Written by Justine Rothbart
Since starting at Catholic University almost two years ago, I have seen many changes during my metro commute. I see the burgeoning development in NoMa (North of Massachusetts Avenue) among remnants of the past. I see the new glass office buildings rising as the 1970s Greyhond Bus Terminal is being demolished. I wonder if this place will even be recognizable in five years. There are still a few icons that ground this area to it’s history. Some of these historic icons include Union Station’s “K” tower and Woodward & Lothrop Service Warehouse. But my favorite building I pass is actually one that is not the most beautiful one to look at. Some people might even call it an eye sore. But it is my favorite building because of the event that happened there fifty years ago. It is the site of The Beatles’ first concert in the United States.
Just two days after their television appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Beatles performed their first US concert at the Washington Coliseum in Washington, D.C. While riding the metro to class, I pass the crumbling brick facade of this building which is seeped in history. Through the concrete curved roof accented with graffiti, I can almost see the 8,000 screaming fans packed into the arena. I can almost hear The Beatles sing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” as I the metro speeds by.
As we remember this event fifty years later, we hear tales of the people who were there to witness the historic event. We hear about the previous owner of the Washington Coliseum and the historical society which recently acquired his scrapbook. We hear about other concerts that took place at the Washington Coliseum in 1964. And we hear about today’s re-enactment events inside the historic building.
Our collective memory is what makes the Washington Coliseum important. It’s the photographs and the oral histories. It’s the stories and the memories. Anniversaries like this one, shines light onto what happens to our history fifty years later. What happens to the buildings? What happens to the photographs? Where are the memories stored?
As cultural heritage information professionals we need to think of the whole picture. Let’s think of the photographs, the oral histories, and let’s even think of the brick and mortar. We need to blend historic preservation with archives. Preserving a building is preserving information.
So the next time you’re riding the metro to Catholic University, take a look outside the window. Through the noises of new buildings being constructed, you might be able to hear in the distance the voices of John, Paul, George, and Ringo.
While in jeopardy of demolition, the Washington Coliseum was added to D.C Preservation League’s “Most Endangered Places for 2003.” In 2007, the Washington Coliseum was added to the National Register of Historic Places. After being used as an indoor parking lot for several years, the Washington Coliseum will soon begin a $77 million renovation into retail and office space.
Click here to watch the documentary video “The Washington Coliseum – The Forgotten Landmark” created by the DC Preservation League.