March 12, 1995 in Sports

House Of Memories House Of Memories For Many, Coliseum Will Remain

Dan Weaver Staff Writer
 

Gus Johnson’s dunk, Doug Spradley’s pass, Doug Way’s desperation shot, the dark circles under Olga Korbut’s eyes.

Camping outside the ticket window. Patrice Munsel. Hulk Hogan. Mike Boesel’s incredible putback from the baseline.

Keith Dyk setting the standard for playing hurt.

Lawrence Welk, Bill Haley and the Comets, Ray Thacker, Jud Heathcote and between them an official, Bobo Brayton - a future legend standing between coaching giants.

They’re part of four decades in the Spokane Coliseum, the building that Life magazine once cited for its “dazzling efficient modern equipment equaled by few other halls on earth.”

That was Life on Jan. 10, 1955, when the decaying eyesore now known as the Boone Street Barn was a young monument to civic cooperation.

Spokane put up this combination sports arena, concert hall, convention center and town meeting place on donated land for a modest $2.5 million.

It opened to unanimous acclaim.

When Gonzaga University beat Whitworth 70-60 in the Coliseum’s first basketball game before 7,100 on Thursday night, Dec. 9, 1954, Whitworth coach Art Smith said, “It’s a wonderful place. I’m just sorry the ballclub didn’t look as good as the surroundings.”

This bargain of a building fulfilled its heady promises of the 1950s. When it goes down next month, it takes a distinguished record of service with it.

The building is about to make way for a parking lot. It’s the last function of a functional facility.

The Coliseum (1954-1995) is survived by the memories.

Henry and Murthe Winkey were in the tuxand-gown grand march led by opera star Patrice Munsel on Dec. 3, 1954, when the Coliseum opened with a Friday night dedication ceremony. Munsel performed with the Spokane Philharmonic Orchestra, followed by a Dedication Ball.

“It was a festive evening,” Winkey said. “The Coliseum was a wonderful addition to Spokane, before Spokane outgrew it.”

In the 40 years it took the region to outgrow it, the Coliseum was the region’s capitol of activity.

As chairman of the city’s Sports, Entertainment, Arts and Convention Advisory Board (SEACAB), Ed Clark stands alone.

“I’m the first chairman to lose a building,” he said.

Clark was camped outside the Coliseum the night tickets when on sale for the 1970 Spokane Jets Allan Cup series opener with the Orillia (Ontario) Terriers.

It was Saturday night, April 25, 1970.

“I’d heard about people spending the night in front of a ticket office, but I never thought I’d be one of them,” Clark said. “We brought blankets and food, hoping we were in front of the right ticket booth. We weren’t sure which one they’d open.”

Clark and friends showed up at 8.

“As the night went on, the line grew,” he said, “especially after the taverns closed. It got cold. By the time the sun came up, hundreds of people were in line.”

Too excited to sleep, Clark bought the maximum allotment of 10 tickets, checked out for a nap and was back for the Sunday night opener.

The triumph of the ‘70 Jets, who won the series four games to two, was the overwhelming choice as the No. 1 event in Coliseum history among readers who called The Spokesman-Review’s Reader Response Line.

“It was kind of semipro hockey, but it’s the closest I’ve been to a huge playoff event,” Clark said. “We got to know the people in line around us. By morning, there were a whole bunch of new faces - people who had eased up in line - but I don’t remember any police protection. Now, you’d probably need that.”

Jim Buckley, a retired teacher, remembers the explosive response to the Jets’ first goal of the series.

“When Don Scherza scored for Spokane, it was the loudest noise ever made by a crowd in the Coliseum,” Buckley said. “The noise had to scare the hell out of the workers in the concession stands.”

Skip Barron remembers a Coliseum full of kids and their parents pushing up the decibel level a decade ago.

“Hulk Hogan, one of pro wrestling’s megastars, was here and I took my son, who was 10 or 11,” Barron said. “All my years of going to the Coliseum, I never ever heard it that loud, when Hulk put his hand to his ear, asking the kids to yell. It was ear-shattering. To me, it’s got to take the cake. It almost gave me a headache.”

As a child, Paul McCathren saw midget race cars with his dad.

“I remember those midgets spraying dirt and dust everywhere,” McCathren said. “The Coliseum was filled with fumes and smoke. It was real exciting.”

Rocky McQueen was taking in a boxing match with his dad in the ‘60s when a gas main blew “downtown somewhere.

“It cracked walls and sent everybody home halfway through the match,” McQueen said.

Eileen Bakken remembers “Olga Korbut was so tiny, with this tired, enormous smile and the biggest, blackest dark circles under her eyes.

“I can imagine the pressure this young person was under, yet her performance was fantastic,” Bakken said.

To Penny Mathison, the Coliseum will always be a summer night with Bill Haley and the Comets.

“It was June 27, 1956. I was 15. He played ‘Rock Around the Clock’ and all those old good ones. Kids nowadays carry on. Back then, we did the same thing.”

