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  • May 2, 1951: Memorial Coliseum begins to take shape. (File)

  • Sept. 17, 1952: Finishing touches are put on Memorial Coliseum. (File)

  • May 2, 1951: The sky peeks through as the roof begins to take shape on the Memorial Coliseum. (File)

  • Sept. 17, 1952: One of Memorial Coliseum's original locker rooms. (File)

  • Sept. 28, 1952: Mr. and Mrs. Walter McGee were among Gold Star parents at the dedication of Memorial Coliseum. Here, they stop with second son, John, to read the list of names inscribed on one of two plaques in the north entrance. Among the 643 names is their son James C. McKee, who was killed during World War II. (File)

  • Sept. 17, 1952: The inside of Memorial Coliseum is seen. The Memorial Corridor included four types of marble.

  • Sept. 28, 1952: Memorial Coliseum was dedicated in a ceremony that drew 10,000 people. (File)

  • Sept. 17, 1952: Work is done on the clock for Memorial Coliseum. It was sponsored by Wolf & Dessauer. (File)

  • Aug. 18, 1950: An aerial shot of Memorial Coliseum construction shows the surrounding area as mostly farmland. (File)

  • Jan. 24, 1950: The Rev. O.D. Wissler (right foreground), a former Army chaplain and pastor of the First Evangelical United Brethren Church pronounces invocations during a dedication for the site of Memorial Coliseum. (File)

  • Sept. 17, 1952: Memorial Coliseum is seen a few days before its dedication ceremony.

  • Sept. 17, 1952: Final touches are put on Memorial Coliseum before its opening and dedication. (File)

  • Sept. 28, 1952: About 600 Gold Star parents were among guests seated near the speaker's platform at the dedication. (File)

  •   Some facts about Memorial Coliseum that appeared in The Journal Gazette on Sept. 26, 1952. (File)

  • Sept. 17, 1952: The parking lot at Memorial Coliseum had room for 3,000 cars. (File)

Tuesday, March 26, 2019 11:00 am

Sept. 28, 1952: Construction and dedication of Memorial Coliseum

COREY MCMAKEN | The Journal Gazette

The following is an updated version of a previous Throwback Thursday feature. 

Ground was broken for Allen County War Memorial Coliseum on Jan. 24, 1950. There was nothing but farmland in the area, but community leaders were optimistic the arena would become a prime destination.

“The value of the War Memorial Building will be felt by Fort Wayne and Allen County both from a cultural standpoint as well as from a recreational and commercial aspect,” said James R. Fleming, vice president of the Coliseum trustees, at the groundbreaking ceremony.

The $3 million project took more than two years to complete and was dedicated on Sept. 28, 1952, in a ceremony that drew 10,000 people to the Coliseum to hear National Commander Lewis K. Gough of the American Legion talk about winning peace through strength in the Korean War.

The Komets have played at the Coliseum since 1952, and the Zollner Pistons played five seasons there before moving to Detroit.

It is currently the home of the Mad Ants as well as the venue for a variety of events including concerts, expos and the Vera Bradley Outlet Sale.

History Journal appears monthly in print with additional items weekly on The Journal Gazette's website. To comment on items or suggest dates and topics, contact Corey McMaken at 461-8475 or cmcmaken@jg.net.

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The following are stories that originally appeared in The Journal Gazette in 1952.

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"Program Listed For Dedication Rites At Coliseum; Great Lakes Band Coming" (Sept. 21)

The detailed program for the dedication of Allen County's $3,000,000 War Memorial Coliseum next Sunday afternoon was announced yesterday by Hugh Neeley, president of the Allen County Council of Veteran Organizations.

The ceremonies will begin at 2 p.m. with a parade of various marching unites, moving from the Zollner Stadium to the Coliseum. The dedication services proper will begin at 2:45 p.m.

One of the features of the program will be the appearance of the Great Lakes Naval Training Center band. The band will play patriotic music and service hymns during the dedication ceremonies.

The Aeolian choir, composed of General Electic Co. employees of the Decatur works, also will present several selections.

As previously announced, Lewis K. Gough, national commander of the American Legion, will make the principal address.

The parade route is from the Zollner Stadium, moving west on Springfield Avenue to St. Joe River Drive, thence to the Parnell Avenue bridge and north to the Coliseum proper.

H.M. Loomis is serving as parade chairman. Capt. Edgar Oetting, commandant of Concordia College military detachment, is serving as grand marshal, with Alfred Remy, past commander of Fort Wayne Post 47, as chief of staff. Melvin Heckman, past commander of that post, is the adjutant.

