Mac Engel

Will Rogers Coliseum is worth visiting, mostly because it’s a dump. A charming dump.

Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum in Fort Worth will be used for the annual Stock Show locale for a few more days before the event relocates to the new Dickies Arena in 2020. The Coliseum, which opened in 1936, will remain open for other events and remains a museum of sorts.
Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum in Fort Worth will be used for the annual Stock Show locale for a few more days before the event relocates to the new Dickies Arena in 2020. The Coliseum, which opened in 1936, will remain open for other events and remains a museum of sorts. Star-Telegram

You may not know this, or you simply take it for granted, but Fort Worth has the equivalent of a Wrigley Field or Fenway Park down the street.

Built in 1936, Will Rogers Coliseum is a sports arena worth visiting, mostly because it’s a dump. A charming dump. It is also a living, breathing, functioning museum much in the same way Venice, Italy is a city.

Even a PETA representative can appreciate Will Rogers. WRC is American history.

There are a fading number of these old arenas left in the United States, and we have one. I love the place.

The stock show’s annual run in Fort Worth is nearing its scheduled end, and as such the rodeo that accompanies it will be closing soon. Next year, the rodeo moves to the new Dickies Arena, which features all of the toys that come with new entertainment venues.

The fate of Will Rogers is not a wrecking ball. The old place will be still used for other horse related events, it just won’t be used for the rodeo.

Make a point to go see it, even if just to walk around.

WRC is a throwback to an era of pro sports and entertainment venues that were designed for the spectator to just watch the event, not engineered to reach into your wallet and grab your money at every single turn.

Will Rogers was built for the customer to enter. To buy popcorn and a drink. Maybe smoke. To watch the event. To go home. The line of sight for the spectator was the priority, not a luxury box, the club level, or a kid’s zone.

Can you imagine seeing The Jackson Five here when they played in 1971?

Jimi Hendrix played the place. So did The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Sly and The Family Stone, The Byrds, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Alice Cooper, CCR, Marilyn Manson, Tracey Lawrence and so many others. Oscar De La Hoya fought here in 1996, as did the great Paulie Ayala. Barney made an appearance here, too.

Scenes for the George Strait movie, “Pure Country” were shot here, as were for the Matthew Perry, Elizabeth Hurley comedy/bomb, “Serving Sara.”

The Fort Worth Texans hockey team called this place home as did the Fort Worth Fire and Fort Worth Brahmas.

The fan is as close to the event here as a spectator can possibly be without being in the field of play.

The concourses are far too narrow, and there are other elements of its design that would not pass inspection by today’s standards. Thank you, Grandfathering.

There are a few remnants of events of previous years; if look hard you can see where a hockey puck went over the glass and carved out a nice hole in the plaster above one of staircases. The hockey nets themselves are in storage, encased in dust.

Again, you can’t find these relic venues often any more. Most of the arenas of this variety have been razed, often in favor of America’s most in-demand necessity: Parking.

The Cow Palace near San Francisco remains. The Denver National Western Complex, the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio, City Bank Auditorium in Lubbock and a few others are still open. The Cowtown Coliseum on the Northside of Fort Worth is still running.

Sports franchises, and cities, have all expanded the trend of building new venues that stress sushi bars, microbrew kiosks, team stores, and the endless servicing of worshiping high-end clients. All of it has made the in-person stadium/arena experience increasingly sterile.

Our senses are mostly numb to the sensation now of entering an arena and stadium and immediately feeling overwhelmed by the sensory overload of options, with the ultimate goal for you to spend money.

WRC did not have the space for those sorts of realities, because the priority when the place was designed in the mid 1930s was just the event. The event was enough.

Now, seeing Jimi Hendrix live and up close in an 8,000 seat arena would not be enough.

Even if you can’t catch the rodeo before it moves over to Dickies, visit the old place. Just to see what these places are like, and imagine what it must have been like to see Jimi Hendrix for $5.

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Mac Engel is an award-winning columnist who has extensive experience covering Fort Worth-Dallas area sports for 20 years. He has covered high schools, colleges, all four major sports teams as well as Olympic games and the world of entertainment, too. He combines dry wit with first-person reporting to complement a head of hair that is almost unfair.


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