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New Haven Coliseum 50th Anniversary with Rich Hanley

September 29 @ 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm

Virtual Event

To many baby boomers, the former New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum represents the glory days: From Aerosmith to ZZ Top, and even Elvis, the Elm City hosted some of the biggest names of the 70s, 80s and 90s, along with minor-league hockey, monster-truck pulls and professional wrestling. The New Haven Museum will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Coliseum’s first event—a hockey game, on Sept. 27, 1972—with a virtual lecture by Quinnipiac University Associate Professor Richard Hanley. Register here:

Hanley will discuss how the Coliseum, which was demolished in 2007, became more than an entertainment venue. He notes it became a “cultural capitol” to many boomers and stood long enough for them to share their experiences with their children. He summarizes, “In short, the Coliseum mirrored the rise and demise of baby boomers as a cultural force in the region.”

While researching the topic for his 2010 documentary “Last Days of the Coliseum,” Hanley discovered the building’s history went beyond merely concerts and hockey. “The Coliseum was the final piece of the late mayor Richard C. Lee’s dream of a revitalized city,” Hanley says. “And, like other projects, it didn’t work.” He explains that the middle class Lee wanted to attract to New Haven did show up for events, but then left. Ironically, Hanley says, the Coliseum’s architect, Kevin Roche, predicted this when he designed it, noting that the building needed to be part of a larger entertainment district.

Bureaucratic maneuverings aside, those who attended Coliseum events loved it for what it was and have fond memories of what took place there, notes Hanley. “The Coliseum is both a failure and a success, which pretty much defines the nature of the baby-boom generation.”

During his lecture, Hanley will share some lesser-known tales of the Coliseum, including the fact that the building was never completed to the original design, which included a glass-enclosed exhibition hall. “The city ran out of money during construction and cut that piece out, making the building appear more Brutalist than Roche planned,” says Hanley. Other tidbits include the filming of Van Halen’s concert video “Live Without a Net” and a fall by Tommy Lee of Motley Crue while cables raised him to the roof with his drum kit in 1990.

From a personal perspective, Hanley notes he saw many a Coliseum show for free while writing for the University of New Haven newspaper. While his favorite performance was by Bob Dylan, in 1975, his memory of the 1978 Bruce Springsteen show includes a front-row view and being asked by guitarist Steven Van Zandt to help with crowd control.

Hanley’s documentary “Last Days of the Coliseum” was nominated for an Emmy Award. The two-hour film is slated to air on CPTV that same evening (September 27) at 9:30 p.m.

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