Mathison was seated at floor level but didn’t use the chair much. She stood while Haley - the trademark curl slumped over the high forehead - pounded out pioneer rock and roll. “I thought I was in Seventh Heaven. Nothing compared with that night.”

True to its multipurpose dimension, the Coliseum wasn’t all sports and noise. The sound was mellow the night Lawrence Welk, Mr. Music Man to millions in the 1950s - Clay Ensminger among them - came to town.

“When we finally got around to getting tickets, I thought we’d have to take our chances on where we sat,” Ensminger said. “The Coliseum was filled. Turns out they put us up on the stage with the show.

“My wife, Belle, danced with Lawrence. I danced with Alice Lon, the Champagne Lady. Alice was very good, but my wife always said I could dance with anybody because I had rhythm in my heart.”

It didn’t have to be a live event to incite a Coliseum crowd.

Chuck Anderson was there for the 1955 Archie MooreRocky Marciano heavyweight title fight. Before pay-forview, closed-circuit TV brought big fights to towns small and large.

“It was the first time they used a big screen on the stage and the place was packed,” Anderson said. “It was a huge, beautiful picture, and when Moore knocked Marciano down in the second, the place erupted.

“Moore was the classic boxer you don’t see today and he subjected Marciano to some physical punishment. Of course, Marciano - who was the greatest - retaliated. He beat on Moore’s arms so hard that eventually the arms just caved in.

“The picture they used for fights later was never as good as that first one,” Anderson said. “They went to smaller screens.”

When Archie Moore was in Spokane years later for a U.S.-USSR fight card, Anderson approached the former light-heavyweight champion.

“I wanted to recognize Moore, make him feel good,” Anderson said. “I saw (Joe) Louis in the service. He fought in Ireland for the troops. Much later, when he was a greeter at Caeser’s Palace in Las Vegas, I thanked Louis when I was down there for the pleasure he had given me when I was in the service.

“You could see his face beam. Archie Moore was the same way in the Coliseum.”

Like Moore, the Old Mongoose, the Coliseum is past its prime.

“I can’t wait to see that old place go down,” Marty Fernandez said. “People have stayed away from events because of that building. Some people wanted to keep it. I think they need their heads examined.”

But in bidding the Coliseum good riddance, Fernandez cites a memory.

“The night in December 1993 that WSU played Alabama was memorable,” he said. “It was a thrill to see the Coliseum sold out for Cougars basketball. When Iowa and USC had come in to play Gonzaga, the Coliseum was like half-empty. I remember the Iowa-Gonzaga game was televised back to Iowa City. I was embarrassed by the attendance.

“With our checkered past, I expected the WSUAlabama game to be the same thing. To see it sold out with people still lined up outside the Coliseum was a thrill.”

An earlier Cougars appearance in the Coliseum elicited a different reaction from John Preston, director of athletic development at Gonzaga University.

“WSU and Gonzaga played every year in the Coliseum for 10 years, until 1983, and WSU won all 10 games,” Preston said. “The last one was a heartbreaker from a GU perspective. It was December ‘83. John (Stockton) kind of carried the team up by a point late in the game. They had a great shooter from McMinnville, Ore., Chris Winkler, who made a perimeter jumper to win it.”

Preston marveled at arguably the finest pass launched in a Coliseum basketball game. Again it involved the Cougs and the Zags, with a twist. Gonzaga won.

“The day after Thanksgiving, 1988, Gonzaga and Washington State played for the last time in men’s basketball,” Preston said. “Doug Spradley’s long bounce pass to Jim McPhee with time running out led to the tying points, and McPhee’s subsequent foul shot won it for the Bulldogs.”

Gonzaga coach and athletic director Dan Fitzgerald saluted an overachieving Zags team for providing his Coliseum moments.

“We lost in double overtime to Washington State when they had Stu House, James Donaldson and (Don) Collins,” Fitzgerald said of the ‘78-79 Zags. “That was an incredible effort. The next night, we lost to a very good Oregon State team by one. It was an amazing week. We played great.”

Ray Kranches recalls seeing the Idaho Vandals with Gus Johnson running and dunking like Kranches had never seen before or since.

“He almost shattered the backboard,” Kranches said.

Of the dozens of State B Tournament games in the Coliseum that came up on the Reader Comment Line, none was nominated as often as the Brewster Bears’ 1985 win over Ritzville.

Brady LaMotte cited Boesel’s last-second shot that decided the championship.

“Boesel’s buzzer-beater,” LaMotte calls it.

“Ritzville led by one when Brewster put up a shot and missed,” he recalled. “The ball bounced out over the baseline, Boesel grabbed it, threw it up and it went in as time ran out. It gave Brewster the state championship.

“I was 14. I didn’t think there was enough time left, but there was Boesel throwing it up and in and the Brewster people going crazy.

“I was sitting close to the Ritzville bench. Mike Dunn was the coach. Little did I know then that he’d move from Ritzville to Lewis and Clark and I’d be in his American Government class.”

Ron Hauenstein was an eighth-grader in the Reardan band when the Indians held off Orting for the ‘66 state championship.

