Two civic centers both completed in 1972. One is still standing and the other one was imploded in 2007.
The lucky civic center to still be around today was renamed the Dunkin' Donuts Center in 2001 and the less fortunate civic center was the New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Freshman year in 1972 at RISD and my first large scale pencil drawing as a homework assignment was to sketch a landscape. I chose the Providence Civic Center, very much a beehive of construction activity the warm and sunny September morning I sketched it. Another student who would become a close friend, and happened to be an architecture major, walked downtown with me and also sketched the building from the spot where we stood. We were near the entrance to the Providence Journal newspaper and during our time there a lady came along and asked if we were reporters! I guess she thought reporters work with large drawing pads and pencils.
My friend was not in my drawing class so I don't know how his teacher liked his drawing, but in my case my teacher really liked mine and it was one of the single most important events that started me off on the right foot for freshman year.
The Providence Civic Center officially opened two months later in November.
Below is a close up of the drawing and farther into the post is the explanation of why one civic center made it and the other one failed.
My postcard from that early '70s era, also shown in a recent post about my senior year in art school:
Today, the Dunkin' Donuts Center, remodeled, refurbished and active as a sports venue:
The New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum as seen in its heyday. It was designed by the renowned architect Kevin Roche and featured the parking garage at the top of the building due to a high water table in the land which made an underground lot difficult to build and maintain:
Last December, I published a post about an Emerson, Lake & Palmer concert in 1977 that I attended which can be found here.
Two photos from that post are shown below:
Below is an excerpt of an interview with the coliseum's architect, Kevin Roche.
Perspecta 40: One of the major projects you designed for New Haven under the Lee administration—the Veterans Memorial Coliseum—was recently demolished. We certainly wouldn't be the first ones to say that this was a remarkable building. Could you perhaps tell us a bit about the project, and what led you to make the heroic gesture of elevating the parking so high into the air?
Kevin Roche: The technical problem we had with the Coliseum was that there was a high water level on the site; we couldn't put the parking underground, and I was concerned that if you put 2,400 cars underground it would be such a vast parking lot that nobody would use it because it would be too scary. The city wanted to keep Orange Street open, which divided the lot into two parts. A coliseum, which is going to have circuses, is going to have to deal with very large trucks which have to be driven onto the floor. Elephants have to be taken to that level. It was important to get the floor of the ice rink at grade level. Parking couldn't go underneath. If it couldn't go on grade, the next logical thing was to put all parking on the top. In my mind this would remove it. It doesn't visually remove the parking, but it removes it from the activity along the street. The parking becomes a shelter, a universe, under which a whole variety of activities can take place. Unfortunately, the other program elements such as exhibition space never materialized, partly because Dick retired in the middle of the whole project, partly because it was one million dollars over budget, partly because the succeeding administrations really just didn't have the stomach for it, and partly because—although the arena had a few years of pretty good success bringing in events—the Coliseum faced new competition with the opening of the Foxwoods  and Mohegan Sun  Casinos. At the casinos there are events going on every night to which they practically give away the tickets. What group of dentists, for example, wants to have a convention in New Haven at the Coliseum when they could go to Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun and see all of the other entertainment?
And so the convention market disappeared, and the local hockey team didn't make it, and there were no sports. So the Coliseum got off to a bad start. Then, of course, the exhibition part of it was never built … so the combination of all of these elements made it pretty much inevitable that a coliseum would not work in New Haven.
Knights of Columbus Headquarters (1969) and New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum (1972), New Haven. (Both buildings were designed by Kevin Roche.)
From The New York Times:
NEW HAVEN, Jan. 19 — There are rooftop soirees and a city-sponsored official watching spot. One art gallery has scheduled an open-microphone night to encourage people to share their memories. People from near and far are making plans to witness the implosion, though the whole spectacle is expected to last less than 20 seconds.
Saturday morning at 7:30 a.m., the New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum — host to Van Halen, Bob Hope, monster truck shows, wrestling matches and countless minor-league hockey games — is scheduled to be put to rest.
From the time it was built in 1972, the Coliseum towered over the city with high hopes of downtown renewal. But for the last 10 years, it has run a deficit as big-name acts skipped over New Haven to play in Connecticut’s casinos or other, newer venues.
Now, after decades of debate over its potential as a tool for urban renewal, the crumbling giant will come tumbling down, even as other midsize cities nearby, such as Yonkers and Bridgeport, are banking on similar stadiums to revive their own downtowns.
--Jennifer Medina, The New York Times
The full article can be found here.
Video of the coliseum implosion, January 20, 2007:
From the web site of the Last Days of the Coliseum which features an Emmy-nominated documentary available for sale that was aired on Connecticut Public Television last year:
About the New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum from Wikipedia:
The New Haven Coliseum was a sports-entertainment arena located in downtown New Haven, Connecticut. Construction began in 1968 and was completed in 1972. The Coliseum was officially closed on September 1, 2002 by Mayor John DeStefano, Jr., and demolished by implosion on January 20, 2007.
The arena's formal name was New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum, but most locals simply referred to it as "New Haven Coliseum." The Coliseum could hold 11,171 people at full capacity, and occupied 4.5 acres (18,000 m²) of land next to the Knights of Columbus Building and faced the Oak Street Connector/Route 34 downtown spur.
