Written by Krista Schreiner Gebbia
As preservationists, we believe the reuse of historic resources is a key component in a healthy community. When faced with a potential demolition, we give all the arguments: demolition is wasteful, the architecture is significant, preserving the building retains a link to heritage for future generations, preservation makes good economic sense, and so on. In the case of the 1954 Corpus Christi Memorial Coliseum, none of those arguments have convinced the mayor and the majority of the city council that preservation was the right decision.
Both the architect and the architecture of the Coliseum are impressive. In 1952, Richard S. Colley (1910-1983) designed a Civic Center complex that included the Coliseum, Exposition Hall, and City Hall on Corpus Christi Bay. In the late 1980s, the Exposition Hall and the City Hall were demolished after the buildings were vacated. The coliseum’s defining feature, its curved roof, contains 260 tons of structural steel in a lamella space frame. Colley was a prolific and innovative architect in Corpus Christi starting in 1936 and until his death in 1983 and his work was often noted in Progressive Architecture. He collaborated with O’Neil Ford (1905-1982) on several occasions before they completed the Texas Instruments Semiconductor Components Plant No. 1, Dallas, in 1958.
Local politics always play a role. In 2004, American Bank Center was constructed about a mile north of the Coliseum along the Bay and the Coliseum was closed. There was a public debate over the future of the waterfront and the future of the Coliseum. Residents spoke out but the city council never made a decision.
The city solicited bids for redevelopment with private entities but negotiations fell through several times. Recently, local architect George E. Clower, AIA, designed a compromise to retain the innovate roof and initially received a favorable response from the city council. In the end, the council voted on February 23, 2010 to demolish the building.
It will cost the city at least a million dollars to demolish the Coliseum and create a vacant lot with no plans for the future use of site. The loss of this structure will have a profound impact on the city and its bayfront. Stay tuned, however, for there some last moves afoot.
Please join supporters at a rally in support of the Coliseum this Saturday, March 6. Visit the event page on Facebook for more information.
Krista Schreiner Gebbia is the executive director of Preservation Texas. She would like to extend thanks to Carol Wood, historian, and George E. Clower, AIA and Monica Penick, architectural historian, for much of the history provided in this post.
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