It may not mean much of anything for the future of Portland’s Memorial Coliseum, but the 1960-opened glass-encased arena has garnered the city’s first-ever designation as a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
As this historical venue, which sits next door to the much newer Moda Center as part of Portland’s eastside Rose Quarter, struggles to survive and find a meaningful use, the 135,000-sq-ft Veterans Memorial Coliseum still has its supporters. Designed by architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the opening of the coliseum featured its own engineering intrigue with four columns supporting the window-clad arena, creating an open arena that set the tone for civic structures on the West Coast.
But that was 1960. In much more recent times, there’s not a clear picture of the purpose of the 12,000-seat venue, especially since options to tear down the venue have been discussed since 2009. Options for the future—which have sat virtually untouched with direction for decades—range from doing pretty much nothing extra with the deteriorating arena to choices on both extreme ends, such as a complete overhaul or even demolition. Those in favor of demolition have irked the historians, while those in favor of a complete overhaul have been unable to skip past the economic issue that has the arena losing money on an annual basis, even if it was brought to modern standards. And that says nothing of the debt that would come with a renovation.
The Friends of the Memorial Coliseum believe that the National Treasure distinction, which comes sans any extra protection, will give new rise to recapturing the mid-century building’s glory, its open-curtain configuration with a 360-degree view from the seats to the outside and an economic model that can make sense.
Already the coliseum hosts over 100 events per year, including hockey and graduations.
So as the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland sits awaiting a future, the venue’s past continues to get celebrated. This time as the city’s first and only National Treasure. Of course, not everyone can agree on exactly what a treasure is worth.
Follow Tim Newcomb on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.