheerful as a stroll through a wintry mix event in February.“Back when City Council began debating the merits of constructing the Coliseum, opponents claimed that it would wind up an enormous “white elephant” and a drain on the taxpayers”Richmond-Times Dispatch August 15, 1971.The naysayers turned out to be right, eventually.
But there were about 25 halcyon years.Moon rocks were on display the week that it opened, when Holiday on Ice magically put on their program in the heat of August in Virginia.It hosted the aforementioned Elvis, The Osmonds, The Jackson Five, Lawrence Welk, a Spiro Agnew fundraiser, Professional Wrestling, Monster Truck races ,the Virginia Squires Basketballteam (ABA), the Richmond Rage women’s basketball team (WNBA), the Richmond Robins and the Richmond Renegades Hockey teams.The Coliseum made headlines when 200 Deadheads were arrested there in 1985 for storming the gates & drug charges.Rebels of a different sort….
And just how was this public facility envisioned, designed, approved, and built?“From its porcelainized (aluminium) roof finish to its soaring brick facade, the Coliseum is a Cadillac-class edifice with few peers.” crowed James Berry in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on July 18, 1971.But now we can see that the Coliseum-Emperor really had no clothes.Designed by Ben R. Johns & Vincent Kling, Architects, the Coliseum opened Aug 24, 1971 at a cost of $24 million. With almost 10,000 seats, the 118’ high building was the largest entertainment venue in Virginia and the 12th largest venue in the Western Hemisphere at the time. “Our purpose was to place the structure in the heart of the city and to exert some influence on future development… it is so easy for it to become an isolated monument rather than blend into the entirety” said Johns in 1971.Prophetic stuff.
Things took a turn for the worse in the 1990s when a fire in electrical equipment caused more than a weeks worth of event cancellations before repairs could be made.In November, 2001, a nationally televised basketball game between Michigan State and the University of Virginia had to be shut down because of excess moisture on the hardwood that caused the players to slide and fall on the court before officials called off the game in the second half with Virginia leading 31-28, leaving 10,000 spectators and a television audience in disbelief.Apparently the HVAC system had reached the end of its useful life! In 2003, a $7.1M bond was floated to replace the scoreboard, sound system, and seat cushions and to install luxury boxes to keep the venue competitive with newer facilities.Despite these improvements, between 2002 and 2018, five professional indoor football teams played and then left Richmond; the Roughriders(APF Champions in 2017), Speed (AF2), Bandits (2005 AIFL Champions), Revolution (SIFL), and Raiders (PIFL). By 2009, the City was told it would have to raise an additional $14M to make repairs and improvements to keep the Coliseum running for the next 2 decades.
How did it go so wrong after only 50 years?The Coliseum in Rome is still bringing in revenue after almost 2000 years.
Given the lack of foot traffic around the place, it is possible to mistake the Coliseum for a vent cover for a large sewage treatment plant. It could be also mistaken for an alien turd by a wandering Roswell loonie.If Wright lived in Richmond today, he would want to live inside the Coliseum.That way he wouldn’t be able to look at it.It is an architectural thud.
Peter Evans VA Richmond Dec 07, 2022 Abandoned Places Architecture City Planning