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Copyright William H. Sumner
Collection. J. Murrey Atkins Library (University of North Carolina at Charlotte)
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
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
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Grady Cole Center is a historical gem embedded in the Queen City and
continues to provide the community with timeless memories.
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