The Coliseum was built to replace the New Haven Arena, New Haven's prior indoor sports and entertainment venue. The Coliseum, as well as the neighboring Knights of Columbus building, was designed by the architects Kevin Roche of Roche-Dinkeloo. One interesting aspect of the arena's design was that the parking garage was built on top of the actual Coliseum structure; this was necessitated by a high water table in the area which made it overly difficult to construct sub-surface parking facilities. Though an interesting solution, this design was unpopular because of the quarter-mile helical ramps required to access the parking. Vincent Scully, the revered architectural historian at nearby Yale University, often referred to the design as "Structural Exhibitionism" in his modern architecture lectures. Other features of the design, such as street storefronts and an exhibition hall, were never completed.
During the 1980s, the structure of the parking garages had deteriorated to the point where large canvas panels had to be attached to the outside to catch pieces of concrete that would occasionally drop off onto the sidewalk below. Renovations were made to correct that problem. The city shut down the facility in 2002 after concluding that it was a drain on city coffers. However, the city did not hold any public hearings, referendum votes, or conduct any surveys, and several groups, local stakeholders, and the Coalition to Save Our Coliseum mounted a campaign to save and renovate the Coliseum, to no avail. Others in the community supported the plan to demolish the arena. Despite Mayor DeStefano's plan to close and demolish the building within six months, it ultimately took more than four years.
Among the reasons for the Coliseum's demise was the construction or renovation (often with state money) in the 1990s of alternative comparably sized venues within the southern Connecticut market. The Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport attracted a minor league hockey team, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Many musical acts started booking the Chevrolet Theatre in the city of Wallingford, Connecticut after it was upgraded and expanded. A large arena was built about an hour away at the Mohegan Sun Casino. Even though the state gave $5.5 million to the arena for new paint, signage, and scoreboards, the Coliseum simply could not compete with newer facilities. Even as early as 1980 the Coliseum was decried as a "White Elephant". Mayor DeStefano also had staked out a strategy of investing city resources into arts and cultural activities rather than attracting sports teams to the city.
The Coliseum's demolition was delayed by the state's refusal to award the $6.5 million that the city requested, and the arena remained empty and darkened. The office area was used in the meantime for practice by the New Haven Fire Department.
Actual demolition work began in late October 2005 with removal of most of the arena area. At 7:50 a.m. on January 20, 2007, after years of wrangling and delay, the Coliseum was finally imploded, using more than 2,000 pounds of explosive. It was said that the implosion could be heard all the way to Meriden and Northford. As it came down, a massive cloud of dust and smoke covered the surrounding area, but blew away quickly toward the shoreline. Upwards of 20,000 people watched from the nearby Temple Street Garage and other buildings, and residents of nearby apartments were evacuated. The two helical ramps were not imploded, and were subsequently destroyed by conventional methods.
A temporary 400-space parking lot opened on the former Coliseum site on December 4, 2007, but plans are advancing to redevelop the site with a mix of offices, apartments, and retail space, with proposals by such firms as Cesar Pelli, Related Companies and Robert A.M. Stern. Until the economy recovers, however, there will be no development of the lot until 2012 at the earliest.
On January 12, 2009 the Knights of Columbus filed a lawsuit against the City of New Haven, Stamford Wrecking Company and Demolition Dynamics Company. The lawsuit seeks repayment for damages incurred to the Knights of Columbus Building and Knights of Columbus Museum across the street from the Coliseum.
Further information on the Dunkin' Donuts Center from Wikipedia:
The Dunkin' Donuts Center (formerly Providence Civic Center and also known as The Dunk) is an indoor arena, located in downtown Providence, Rhode Island, United States. It was built in 1972, as a home court for the emerging Providence College men's basketball program, due to the high demand for tickets to their games in Alumni Hall, as well as for a home arena for the then-Providence Reds, who played in the nearly fifty-year old Rhode Island Auditorium. Current tenants include the Providence Bruins, of the AHL and the Providence College men's basketball team.
In 2001, the arena was named the Dunkin' Donuts Center as part of a naming-rights deal with Dunkin' Donuts. In December 2005, the Rhode Island Convention Center Authority purchased the building from the city of Providence and spent $80 million on an extensive renovation. Major elements of the construction included a significantly expanded lobby and concourse, an enclosed pedestrian bridge from the Rhode Island Convention Center, a new center-hung LED video display board, a new restaurant, 20 luxury suites, four new bathrooms, and all-new seats with cupholders in the arena bowl. Behind-the-scenes improvements included a new HVAC system, ice chiller, and a first-of-its-kind fire suppression system. These renovations were completed in October 2008.
A few buildings such as the World Trade Center twin towers and the New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum were built just at the time I was entering college and marked a period of architecture of late '60s design. The fate of the New Haven Coliseum is a lesson in how competing venues in the same state can undermine an otherwise viable civic center.
To have outlived both the twin towers and the coliseum in New Haven is an eerie feeling for me, I thought the opposite would be true.
The pencil drawing, concert photos and personal narrative section of the text are © 2012 by B+Co., Inc.