Special aides include Carl J. Suedhoff, also a past commander of American Legion Post 47, Sheriff Harold S. Zeis and Capt. Joseph Towns of the Police Traffic Division.

All commanders of the 24 veteran units in Allen County also will serve as aides, while Sylvester Yaney, commander of Lincoln Post 82, American Legion, will be a special aide in charge of posting colors.

Assisting Loomis will be James C. Smith, Frank Ross, Guy Amsden, Ervin Bengs, Fred Witte, Russell Harnish, Bartels Watson and Ernest Fabian.

High School bands from both the city and county schools are to participate in the parade as will the Shrine Patrol. Representatives of the 24 county veteran organizations will march in a body.

The maximum seating capacity – 10,500 – will be set up for the dedication services.

The official program follows:

Music by the U.S. Navy band.

Posting of colors by veterans organizations.

National Anthem, sung by Jule Doriot.

Presentation of Coliseum to Veterans Council for dedication by James R. Fleming, president of the Coliseum Board.

Invocation by the Rev. Herman A. Schoudel.

"America the Beautiful" by the Aeolian Choir.

Prayer of Thanksgiving by Myron Goldman.

Introduction of distinguished guests by George Kowalezyk, presiding.

Overture by the U.S. Navy Band.

Introduction of Lewis K. Gough, national commander of American Legion, by Carl Suedhoff.

Dedicatory address.

Prayer of Dedication by the Rev. George B. Wood.

Moment of silence.

Drum roll, rifle salute and taps.

"The Battle Hymn of the Republic" by the Aeolian Choir.

Benediction by the Rev. William A. Dansby.

Benediction response.

The Great Lakes Band is 53 strong and the fourth largest in that branch of service. Directing the band will be Bandmaster W. B. Kirschner, U.S.N.

Members of the band are among the busiest sailors at Great Lakes. In a single day the band may play march music in a parade, symphonic music in a concert, collegiate songs for an athletic event, and popular music for a recruit dance.

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"Coliseum – $3,000,000 Dream Come True" by Phil Nicar (Sept. 26)

The Allen County War Memorial Coliseum – a $3,000,000 dream come true – will be dedicated Sunday by the public in honor of its war dead.

The County Council of War Veterans, representing 24 posts of veterans' organizations will be in charge of the exercises, which will formally put the giant steel and concrete arena into operation.

It was eight years ago that the idea of an Allen County War Memorial Coliseum first received serious consideration.

On Feb. 16, 1944, at a typical directorate meeting of the Junior Chamber of Commerce, the idea first was proposed for a $3,000,000 all-purpose structure.

Since that date countless hours of planning and consultation have occupied the attention of those primarily interested in the erection of the beautiful Coliseum.

First of all, the Jaycees had to enlist popular interest in a Coliseum project. Without the support of the community no such gigantic county-financed undertaking was possible.

Don Myers, now the manager of the Coliseum, was named chairman on April 22, 1944, of a committee "appointed to promote interest in a fieldhouse."

Then came a proposal to promote the project as a "living World War II Memorial" with the public to determine exactly what kind of a memorial should be erected.

In August of that year the Jaycees conducted a survey in which more than 1,200 Fort Wayne and Allen County residents were contacted as to their views on the memorial project. Robert Punsky, as chairman of the survey committee, reported that the majority favored a combination auditorium and fieldhouse.

During the following six months Meyers and his committee worked day and night to arous interest among business and civic leaders.

This resulted in the establishment of a steering committee, the retention of F. Elwood Allen, a noted New York recreation expert, to conduct a survey in Fort Wayne as to the type of memorial most needed for this community.

The following year – on Feb. 25, 1946, to be exact – the Allen County Memorial Coliseum Commission was organized. Representing the Jaycees were Myers, Lavern Gelow, Ramon Perry, Paul Philips and Hilliard Gates. Representing the community were Otto H. Adams, Miller Ellingham, James R. Fleming, Miss Helene Foellinger, Walter Hayes, Harry Hogan, Donnelly P. McDonald Sr., Harold Mammoser, C.C. Oberly, and Carl Suedhoff.

This committee functioned until July 12, 1949. It met regularly and offered suggestions as to what should be embodied in a War Memorial Coliseum. The commission raised $5,000 to cover the cost of legal and technical advice. A state enactment was amended whereby the present Coliseum board of trustees was created.

And prior to 1946 when the question of coliseum was submitted to a referendum, the Jaycees carried on one of the most intensive educational campaigns conducted in Fort Wayne in years. The results at the polls attested to how hard they worked. The vote at the polls was 25,705 favorable to a coliseum and 5,720 opposed.

