Chicago Coliseum

Chicago Coliseum

Address Wabash between 16th and 17th Streets
Chicago, IL 60605
Phone (312) 733-5300
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  The Facility  
Date Built 1897
Date Demolished 1983
City of Chicago
(City of Chicago)
Cost of Construction Unknown
  Other Facts  
Former Tenants Chicago Blackhawks
(NHL) 1926-1929
Chicago Bulls
(NBA) 1967
Capacity 6,000
On Site Parking Unknown
Nearest Airport Unknown
Sources: Mediaventures

The Coliseum was originally built as a Civil War prison in Richmond, Virginia, the capitol of the Confederacy.  During the 1880's, 200,000 stones were marked, shipped and reassembled in Chicago as a Civil War Museum.  In the 1890's it was  reconstructed as the Coliseum, the scene of many national political conventions. In 1908, future President William Taft was nominated there.  Although it was succeeded later by the Chicago Stadium and the Amphitheater, up until the 1920's, this was the place in Chicago.  It continued in operation until the early 1970's. Also, the 1967 Chicago Bulls played there.

The Coliseum on South Wabash provided a convenient site for all kinds of large civic affairs. Throughout the country it was famous because both political parties had chosen it many times for national conventions.   But Chicagoans knew it best at this time as the site of the notorious annual First Ward balls staged by the amiable and corrupt "bosses" of the central city - "Hinky Dink Kenna and John "The Bath" Coughlin - to raise money for the democratic organization.  On these joyous occasions, the city's political swells mixed with hoi polloi at the levee, and thousands would frolic far into the night.   In 1908 one reporter counted two bands, two hundred waiters, one hundred policemen, 35,000 quarts of beer and 10,000 quarts of champagne.  All of this was easily consumed before the hosts "sent for reinforcements."  "It's a lollapalooza," said Hinky Dink with measured understatement.  "All the business houses are here, all the big people.  Chicago ain't no sissy town."   Not many other places could have handled the crowds so easily, and perhaps no other townspeople could handle the refreshments so comfortably.

On June 12, 2003 wrote: For your information: it was a few blocks west of where soldier's field stands today on Wabash between 16th and 17th streets. I know it was built in 1897 and survived until at least 1940. The reason the hawks vacated the coliseum and moved to the chicago stadium in 1929 was because the coliseum only sat 6,000 and the coliseum couldnt make artificial ice and was dependent upon cold weather for ice to be made. During those 3 seasons the hawks were forced to play some of their home games in alternate cities due to the warm winters of the late 1920s. I saw that your website didnt have any pictures of the chicago coliseum.

On August 31, 2005 Eric L. of Chicago, Illinois wrote: Hello, This is a wonderful site. I especially love the pictures and interesting facts on old arenas, ballparks, stadiums...

I just wanted to contribute a bit of history I learned on television last night.

The Chicago Coliseum was mentioned during an episode of Chicago Tonight with Bob Sirott. They periodically run a segment that has 5-10 minute features called Chicago Stories with John Calloway, the retired ex-host of Chicago Tonight. Last night (8/30/05) they ran a small segment on Charles Gunther. He was a Chicago candy shop owner (Michigan avenue shop) among his many pursuits...and apparently at the shop he had a collection of Civil War era memorabilia located upstairs that guests would frequently visit. Mr. Gunther became quite an important historical collector...among his items are reportedly the Lincoln death bed and various bloodied garments worn the night of Lincoln's assasination. Supposedly there was even an actual hair fiber from Lincoln as well.

Mr. Gunther seized an opportunity to purchase the infamous Confederate war prison: Libby Prison (Virginia), have is disassembled and brought to Chicago where it was reassembled as the Libby Prison Civil War museum and it housed the above mentioned Lincoln items. At its height of popularity in the early 1890s the museum hosted Civil War tours run by ex-civil war veterans. In 1893 Chicago hosted the Columbian Exposition and that brought the museum more fame. After the turn of the century the war enthusiasm waned and Gunther who eventually became a city alderman would die. The Lincoln and other Civil War memorabilia would be acquired by the Chicago Historical Society. As for Libby Prison it would be renovated and the insides would become the Chicago Coliseum. Essentially Libby Prison was the facade of the Chicago Coliseum. It lasted until 1983 when it was demolished, but in it's lifespan 6 presidential candidates were nominated there and it even had Jimi Hendrix and The Doors perform concerts there. It was also the first home of the Chicago Blackhawk franchise.

As for the Lincoln memorabilia there was a vague mention of possible DNA testing to authenticate it since Mr. Gunther was apparently not the most scrupulous authenticator of his collection.

I hope this was of use or interest and I look forward to the additions you add as new facilities are added throughout sports.

On August 2, 2007 R'Mel Cornelious wrote: I just wanted to to throw in my two cents about the Coliseum. I believe as recently as the late 1990's a part of the Coliseum's wall stood. If you look on this picture it is the wall on the right with the single narrow turret tower. It was a regular and common sight to south siders like me on their way downtown. I believe that I read somewhere that the stones that were left were placed in the Coliseum Park directly across the street from where the original building stood. R'Mel Cornelious a true southsider!!!

On February 11, 2008 Richard McKinley wrote: It was not just Jimi Hendrix and the Doors that played at the Chicago Coliseum. I saw the Grateful Dead there on the Friday after Thanksgiving, November 27, 1970. At that time, they were calling the venue "The Syndrome", at least for rock concerts, though the Coliseum name was clearly visible outside.  

The Dead were warmed up by the New Riders of the Purple Sage. Jerry Garcia sat in with the New Riders during their set before the Grateful Dead took the stage. The New Riders opened with "I Don't Know You" and the Dead opened with "I Know You Rider". Given the fact that this was a Dead concert, I am a bit surprised I remember that much. I almost went the Jimi Hendrix show also, but I was unable to get tickets. That was on Thanksgiving weekend as well, but in 1968, and on a Sunday. They were not using "The Syndrome" name for the Coliseum at that time.  

I don't remember an upper deck like the one shown in some of the vintage photos I have seen. Maybe it was closed, or had been removed, due to structural safety concerns. Frankly, I thought the place looked to be in very poor condition. Most of the audience was on the floor with "festival-style" seating, i.e., no chairs. My group (there were six of us) boosted ourselves up a wall on the right side (as facing the stage) to some sort of press box-type thing that had room for 2 rows of seats, except with no seats. Maybe the upper deck I have seen in old photos was above that.  

About the note on your web site, I know for a fact that during the 1966-1967 season (the Bulls' first in the NBA, by the way) they played their home games at the International Amphitheatre. The Bulls did in fact play just one NBA first round playoff game there (against the then St. Louis Hawks), no other venue being available (and the expansion Bulls making the playoffs in their first season being a total surprise to virtually everyone). Maybe they had to play a additional game or two at the Coliseum that year because the McCormick Place burned down in late January, forcing the annual Chicago Auto show to relocate to the Amphitheatre. I suppose that it would have been impossible to switch over to any Bulls home games at night during the time that Auto Show was there, so maybe they played a couple of games at the Coliseum during that time. I think it is just as likely, if they had to move a few games, that they played them at the Chicago Stadium (where in fact UCLA played a game with Lew Alcindor during the great Chicago Blizzard just a week before).  

The Coliseum also hosted the first major indoor football game under lights when the University of Wisconsin played the Carlisle Indians, but that was supposed to be in 1896, so maybe it was the first Coliseum (at 63rd and Stony Island), since the better known Coliseum on Halsted supposedly did not open until 1899. Historical references make no distinction between the two buildings that had the same name. Wisconsin lost, by the way.

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