The Washington Coliseum

The Washington Coliseum

The Washington Coliseum, originally known as The Uline Arena, is an indoor arena located at 1132 3rd Street (MAP) in the NoMa neighborhood of northeast D.C.  It is just north of Union Station, directly adjacent to the railroad tracks, and bounded by L and M Streets.  The venue once hosted the Basketball Association of America’s Washington Capitols, coached by Red Auerbach from 1946 to 1949, and the American Basketball Association’s Washington Caps in 1969-70. Over the years it also was host to many performances and athletic events of varying types, including ice skating, hockey, martial arts, ballet, music, circuses, speeches, as well as a couple of Presidential inaugural balls.  At one time, it was even used as a makeshift jail for up to 1,200 male and female prisoners arrested during protests against the war in Vietnam.  But it is perhaps most famously remembered as the venue for the first concert in the United States by The Beatles.

On February 11, 1964, less than 48 hours after their now famous appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, the Beatles arrived by train in D.C., where they were to later play before a sold-out crowd at the Washington Coliseum.  In fact, despite the fact that only a few months earlier the group had been largely unknown in the United States, the concert was actually over capacity by approximately 1,000 people according to estimates.

Before the concert, the group clowned it up during a televised press interview in the cavernous Coliseum.  When asked, “Where did you get the idea for the haircuts?” Ringo Starr responded, “Where did you get the idea for yours?”  And later, when asked what they thought of then-President Lyndon Johnson, Paul McCartney quipped: “We don’t know. We’ve never met the man.”  After a pause, he then asked, “Does he buy our records?”  Interestingly, the interview ended with John Lennon being asked if The Beatles were a fad.  He replied, “Obviously. Anything in this business is a fad. We don’t think we’re going to last forever. We’re just going to have a good time while it lasts.”

The concert was supposed to be opened by The Chiffons and Tommy Roe, but they were prevented from getting to D.C. by an East Coast snow storm that blanketed the area in over eight inches of snow that day.  Instead, the replacement acts that night were Jay and the Americans and The Righteous Brothers.  The Beatles then played for approximately 40 minutes, opening with “Roll Over Beethoven.”  Tickets to the show at the Coliseum ranged from $2 to $4. The performance was filmed and later shown in American theatres in March of 1964 as a closed-circuit video feed.  The film, entitled “Live at the Washington Coliseum, 1964,” has recently been released on DVD.

Even with a small stage about the size of a boxing ring, both the audience and the performers were delighted to be there. Every few songs, in fact, the band oriented their setup to face a new part of the crowd. In return, audience members squealed, screamed, and threw jelly beans onto the stage. (Earlier in the week, the Beatles mentioned their fondness for the candy in a New York interview.)

Unfortunately, The Washington Coliseum has seen better days. It was most recently used as a waste management site, and with the building falling into disrepair, the site today is used only for parking.  Despite being listed on the National Register of Historic Places in May of 2007, renovation plans for the graffiti covered building continue to languish.  But 50 years ago, the historic site hosted one of world’s best musical acts ever.

Beatles01b     Beatles01c
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

UPDATE:  Renovations were recently completed on the former coliseum building, which had been sitting empty and abandoned for years.  It reopened on 10/21/2016 as an REI sporting goods store.

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