“A little point guard who still lives in Reardan, Larry Soliday, took over the fourth quarter,” Hauenstein said.

Hauenstein took his son, Kelly, to last month’s Globetrotters exhibition and felt the dripping deterioration.

“Water was dripping into a 5-gallon bucket behind us,” he said. “It’s a barn, trust me.”

Kevin Perin was among those who nominated an earlier Brewster milestone, a one-point win over St. John in the ‘77 State B finals.

“There were like 4 seconds left in overtime and St. John had what looked like an open shot,” Perin said. “Roger Boesel of Brewster came out of nowhere to block it. The ball stayed inbounds and bounced around as time was running out. Brewster escaped with a third straight B championship and its 82nd win in a row.”

A prominent Coliseum moment came out of the 1972 B tourney: Doug Way’s 30-footer that gave Curlew a twopoint win over Coulee City.

Wayne Massie, now a 41-year-old middle school viceprincipal in Ferndale, was Curlew’s leading scorer.

“The game seemed to go by in a fraction of a second,” Massie said. “Half the Coliseum was for Coulee City, half for Curlew. Two little places. You wouldn’t think they’d generate that many ties, but that’s the way it always was.

“As for Way’s shot, basically the play was designed for one of the wings to get the ball, probably me, but anybody who was open would have had to put it up.

“We got pushed out a lot farther and Way ended up firing one up from 30 plus. It banked right in.”

Massie had his eyes and ears opened as a freshman in the Coliseum in 1969.

“Our locker room that year was next to St. John, the eventual champion. Bill Hays was their coach. He was basically yelling at them before the game. I thought, this is serious stuff.”

Jeff Camp, a starter on the LaCrosse Tigers team that took third in ‘72, was sitting behind the backboard when Way’s game-winner went down.

“When it went in, I don’t know if any of us said a word,” Camp said. “We looked at each other and shook our heads. To say it was a shot might be a stretch. It was more of a desperation throw at the last second. Somebody had to throw up something. It happened to be in his hands.”

Camp says he’ll never forget his Coliseum experience.

“To us, after playing in small gyms, the Coliseum was fabulous,” he said. “There were dead spots on the floor, the dressing rooms were small and cramped, but that was of such little importance to us.”

Dennis Bly started on the Harrington team that went undefeated in ‘65, the year a coach - Rich Juarez - finished a perfect year in the Coliseum.

“Juarez never lost a high school game,” Bly said. “He went on to college coaching after that.”

Reaction from the stands could be as intense as the emotion on the floor.

Dave Craig made the Memorial Cup banner that has hung in the Coliseum since the Spokane Chiefs won the championship of major junior hockey in 1991.

“When the Memorial Cup banner that my wife and I had made was unfurled, it was an emotional moment,” Craig said. “I thought of what we’d watched the previous season, when the Chiefs were on their way to winning it. To be a part of the celebration was special to us.”

Chiefs general manager Tim Speltz remembers Jan. 12, ‘91, when then-Chiefs star Pat Falloon returned from the World Junior Championships.

“The Coliseum was sold out for the first time in Bobby Brett’s ownership of the team,” Speltz said.

Brett bought the Chiefs in 1990. Speltz was hired a few months later. Saturday night sellouts are routine now, but the first to welcome a returning star is unique among them.

A trip through the Coliseum’s Hall of Fame room puts Dick Mengert in touch with family.

Mengert’s brother, golfer Al Mengert, and an uncle, jockey Albert Johnson, are enshrined in the Inland Empire Hall of Fame.

The Hall of Fame displays are to be moved to the Arena, to Mengert’s considerable relief.

“It was always a thrill, walking into the room that is dedicated to the great athletes of the Inland Empire,” Mengert said. “It’s fitting that the history that these athletes made is recorded and maintained for future generations. We’re proud in our family that we were blessed with two of these inductees.”

Al Mengert, now 66, was head pro at Oakland Hills in Birmingham, Mich., before retiring in Arizona. He won four state opens, was runner-up in the ‘52 U.S. Amateur and was seventh in the ‘58 Masters.

Albert Johnson rode out of the tiny northeastern Washington hamlet of Milan, down the West Coast to Tijuana and into the big time. He was aboard the 1922 and ‘26 Kentucky Derby winners.

Johnson’s lifestyle was as fast as the horses he rode. A career that gathered steam at the old Interstate Fairgrounds track here took him to New York, where he lived for a time at the Waldorf-Astoria.

“He was the Eddie Arcaro of the 1920s,” Mengert said. “There are pictures of him showing Jack Dempsey how to hold the reins. He was a humble little man who gave money away and wound up poor. He sent his father $5,000 to build a barn. That was a lot of money in those days. He left home at 16 - too young to realize that someday he might need that money.”

The old Johnson barn is long gone, and the barn that houses his memory is soon to follow.

“I hope the new building serves as well as that one has,” Fitzgerald said. “The people who planned the Coliseum did a wonderful job. I hate to see these old places go down, but it’s time.”

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