Mark Byrnes is a former senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
A new video makes a case for preserving the elegant, low-key piece of modernism.
The Portland Trail Blazers’ 2015-2016 season is still months away, but there is no off-season for saving the team’s first home, the Memorial Coliseum.
The 55-year-old modernist arena has been facing an uncertain future since the Rose Garden (now known as Moda Center) opened next door and became the new home of the city’s NBA team in 1995. Brian Libby and Stuart Emmons, co-founders of the advocacy group Friends of Memorial Coliseum, have a new video that they hope will pressure the city into fully restoring it.
Designed by Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, the glass box just east of the Willamette River stands as an elegant, low-key piece of mid-century architecture. And in an era where new pro sports venues bend over backwards for their wealthiest ticket holders, it’s an important reminder that team owners used to be just fine with egalitarian seating arrangements.
“The entire building is standing on just four columns, which still kind of blows my mind,” notes Libby in the video. “The building doesn’t have luxury boxes,” says Emmons, “It doesn’t have different levels. Everybody comes out onto the concourse.”
Friends of Memorial Coliseum was formed in 2009 when the city considered demolishing the venue for a new baseball stadium. That effort failed and the arena remains in use today for the occasional concert (Slipknot, October 22!) and minor league hockey game. But for Libby and Emmons, that’s not enough. “We don’t really feel like the building will be completely saved until it’s restored,” says Libby.
Current estimates for redeveloping the arena range from $37 million to $89 million. The city’s urban-renewal agency, however, only has $23.3 million budgeted for it. In the next few months, Portland’s city council will decide on what level of reinvestment it can afford for the arena—or, despite being listed on the National Register of Historic Places, whether it should be demolished.
“We still need as much help as we can get,” says Libby.