The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

February 24, 2013

Site of Beatles concert still magical

KEVIN CULLEN
Commercial-News

WASHINGTON, D.C. —

The parking lot attendant smiled when he saw me approach … camera in hand and probably looking way too excited.

“You must be a Beatles fan,” he said. “We get them all the time.”

I was in Washington, D.C., in January to cover a massive demonstration on the Mall. I had a couple of hours to kill, and I could have visited any of the great Smithsonian museums. Instead, I sought out the funky, dilapidated remains of the former Washington Coliseum. The floor is now used as an unheated parking garage, but some of the old stadium seats are still in place around the perimeter.

The building stands at 1132-146 Third St.-NE, just a few blocks from beautiful Union Station. The coliseum, right next to the railroad tracks, is in sort of a seedy neighborhood. It was constructed in 1941 and it’s a block long — part brick and part concrete. The Quonset-hut style concrete roof has lots of leaks.

But if that building could talk … well, let’s just say I’m totally envious.

I have been a Beatles fan all my life. I have all their records, I have seen Paul McCartney in concert twice, and I have gone to Liverpool to see Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, the Cavern Club, and the houses where John, Paul, George and Ringo grew up.

So I had to see the Washington Coliseum. On Feb. 11, 1964, the Beatles played their first U.S. concert there before 8,092 fans, each of whom paid from $2 to $4 for a ticket. The concert came less than 48 hours after the Beatles’ triumphant appearance on the The Ed Sullivan Show.

I had heard about that concert — and watched an amazing video of it on YouTube — but I only recently learned that the old coliseum survived. I had seen it from my train window before, but I had no idea what I was looking at.

Despite the peeling paint, crumbling concrete and rusting I-beams, it’s so cool.

After the Sullivan show, the Beatles took a train into Union Station. On the afternoon of the concert, a press conference was set up on the stage of the coliseum.

“What do you think of President Johnson?” one reporter asked.

“Does he buy our records?” Ringo asked with a smile.

The concert video is fascinating. All the kids are screaming frantically, of course. The Beatles seem so innocent, so obviously thrilled to be there. They perform in the round, so Ringo’s drum set is moved repeatedly so everyone can get a good view. They open with “Roll Over Beethoven,” followed by “From Me to You,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “This Boy,” “All My Loving,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” “Please Please Me,” “Till There Was You,” “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Twist and Shout,” and “Long Tall Sally.”

It was magical, the greatest moment in the history of the Washington Coliseum. I’m glad I got to stand on the very spot where it happened.

Danville native Kevin Cullen is a former Commercial-News reporter. Reach him at irishhiker@aol.com.