A Mecca of Glaze & Haze: The Cape Cod Coliseum
Can you dig it?
In retrospect, the Coliseum was a shabby cinder-block edifice nestled between an oasis of scrub pines, bays and sounds—fittingly, an impenetrable safe space from the surrounding adult meritocracy. Forty years ago, the “Old Sweatbox,” as it was known, was a mecca of glaze and haze. It had reached the peak of its popularity in the late seventies when it seemed possible that winter hockey combined with summer concerts could sustain a year-round, multi-purpose arena. And for a while it eclipsed the world-famous Melody Tent in attracting top national talent. But by 1984 its popularity proved perishable.
The wine turned to vinegar. The ice melted. And the smoke faded.
The 46,000-square-foot concrete structure opened in September 1972 (three months after the “third-rate burglary” at Watergate). Owned and operated by local real estate agent William Harrison, the arena cost $1.5 million to build and could seat over 5,000 people for sports and closer to 7,000 for concerts. It was conceived during a time when youth hockey exploded in the greater Boston area due to the success of the Bruins and its young star, Bobby Orr. Everywhere, it seemed, new rinks and amateur leagues sprouted up, Cape Cod among them. The new arena on White’s Path was indeed built for hockey. Ironically, though, hockey was also the Coliseum’s fatal attraction and its original sin.
The Cape Cod Cubs of the Eastern Hockey League became the first—and, some argue, most famous—tenant, debuting during the 1972-73 season. The team’s first official game at the arena occurred—seriously—on Friday the 13th of October 1972 and was broadcast on WCOD radio. Despite early success, trouble was already looming by the second season.
Writing for capecod.com, Chris Setterlund noted that the Cubs were routinely drawing 2,000 people or fewer during its 38 home-game season. “An average crowd of 2,500 or better,” he concluded, “was needed to assure the team of breaking even money-wise.” By the fourth season, the financially challenged Cubs were renamed “Cape Codders” and were playing in the North American Hockey League.
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