Grady Cole Center & Memorial Stadium
310 N. Kings Drive
Charlotte, NC 28204
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Copyright William H. Sumner
Collection. J. Murrey Atkins Library (University of North Carolina at Charlotte)
The Charlotte Armory Auditorium opened its doors in June of 1929. The first event at the venue was part of a larger city-wide celebration of the United Confederate Veterans honoring the "bravest army of the American Continent:" The 39th Annual Confederate Veteran's Reunion.
The Reunion officially began on Tuesday, June 4th, 1929 at 8:00PM in the Armory Auditorium with a concert by the United States Marine Band of Washington D.C. A number of national figures attended the opening night including the Governor of North Carolina, a number of United States Senators, and former Confederate Dignitaries. While celebrations and assemblies were held all across Charlotte, the Armory held a large number of the Reunion's events and official business meetings. The event was commemorated by a marker which still stands on the property to this day. The reunion minutes are preserved inside the monument.
Since its inception, the Charlotte Armory Auditorium was used for countless numbers of community events, from the Charlotte Fire Department's Annual Christmas Party to dances and shows for thousands of people. Additionally, the building was the only auditorium in the city from 1932-1955. This meant that the Armory was THE venue for musical performances in Charlotte for over two decades.
The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra moved to the Armory and performed regularly. The venue also hosted a number of big name artists in its life span: Duke Ellington performed in 1934; Fats Waller, Billy Eckstine, The Ink Spots, Count Basie, and Stan Kenton all held shows there in the 40s and 50s.
Aside from musical acts, the Charlotte Armory Auditorium was the showcase site for an array of other events:
On June 8, 1954 at 5:30am a call was placed to report a fire at the Charlotte Armory Auditorium. By the time the fire trucks arrived on scene 7 minutes later, the building was too far gone and CFD worked to simply keep the fire from spreading to nearby homes. Officials believed the fire to have started on-stage, rising up the curtains and filling the building until finally, it collapsed on itself. The final event in the building was a wrestling card that wrapped up hours before the fire started. It would be another 2 years before the site hosted an event again.
On July 16, 1956, the new Charlotte Park Center opened its doors for the first time to once more host a Jim Crockett wrestling card headlined by Argentina Rocca. The new Park Center was built on the foundations of the original Armory, which stood as the go-to location for live entertainment in the Queen City. However, in its absence, the Charlotte Coliseum and Ovens Auditorium were built, stealing luster from the venues off of then-Cecil Street. The Coliseum was a state-of-the-art structure, massive in size, and the largest unsupported steel dome in the world, and quickly drew big names and national attention. Even so, Park Center played host to quite a number of large draws.
Jim Crockett Promotions had established a presence at the site decades earlier and continued to run his shows, namely Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, weekly on Monday nights along with his weekly television tapings. Boxing was another popular sport with events at the center regularly. Artistically, the regional beach music/shagging movement made its way from the eastern coast to the Park Center with Ted Hall's Hit Productions who hosted a number of shows at the facility. But beach music was not the only sound resonating through the building. The venue would come to host legendary acts in the coming years.
On November 9th, 1969 Janis Joplin opened up to a sellout crowd. The show was produced by Concerts, Incorporated and sold tickets at the door for $5.50. This would be one of her last shows before her death in October of the following year. Following her performance, the 1970's saw a wave of artists make a splash at the Park Center. The Doobie Brothers came to Park Center for the first time in 1971; Pink Floyd visited during their Dark Side of the Moon tour; Black Sabbath, Styx, Rush, KISS, Cheap Trick, ZZ Top, David Bowie, and America played in the 70's; The 80's brought in R.E.M, Stryper, Steve Ray Vaughn, Frehley's Comet, Ray Charles, and others; The 80's also brought a new name to the facility.
In 1987, the Park Center was renamed the Grady Cole Center after the WBT radio personality, Grady Cole. Ever the outgoing and loveable man, Cole was the morning host for WBT for 32 years starting out as a young, bold reporter looking to expand to spoken news. From the beginning, he was a hit and soon become the voice of WBT in Charlotte and in the South. Cole was a voice for a region; News reporting was merely a fraction of his segment, of which he provided witty commentary and personal life observations. But what made Cole so popular was his way of reaching out to people over the radio waves and in person: From answering fan mail and meeting with admirers across the south to donating his time and money to charitable organizations, Grady Cole will forever be remembered as a man of the people. On June 8th, 1987, the venue was renamed in his honor to commemorate his long-standing service to the community.
Now known as the Grady Cole Center (GCC), the facility continues to be used for events and festivals of all varieties. The Charlotte Hornets used GCC as their practice facility from the 80s through the early 90s. UFC 3: The American Dream was hosted there in 1994. Coldplay, Dropkick Murphys, The Strokes, and other artists continue to play the venue. Most recently, the facility is home to the Charlotte Roller Girls, the Hindu Center of Charlotte's annual Hindu Festival, the Charlotte Mini-Con and an assortment of annual events.
The Grady Cole Center is a historical gem embedded in the Queen City and continues to provide the community with timeless memories.
If you have stories, memories, or media you would like to share with us regarding events at the Grady Cole Center, please email us at: email@example.com