Others who assisted in promoting the project included Robert Gaskill, Walter E. Helmke, A.W. Kettler, C.V. Kimmell, Elmber Kolmerten, R.B. McClintock, Robert A. Reed, Ben Tenny, A.M. Strauss, Noble Schlatter, P.E. Henebry, Albert N. Smith, Melvin Curtis and others.

As completed the Coliseum is an all-purpose arena that will attract thousands each year for a variety of events. In the years to come it will be the scene of many conventions that will mean more money in Fort Wayne business tills; it will offer untold hours of entertainment when stage shows and stars of screen and radio appear; it will be a meeting place for our civic groups and for the artistic pursuits; and it will perhaps draw many of its largest crowds for its sports extravaganzas. It will be the home of the Zollner Pistons professional basketball team as well as home for the Fort Wayne Komets, the new professional hockey team.

Its ice will glimmer under the skates of the breathtaking "Holiday on Ice." Its sides will swell to the roar of fans during high school basketball tournaments.

It will house the ever-popular Allen County 4-H Fair and be the showplace for the businessmen's industrial exhibits.

It's vastness – 1,200 tons of steel and 13,000 yards of concrete – will never cease to be a wonder.

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"Crowds To Be Well Fed – Kinney Will See To That" (Sept. 26)

Crowds that throng into the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum this year will be well fed, if Bob Kinney, former Zollner Piston basketball star, has anything to say about it – which he will.

Kinney has the concessionaire contract for the huge structure, as of last August 14.

The big, genial fellow has been busy these fast few weeks getting the stoves hot, the refrigerators cold and his staff in the groove for a busy season.

When the season opens, his smartly-dressed vendors and stand clerks will be hawking his wares throughout the building. The girls will be uniformed in pale blue dresses, tea aprons and caps with white trim. The men will wear blue pants, jackets and overseas caps, also with white trim.

For a full house, Kinney estimates, he'll have some 70 employees on the job. These will include three on each of the 11 stands at convenient spots in the building, 35 vendors in the auditorium aisles, and three supervisors. Their numbers will vary, of course, with the size of the house and the event.

There will be four stands in the main hall, six on the mezzanine, and one in the lower exhibition hall. Kinney himself will operate out of the two commissary rooms in the main hall.

For a full house with full stomachs, he figures he'll keep the following quantities of food stuff and drink stuff on hand each night:

Coffee – Some 5,000 cups, each fresh at the turn of the coffeemaker spigot.

Soft drinks – Some 65 cases at each stand (24 bottles to a case) and 400 extra cases in the walk-in coolers in the commissary.

Hot dogs – About 400 dozen a night.

Peanuts – 5,000 bags

Popcorn – 4,000 boxes

Potato chips – 2,000 bags

Ice cream – 25 dozen bars at each stand, plus about 150 dozen in stock

Along with all that he'll have the usual cigarettes, cigars, candies and novelties and pennants appropriate to each occasion.

"Consumption will vary with each event," he said. "At times, we'll sell only during intermissions. Vendors can't cover the stands because they'll interrupt some things. At other times, like ball games, we'll be able to sell in the stand."

"The kind of audience also will make differences. Some draw more men than women, and their tastes, of course, will differ. The same goes for the children."

Kinney will be right at home at the 37 home games – plus play-offs – the Zollner Pistons have at the Coliseum, although his duties might prevent him from seeing as much of the actual games that he might like.

He played four seasons with the Pistons – from 1945 to 1948 – at the center position. Then he played two more seasons with the Boston Celtics.

Although he formed the Kinney Koncession Company only a little over two years ago, he's been at the bushiness for quite a while. (Incidentally, if you're wondering why he didn't go all the way and spell "Company" with a "K," too, he points out that the three letters "KKK" might get him confused with a less worthy organization.)

He hails from the deep heart of Texas – San Antonio – and started at the bottom of the business as a vendor in the grandstands of the Texas League Ball Park in San Antonio. He sold peanuts, popcorn and other sundries there for the Jacobs Brothers, nationwide concessionaires whose operations include big league ball parks, some 150 drive-in theaters, and similar enterprises.

After four years with them – 1935 to 1938 – he entered Rice Institute at Terre Haute, where he gained the basketball fame that caused the Pistons to draft him in 1945 after a three-year stint in the Navy. He studied business administration at Rice.

While with the Pistons, he handled concessions at the Zollner stadium during off-seasons for four years. He now has among his accounts the concessions for the General Electric Company.

Ironically, his main competitor for the Coliseum contract was no other than his former employers, the ones who started him in the game – the Jacobs Brothers.