How the Memorial Coliseum Was Built
The idea behind the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum began in 1944, when the Fort Wayne Junior Chamber of Commerce (now known as the Jaycees) began discussing a proposal "to undertake a project to build a field house in Fort Wayne and dedicate it as a war memorial." Then, buildings in the area were too small to house larger community functions such as sports events and concerts.
The Jaycees, and their wives, worked hard to to garner public support for the project by passing out handbills door to door and distributing buttons to schoolchildren that read "We Want the War Memorial Coliseum." As the country was involved in World War II, the idea of a permanent memorial to Allen County's war heroes appealed to many residents. A county-wide referendum on the Memorial Coliseum passed, despite the $3 million price tag, which was considered a huge sum.
The Allen County commissioners started by purchasing the site - a prime piece of real estate at California Road and Parnell Avenue, near two farms, Johnny Appleseed Park and highway US 30 being constructed nearby (now Coliseum Boulevard). After securing needed financing through a bond issue, the commissioners broke ground for the project in January 1950. Upon completion in September 1952, a dedication ceremony was held, with 24 area veterans' organizations and 10,000 people attending.
History was Made in These Halls
The Memorial Coliseum quickly became the site of major professional and amateur sporting events, circuses, ice skating shows, religious gatherings, political rallies, civic and school events and patriotic observances. In many ways, it reflected the heart and soul of the community through the events that it hosted.
Here's just a sampling of the events that have happened at the Memorial Coliseum:
- The Fort Wayne Komets hockey team started playing at the Memorial Coliseum in 1952. They have won TEN championships through the years, with the most recent being the 2021 Kelly Cup from the ECHL.
- The Zollner Pistons, Fort Wayne's first pro basketball team, had been playing in the North Side High School gym, but moved to the Memorial Coliseum in 1952. They played five seasons here before moving to Detroit in 1957.
- The National Basketball Association (NBA) played their All-Star game at the Memorial Coliseum in 1953 to a sell-out crowd of 10,322 fans. The West team, led by three hometown Pistons, beat the East team, 79-75.
- Hoosier Hysteria reached fever peak when high school basketball semi-state tournaments were held at the Memorial Coliseum from 1953-1998. Capacity crowds packed the seats, and many camped out hoping to get tickets.
- Many entertainment legends have appeared at the Memorial Coliseum over the years, including Bob Hope, Liberace, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Cash, the Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac, Bob Dylan, Aerosmith, Elton John, KISS, Bob Seeger and Paul McCartney and others.
- During the catastrophic flood of 1982, which put Fort Wayne on the national map, the Memorial Coliseum served as a shelter and command post for relief efforts. Many volunteers helped sandbagging efforts and many young people who helped, received free tickets to hear Indiana's own John Mellencamp.
- President Harry S. Truman gave a speech at the Memorial Coliseum in 1958, but he wasn't the only President to appear here - Richard Nixon spoke in 1970, Gerald Ford in 1976 and Ronald Reagan in 1978. Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin visited in 2008. Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson visited for a rally in 2016. President Donald J. Trump visited for rallies in 2016, as a candidate, and again in 2018.
- The biggest convention ever held at the Memorial Coliseum was the 25th annual Wing Ding meeting of the Gold Wing Rider's Association in July 2002, which pumped an estimated $8 million into the local economy.
- The Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBA Developmental League, won their first championship in 2014 in their 7th year of existence, sweeping the six game playoff schedule.
Growth and Renewal
In the 1980s, a new convention hall was proposed as an addition to the original arena. The idea was to increase the floor space of the Memorial Coliseum, thereby making it more marketable. In May 1989, the 108,000 square foot Exposition Center was built, adding flexible space for trade shows, as well as several smaller banquet and meeting rooms. This project included the construction of the new entrance rotunda to serve the Expo Center and Arena.
In 2001, a major renovation was initiated to expand the Memorial Coliseum Arena and modernize the facility to keep pace with the times. As part of the project, the Coliseum's 1,200 ton roof was slowly raised 41 feet, 10 inches - one of the largest projects of its type. The renovated, state-of-the-art Arena now holds nearly 13,000 with more comfortable seats, 24 luxury suites and greater accessibility for guests with disabilities.
In 2015, the Conference Center was added to the south end of the Expo Center, adding an additional 27,155 square feet of high-tech, luxurious and multi-purpose event space and nearly 20,000 square feet of pre-function space. The addition of the Conference Center to the complex, makes the Memorial Coliseum the second largest public assembly facility in the state of Indiana, with more than one million square feet under roof.
Today, the Memorial Coliseum serves the tri-state area as a focal point for family entertainment, arts and culture, sports and community gatherings. It draws visitors from all over the Midwest and has earned its reputation as one of the most successful facilities in the country.