1120 SW 5th Ave, Room 901, Portland, OR 97204
The Veterans Memorial Coliseum (VMC), which was originally dedicated as Memorial Coliseum, was built as a multi-purpose arena and completed in 1960. At the time of its construction, the VMC was noted as a “technological feat of engineering and operation unrivaled by any other large civic structure in the Pacific Northwest”. It is considered an excellent example of International Style Modernism architecture, which earned it a place on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.
Development of the VMC began in the early 1950s when Portland’s business and civic leaders identified the need for a venue suited for conventions, exhibitions and sports events, in order to bring those events and uses to the city. A local $8 million bond measure, passed in 1954, covered the construction costs; the architectural firm of Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM) designed the building.
The building has many features that make it a unique public arena and event facility. Its four main exterior walls form a perfect square, 360 feet per side, each encompassing 576 panes of grey-tinted glass set in aluminum mullions and topped by a 22 foot high white plywood band. The concourse level, enclosed by these glass walls, is cantilevered several feet out from the lower event level, a feature that makes the building appear to float above the ground from some viewpoints.
Visible through the glass walls is the slightly ovoid seating bowl and in particular, the curtain channel, also white in color, at the top edge of the bowl’s stair-stepped walls. In combination, the glass curtain walls and the visibility of the bowl through them led some to refer to the building as the “teacup in a glass box”. The continuous 1,060-foot long black curtain encircles the bowl and can be raised or lowered to allow, or block, daylight into the arena bowl. The interior of the building offers many views of the City, particularly to the north and west across the Willamette River.
In its almost 55 years of operation, the VMC has hosted a wide variety of events. The building has been home to numerous professional and amateur sports teams including hockey, basketball, and indoor soccer. The Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League, are the only team who currently call the VMC home. Other sports events, including the Dew Tour and Davis Cup Tennis, have also been held at the VMC.
In February 1970 the National Basketball Association (NBA) board of governors granted Harry Glickman the rights to a franchise in Portland and the Trail Blazers began playing their home games in the VMC. The Blazers there for 25 years including the infamous 'Game 6' of the 1977 NBA Championship, when the Blazers defeated the Philadelphia 76ers and won the NBA World Championship that year. Starting on April 5 of that year, the team began a sellout streak of 814 straight games—the longest in American major professional sports history—which did not end until 1995.
Concerts, family shows and special events have also been a mainstay at the VMC. The Beatles, Elvis Presley and Led Zeppelin, to name just a few, performed at the VMC. Billy Graham, Ralph Nader, Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama have all appeared at the VMC. Many other events such as the Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade and high school graduations are annual events at the VMC.