By: Docomomo US/Oregon
It’s been six years since Portland’s Veterans Memorial Coliseum was saved from demolition and three years since plans to restore the building were stalled by city council. This past August, The Veterans Memorial Coliseum Option Study was released by the Mayor’s office which found that the building still provided a viable civic purpose and its restoration would contribute to economic growth and development. Despite these findings and the City Council’s rejection of Commissioner Steve Novick’s most recent proposal to redevelop the site for affordable housing, the building’s future still remains uncertain.
View of The Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Credit: Friends of the Memorial Coliseum
Background and Significance
The Veterans Memorial Coliseum, designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill as a multi-purpose arena was completed in 1960 and has housed The Beatles and the Portland Trailblazers along with many other community and civic events throughout its 55 year tenure. The building is a significant example of modern architecture. The concrete seating bowl itself is completely detached from the glass curtain wall that allows occupants a nearly 360-degree view of the surrounding landscape. The building’s significance as an importart part of the United States' modern heritage was reinforced in 2009 when it received designation as a historic landmark on the National Register of Historic Places.
Photo taken by Julius Shulman shortly after building's completion
The Beatles performing in 1965. Credit: Friends of Memorial Coliseum.
Since 1995, the City has conducted a number of studies concerning the building’s future. The most recent study was released by the office of the Mayor in August 2015 and evaluated three courses of action: The continuation of current operations with temporary closure, deconstruction for future redevelopment, or restoration. The intent of the study was not to offer any recommendations but instead to “help the Council and the public understand the opportunities and challenges of several options for the future of the VMC.”1
1. Maintaining Current Operations/Temporary Closure
The study found that though maintaining current operations would be the most obvious course of action in the short-term, in light of the building’s needed upgrades and repairs, the City would only be able to maintain the cost of operation for another two years before this option became unsustainable.
2. Deconstruction for Future Redevelopment
In reviewing the potential option of redevelopment, the study recognized that this option should remain on the table but also pointed out the significant steps, procedures, and variances needed to permanently close and deconstruct the building.
3. Renovate, Remodel, Transform
Five scenarios for restoration and reinvestment were identified in the study that included “essential repairs” to full “strategic market enhancements” and ranged in cost from $35 million to $91 million dollars. In addition, the study recognized that the building continues to play a needed civic purpose and that it occupies a significant market niche that would be hard to replace. In response to the study’s findings, Brian Libby, co-chair of Friends of the Memorial Coliseum, wrote that with the changes coming to the surrounding area ,the Coliseum has the potential to offer significant economic development opportunities and become the centerpiece of what could possibly become “a second downtown in the years ahead.”2
Both the Oregon chapter of Docomomo US and Friends of Memorial Coliseum have been actively involved in the advocacy efforts to save and restore this building. Friends of Memorial Coliseum was initially formed in 2009 to stop the building’s demolition, and now their primary focus is preserving the Veterans Memorial Coliseum's historic character. They have spoken to City Council on multiple occasions in favor of a restoration that “fully honors the building’s design integrity, value to Portland and its role as a memorial to Veterans.”3 They recently presented the video below to the Council, and their website provides more information about the building, their efforts, and how to get involved.
How you can help
Letters of support for the restoration of the Memorial Coliseum can be written and sent to:
- Mayor Charlie Hales: mayorcharliehales(AT)portlandoregon.gov
- Commissioner Dan Saltzman: dan(AT)portlandoregon.gov
- Commissioner Amanda Fritz: Amanda(AT)portlandoregon.gov
- Commissioner Nick Fish: nick(AT)portlandoregon.gov
Additional Articles and Links
After city's Memorial Coliseum study released, a case for restoration – Brian Libby
Memorial Coliseum: A Modern Masterpiece – Stuart Emmons
The case for saving Veterans Memorial Coliseum: Editorial Agenda 2015 – The Oregonian
1. Veterans Memorial Coliseum Option Study. August 31, 2015. p.3
2. Libby, Brian. "After city's Memorial Coliseum Study released, a case for restoration." Chatterbox. October 2015. Accessed November 17, 2015. http://chatterbox.typepad.com/portlandarchitecture/2015/10/why-portland-should-renovate-memorial-coliseum.html
3. Friends of Memorial Coliseum. "Who We Are." Accessed November 18, 2015. http://www.coliseumfriends.org/who-we-are.html