Sunday, November 6, 2016

Sentimental Sunday: Memorial Coliseum, Corpus Christi, Texas, Then (1979-85) and Now (2016)

My husband and I made a couple visits to Corpus Christi, Texas, this past summer, which was our stomping grounds from 1974 to 1985 (for him) and 1979 to 1984 (for me). My husband also spent some time in his childhood in the 1940s in Corpus Christi (his parents, like us, married there), and both of us have ancestral and collateral relatives who lived here in the late 1800s and first half of the 20th century.

During the time I lived there, I didn't think to take pictures of some of the places I saw frequently. I guess I thought those buildings would always be the same. Naturally, that was not the case.

Luckily, others did take pictures.  One was Jay Phagan, who was a news photographer / cameraman for KIII-TV in Corpus Christi in the late 1970s.  He has posted a number of pictures at of Corpus Christi from the late 1970s and early 1980s, and kindly allows them to be used under a Creative Commons attribution license.

Another was Kenneth L. Anthony, who worked for a local television station for 32 years, from 1966 to 2002. He donated many of his photographs to Texas A&M - Corpus Christi, where I obtained an MBA in 1983 (back when it was called Corpus Christi State University). He donated 1,250 of his images to the university library's special collections in 2010. Both the library and Mr. Anthony gave me permission to use some of his images in my blog, for which I am very grateful.

Today's feature is the Memorial Coliseum in Corpus Christi.  This is a building my husband and I passed by every day going to and from work (at various City government offices).  I did catch parts of it in a couple black-and-white photos in 1981 when shooting film as part of my duties with the City's Information Services office.  Here's a color photo that Jay Phagan took in August 1979 of the east side of the building, shot from the breakwater:

Below: Aerial view of city [of Corpus Christi] looking northwest from [Corpus Christi] bay, ca. 1984. (Dated by construction of Corpus Christi Central Library building.)  Professional photograph by unidentified photographer furnished to KZTV-10 for use in advertising.  Kenneth L. Anthony Photographic Collection, Item 212-118. Special Collections and Archives, Mary and Jeff Bell Library, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.  Used with permission of Kenneth L. Anthony.  
Click on the photo to enlarge it. 

In the aerial photo above, the coliseum is the large white-roofed building along the shoreline on the lower left, where the breakwater connects to the seawall.  Below is a detail enlargement from the above photo, which also shows the flat, dark roof of the adjacent Exposition Hall just to its north (to the right in the photo below).  One of the Coliseum's parking areas also shows in the photo below, and at the lower left corner, you can just barely make out (when you click on the photo to see a larger version) the helicopter of the Army Aviation Association of America memorial that I wrote about in an earlier post.

Above:  Detail from the aerial view of city looking northwest from bay, ca. 1984, of the Memorial Coliseum and Exposition Hall. Kenneth L. Anthony Photographic Collection, Item 212-118 (detail). Special Collections and Archives, Mary and Jeff Bell Library, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.  Used with permission of Kenneth L. Anthony.  Click on the photo to enlarge it.

Below:  detail from an aerial photo of the Memorial Coliseum and Exposition Hall, given to my husband before he left the city in late August, 1985.  The Exposition Hall was demolished that summer, but another part of the photo shows the framework of the new Corpus Christi Central Library (ground broken September 1984),so the photograph was taken in that period.

Memorial Coliseum has an interesting history.  The devastating 1919 hurricane highlighted the need for a seawall, and the project began December 31, 1938. Completed in three phases, it included construction of a two-mile seawall, a new marina, dredging and infill that created 19 blocks of downtown waterfront, and the two‐lane Shoreline Boulevard.  They were opened March 29, 1941.

As can be seen in the 1979 map below, the southern part of these 19 blocks was later designated for a Civic Center Complex, to include an auditorium, exposition hall, a new City Hall, and two parks (Sherrill Park to the north, and McGaughan Park to the south).  Richard Colley, an architect who was formerly planning director for the city, designed the three buildings.  The local chapter of Gold Star Mothers raised funds and got the City Council to agree to dedicate the new auditorium to the nearly 400 service men and women from Nueces County who had died in World War II.  The building was completed and dedicated in late September, 1954, during the Gold Star Mothers state convention. They unveiled a memorial plaque with the names of those who died during the war.  By January 1956, the award-winning building was officially called the Memorial Coliseum.  Although originally designed without air-conditioning (louvered windows on the east side and exhaust fans on the west side pulled sea air through), it was added in 1959.

Above:  image from the map I bought when I moved to Corpus Christi in 1979.  The Civic Center Complex is the large green area at the bottom of the map (click on this image to enlarge it).

Below:  The site of the Memorial Coliseum and Exposition Hall as of June 18, 2016, looking southwest from the intersection of Shoreline Boulevard and the parking lot shared by the Coliseum, Exposition Hall, and the former City Hall (click on the image to enlarge it).

During the time my husband and I lived in Corpus Christi, the building was still heavily used, although not so much for conventions and performances any more, with the opening of the Bayfront Plaza Auditorium and Convention Center in 1979 and 1981 respectively.  Like those buildings, I was never actually inside the Memorial Coliseum or Exposition Hall, although I did take a black-and-white photograph of the World War II memorial plaque in 1981 (pictured below).

In July 1984, the Exposition Hall roof had structural problems, and the building was closed by then-City Manager Ed Martin as unsafe.  The City demolished the building in the summer of 1985.  Memorial Coliseum was closed in October 2004 after a new arena was completed in the Bayfront Plaza area.  After much debate about its future, the Coliseum was demolished in 2010.

Above:  World War II memorial plaque outside Memorial Coliseum, Corpus Christi, 1981.

Below:  World War II memorial plaque new location in Sherrill Park, Corpus Christi, June 18, 2016.

The World War II memorial plaque was removed from the Coliseum in August 2008 and put in storage, then displayed at the new City Hall beginning in September 2009.  As the Coliseum was demolished, the city requested that bricks be saved, and planning began for a new location for the memorial.  CPL Retail Energy donated $15,000 to construct a new setting for the Memorial in Sherrill Park, and the new site was dedicated in May 2011.

My post tomorrow will include a color photographs of the memorial and a list of all 399 names on the plaque for The Honor Roll Project.

© Amanda Pape - 2016 - click here to e-mail me.

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