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Save Uline Arena From Progress & Wrecking Ball?

WASHINGTON, DC (CelebrityAccess MediaWire) — A District of Columbia venue that once housed the bouts of fighters like Rocky Marciano, Jimmy Bivins and Fred Apostoli is the subject of a preservation debate. Richard Layman, a Washingtonian, will soon ask the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Broad to grant historic designation to the former Uline Arena, the Washington City Paper recently reported.

This building is located on Third Street, NE, directly adjacent to the railroad tracks just north of Union Station and bounded by L and M Streets. It was built in 1941 and operated by Miguel L. “Uncle Mike” Uline for the Washington Lions of the Eastern Hockey League. The building would seat 9,000 people. This concrete vaulted building was the site of the Beatles first North American performance (before the Ed Sullivan Show) and also noted as the home of Go-Go music where local musicians such as Chuck Brown, Trouble Funk and Rare Essence performed. Political rallies and speeches were a tradition in the Arena including a rally stated by Fight for Freedom, Inc. in support of the US involvement in WWII a month before Pearl Harbor and a speech by Nation of Islam Founder Elijah Muhammad in 1959. Since its construction in 1941, the arena later known as the Washington Coliseum, has been a place for figure skating, jazz, wrestling, ballet, basketball, Washington’s Go-Go music style, midget auto racing, rock, hockey, karate, politics, tennis, boxing and Indian ragas.

What is the threat? Currently, the building is used as a trash transfer station. In 2002 a DC statute established a 500-foot buffer zone between a transfer station and the nearest residential property – more than twice the distance between the Uline site and the nearest residential property, according to public records. Also, city officials are focusing on the nearby area as a possible site for a Major League Baseball stadium.

The Uline certainly held enough historic events to warrant historic designation. From The Beatles playing their first U.S. show there on February 11, 1964, when the building was known as the Washington Coliseum. The venue also housed D.C.’s first professional basketball and hockey teams: the Washington Lions of the Eastern Hockey League, and the Washington Capitols of the Basketball Association of America. The Capitols were coached by the late Red Auerbach from 1946 to 1949.

Layman also cites the building’s unique architecture as part of the reason for his pursuit of the Uline’s preservation.

“Uline is special, architecturally,” said Layman. “It used a particular German process, where the ribs on top of the building provide the structural integrity. That meant there are no columns, giving it an unobstructed view because of that construction. I’ve been in arenas or stadiums, such as Tiger Stadium, where you have obstructed views.”

The arena also housed many boxing matches, including Rocky Marciano’s first fight outside of the New England area on September 30, 1948. In that bout, Marciano knocked out Gilbert Cardone in the first round.

Boxing historian Bert Sugar and Washington, D.C., native Bert Sugar attended events at the Uline as a child. However, he does not feel that the building needs to be saved.

“The memories are still there, and that’s more important than having the building,” Sugar told the City Paper. “They didn’t save Griffith Stadium. They didn’t save Boston Garden. Now they’re tearing down Yankee Stadium. But people want to save Uline Arena, for chrissakes? And that’s coming from a kid raised in Washington.”

Layman goes before the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board this week.