Recreating History: The Beatles' First American Concert

February is a big month for American Beatles fans. After all it was 50 years ago that the Fab Four appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and then made their way down to Washington, D.C. for their first public concert at the Washington Coliseum on 3rd St. NE. You've probably seen the black and white footage of Paul, John, George and Ringo playing to screaming teenagers in D.C. on February 11, 1964. And, hopefully you've read our accounts of the Beatles' visit here on the blog.

But it's one thing to write accounts of history... It's quite another to recreate history. And that's exactly what the  D.C. Preservation League and Douglas Development and their partners did with their Yesterday & Today event at the Washington Coliseum on February 11, 2014. As DCPL's executive director Rebecca Miller put it, the Beatles anniversary was "the perfect opportunity to blend historical preservation and pop culture" and build awareness of the Preservation League's work to protect the built landscape of our city and contribute to economic development in Washington.

Indeed, the Coliseum itself is a preservation story. Built by ice-maker Mike Uline in 1941, it was pretty virbrant place for about 30 years but started to go downhill in the 1970s. The riots of 1968 ravaged the inner city and larger venues -- like the DC Armory and the Capital Center -- took away a lot of the arena's business. It changed hands several times and eventually became a trash transfer station for Waste Management in the 1990s. The property was targeted for demolition when the Preservation League intervened and pursued landmark designation. It was added it to the DC Inventory of Historic Sites in 2006. In recent years, the coliseum building has served as an indoor parking lot as the new owner, Douglas Development, pursued various options for redevelopment.

I'm biased because I'm a sucker for local history and good music but I'd say the event was a smashing success... a chilly success since temperatures outside were in the 20s but a success nonetheless. 2500 attendees were treated to a festival-like atmosphere with performances by bubblegum singer Tommy Roe, who opened for the Beatles in 1964, and Beatlemania Now, a very well-reknowned cover band. In addition, the Preservation League showed a film on the history of the venue.

Over the next year and half Douglas Development will transform the domed structure into a unique office complex -- so this was really the last opportunity to experience the site as an entertainment venue. It was a pretty cool experience.

Big thanks to Rebecca Miller of DCPL, Douglas Jemal and Paul Millstein of Douglas Development, Wendy Gordon of Flash PR DC, Scot Arch of Beatlemania Now, Naomi Banks and Mike Mitchell for their help with this video!

 

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