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Grady Cole Center & American Legion Memorial Stadium
310 N. Kings Drive
Charlotte, NC 28204
Hours: By Appointment Only

Contact

Event Facility Staff
980-314-1130

Grady Cole Center and American Legion Memorial Stadium Through the Decades

Grady Cole Center History

Boxing Match with Grady Cole officiating

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:

  • The first-ever book fair held in Charlotte in 1938. This was the first book fair held south of the Potomac River, the first in the Carolinas and the South, and caused quite a stir because of the low literacy rate of the state compared to the rest of the Nation.
  • Grady Cole, the WBT Radio personality, officiated a boxing match at the site which, ironically, would be named after him 40 years later.
  • Billy Graham had one of his first crusades at the Armory in 1947.
  • Charlotte Exposition and Food Show, a 10-day fair, in 1948
  • When Charlotte's WBTV started in 1949(one of 13 television stations in the nation at the time), the Armory hosted a three-day viewing party for thousands of locals to tune in.
  • Local high schools and universities played varsity basketball games a couple times a year.
  • Jim Crockett and Jim Crockett Promotions held wrestling bouts, concerts and dances at the Armory on a regular basis.

 

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: gradycole-memorialstadium@mecklenburgcountync.gov



American Legion Memorial Stadium History

Shrine Bowl Players 1947

Copyright William H. Sumner Collection. J. Murrey Atkins Library (University of North Carolina at Charlotte)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration in 1935 appropriated 4.8 Billion Dollars to create new jobs for millions of unemployed Americans following the Great Depression. Just a year earlier, Charlotte Mayor Arthur Wearn had secured $70,000 of federal money to build a stadium in Independence Park. One of the American Legion Posts in the city fought to name the venue after Mecklenburg County veterans that had fought in World War I. The city gave its approval and the venue was christened American Legion Memorial Stadium (ALMS).

Stadium construction commenced- the funds were spent on clearing a section of the park behind the Armory Auditorium and a beautiful rock wall perimeter was created. However, this left no money for the creation of the grand stands and seating, stalling the project right in its tracks. In mid-1935, City Manager James Marshall submitted applications for WPA money; amongst his applications was funding for the completion of American Legion Memorial Stadium. The application was approved with $51,617 awarded for the project. The city pitched in less than $5000 and the project resumed.

At the end of Spring 1936, it was announced that FDR would be visiting Charlotte to give a speech at Memorial Stadium. In exactly nine months the concrete stands were created and the seating was installed: American Legion Memorial Stadium was finally completed on September 1, 1936. On a rainy Thursday September 10th, the United States President opened the facility with a Green Pastures Rally, praising Charlotteans and the South for their economic diligence. Though the Great Depression dragged on, Charlotte and the region was improving and the Rally was a celebration of that. A rainbow appeared at the end of Roosevelt's speech, a hopeful omen of a bright future. Memorial Stadium would indeed have a bright future ahead.


On September 26, 1936 Wake Forest University and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill opened up the college football season at Memorial Stadium with "the largest crowd ever to see a football game in Charlotte." UNC defeated Wake Forest by a score of 14-7. Football would be no stranger to Memorial Stadium:

  • The Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas made its home at ALMS from 1937-2000.
  • Charlotte's first professional football team, the Charlotte Hornets of the World Football League successfully played out of Memorial Stadium in 1974 and 1975. The team's first season in Charlotte saw sold-out home games night after night.
  • High School football is a prominent figure at Memorial Stadium; from the "Big Friday" showcase games of yesteryear to the present-day High School Football Kickoff Night, the venue hosts marquee matchups featuring state powerhouse programs.
  • Collegiate football is also familiar to the venue: games across all NCAA divisions and inter-state rivalries have made for some exciting events at Memorial Stadium.


Other Sporting Events at the facility:

  • The Carolina Lightnin' of the American Soccer League played its home game here until the league folded at the end of the 1983 season. The Lightnin' won the League in 1981 bringing the Queen City its first professional championship. The Carolina Gold of the United Soccer League replaced them at the stadium in 1984.
  • In 1984, one of the premier professional equestrian events, the Mercedes US Open Jumping Championships, was hosted here.
  • The first ever World Championship Wrestling (WCW) Great American Bash show was held here on July 6, 1985. This started a chain of nationwide tours under the name that ran through 2009. The 1986 edition in Charlotte featured wrestling icon Ric Flair arriving by helicopter onto the field for a World Heavyweight Championship match, which he won.
  • ALMS was the 2012 host to the Modern Pentathlon World Cup Series. Charlotte was the first stop of the international event.
  • The Charlotte Hounds of Major League Lacrosse have called Memorial Stadium home since 2012. The team has made it to Championship Weekend twice in their short career, 2013 and 2016.


Other Notable Events:

  • The City's annual 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular, SkyShow was hosted at the stadium until 2014 when it moved to the newly-minted BB&T Ballpark.
  • The venue has hosted several big-name concerts throughout its history. Some of them include Christina Aguilera, Jimmy Buffett, Hootie and the Blowfish, Pearl Jam, Lynyrd Skynyrd, among others.
  • Marching Band competitions have been a main-stay for the last decade. Drum Corp International hosted an annual show at the Stadium until 2014; the Queen City Battle of the Bands still hauls in over 14,000 visitors a night.
  • ALMS has been featured behind the camera lens for televised sporting events, advertising commercials, and even cinematic movies, most notably, the 2008 film "Leatherheads," starring George Clooney.


Memorial Stadium has hosted a multitude of local civic events for the community throughout its 80-year history. From Ice shows to beer festivals, making the venue one of the most recognized and well-visited facilities to local Charlotteans in recent memory.

If you have stories, memories, or media you would like to share with us regarding events at American Legion Memorial Stadium, please email us at: gradycole-memorialstadium@mecklenburgcountync.gov

Address

Office Location:

Grady Cole Center & American Legion Memorial Stadium
310 N. Kings Drive
Charlotte, NC 28204
Hours: By Appointment Only

Contact

Event Facility Staff
980-314-1130