Home > Old School Picture of the Week > Allen County War Memorial Coliseum ca. 1952
Allen County War Memorial Coliseum ca. 1952
By Randy Harter
Fort Wayne Reader
In 1944 the Fort Wayne Junior Chamber of Commerce (now known as the Jaycees) proposed building a fieldhouse/coliseum as a fitting memorial to the men and women of Allen County who had lost their lives during both world wars. While the planning and the building of public support was moving forward in 1945, feasibility and location became an issue as plans were announced by a private company to build a sports arena in the Quimby Village area, a project that ultimately never came to fruition, and there were those that felt the building should be constructed closer to downtown in Lawton Park.
Due to the building’s projected expense, in 1946 the project was put to a vote by way of a public referendum in that fall’s election. An extensive publicity campaign was undertaken by the War Memorial Commission, and Jaycees, that besides utilizing traditional advertising media also included dropping thousands of leaflets over the city from a plane as well as a torchlight parade on the election eve. When the votes were counted, the referendum had been approved, with 25,000 for and just 5,000 against.
In 1948 100 acres were purchased at Parnell Avenue and California Road adjacent to what was then called the “Municipal Beach,” and local architect A. M. Strauss (Parkview Hospital, Central Catholic, Lincoln National Bank Tower) was hired to design the building. In January 1950, a 3 million dollar bond issue was floated, and Hagerman Construction Company was awarded the construction contract. Due to steel shortages during the Korean War, work did not progress as quickly as anticipated. However, in September of 1952 the Coliseum was completed and its dedication held with 24 area veterans’ organizations and 10,000 people attending.
Since its completion, the War Memorial Coliseum has undergone numerous changes and upgrades. Not the least of these was the building of the 108,000 square foot Expo Center in 1989; raising the 1,200 ton roof 41 feet, 10 inches in 2001 at a cost of 34.5 million dollars that also included a major renovation throughout; and in 2015 the Conference Center to the south end of the building giving the complex a total of over one million square feet under roof.
Throughout the building’s 65-year history it has only had four general managers, Don Meyers, Bob Tenbarge, Phil Olofson, and since 1988, Randy Brown.
Those whose names are now enshrined at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum are Allen County citizens who lost their lives in World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
(Image courtesy Craig Leonard Collection)
Randy Harter is a Fort Wayne Historian and author of two books on local history.