Completed in 1941, it hosted the San Francisco Warriors of the NBA from 1962 to 1964 and again from 1966 to 1971. The Warriors temporarily returned to the Cow Palace to host the 1975 NBA Finals due to the fact that the Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum Arena was booked for an Ice Follies performance. It was the site of both the 1956 Republican National Convention and the 1964 Republican National Convention. During the 1960s and 1970s, the SF Examiner Games, a world-class indoor track and field meet, was held annually at the Cow Palace. The Cow Palace was also an important venue for professional boxing until early-80's having staged regular shows including ten world title fights and appearances of all-time greats like Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson & Alexis Arguello. Additionally it has hosted professional wrestling and the Bay Bombers of roller derby; the Derby's world championship playoffs were held at the Cow Palace every fall beginning from 1959 through 1973, when the organization was disbanded. From 1966 until 1999, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus visited the Cow Palace, joined in later years by what is now Disney on Ice; both events are now held at Oracle Arena.
The arena seats 11,089 for ice hockey and 12,953 for basketball. When the Warriors played there its basketball capacity was just over 15,000. It has also been the home of the annual Grand National Rodeo, Horse & Stock Show since 1941 (except for a break from 1942 to 1945 due to World War II). The venue hosted the 1960 men's NCAA basketball Final Four and the 1967 NBA All-Star Game. Sesame Street Live has been held at the Cow Palace since the early 1980s, as has Champions on Ice. In recent years the Cow Palace has been the Bay Area stop for the Cirque du Soleil.
The idea for the arena was inspired by the popularity of the livestock pavilion at the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition. A local newspaper asked, as early as May 1935, "Why, when people are starving, should money be spent on a "palace for cows?" A headline writer turned the phrase around, thus "Cow Palace".
Don't Spurn “Cow Palace"
Almost ever since the Panama Pacific International Exposition twenty years ago San Francisco has been talking about holding an annual livestock show. It has made a few attempts in temporary quarters. For the past few years agitation has been quite active until now there is a possibility of establishing a million-dollar stock show plant in Visitacion Valley. Instead of doing what they can toward accomplishing this worthy enterprise there seems to be a determined effort on the part of many misguided souls to decry what they call a “cow palace.” Some of the San Francisco newspapers have been most sarcastic in their reference to the “million-dollar cow palace” and now comes the Bureau of Governmental Research with a blast that San Francisco’s appropriation of $250,000 is illegal because some of the ground upon which the money is to be spent lies outside the city limits. That part is all bosh. San Francisco has expended plenty in San Mateo county, the most recent investment of prominence being the new county jail. It is too bad that such a selfish attitude should be taken toward this most worthy project to which the state is committed to add another $250,000, the Federal government $199,000 immediately and later stretch it to an even million. That is a better proposition than many other cities have even been offered when they came to lay out an agricultural exposition grounds. The great stock shows like the International at Chicago, the Kansas City Royal, the Pacific Coast International at Portland and of late the Christmas fat stock show in Los Angeles and even the junior stock show at South San Francisco all have proven their worth many times over to the cities in which they are held. They bring country dollars to town as well as pry loose some of the local money that comes out for a different type of amusement. The great good that is done for the livestock industry, which in turn is for the ultimate benefit of the consumer, warrants every support that the city interests can give. Instead of spoofing the “million dollar cow palace” the city papers and organizations should get behind it 100 per cent. It will mean new business for them, afford pleasure and education to the city dwellers and provide the farmers and growers with the medium through which encouragement is given better products of the farm, field and range.
Sausalito News, Number 27, 5 July 1935
The arena opened in April 1941. During World War II, though, the arena was used for processing soldiers bound for the Pacific Theater. In the following years, it hosted countless hockey and basketball games, wrestling and boxing matches, concerts, roller derby and political events, most notably the 1956 and 1964 Republican National Conventions. The arena is still used for the Grand National Rodeo today and other events.
The San Francisco Warriors of the National Basketball Association called the Cow Palace home from 1962 to 1964 and from 1966 to 1971. The franchise then moved across the bay to the new Oakland Coliseum Arena (now Oracle Arena) and changed their name to Golden State Warriors.
The Warriors lost to the Boston Celtics in the 1964 NBA Finals. The 1967 NBA Finals between San Francisco and the Philadelphia 76ers saw three games held at the Cow Palace. The two NBA Finals games hosted by the Warriors in their 1974–75 championship season were also held at the Cow Palace because of other events at the Oakland Coliseum.
On and off between 1975 and 1984, the San Jose/Golden Bay Earthquakes of the NASL played indoor soccer at the Cow Palace, including hosting the 1975 NASL indoor championship game, which they won 8–5 over the Tampa Bay Rowdies. The 'Quakes spent several seasons playing at the Oakland Coliseum Arena before splitting time between the two arenas for the 1983–84 NASL Indoor season.
The San Francisco Shamrocks (PHL) called the Cow Palace home from 1977 to 1979. They won the championship their first season, but ended up disbanding in January 1979 part way through their second season.
The Major Indoor Soccer League came to the Cow Palace for the 1980–81 season, when David Schoenstadt relocated his Detroit Lightning there, renaming them the San Francisco Fog. After a dismal season with an 11-29 record and less than a thousand fans per game, Schoenstadt moved the franchise again, this time to Kemper Arena, where the team flourished as the Kansas City Comets.
It also hosted the San Jose Sharks of the NHL from 1991 to 1993 before the completion of their new home, the San Jose Arena. From 1991 to 1993, the Sharks sold out every game played at the building. It was one of the last buildings to house a smaller than NHL-regulation rink. The NHL had previously rejected the building in 1967 as a home for the expansion California Seals franchise, who instead played home games out of the Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum.
San Jose lost their first game at the Cow Palace to the Vancouver Canucks 5-2 on October 5, 1991. Wayne Presley scored the first Sharks goal at the arena. Three nights later, San Jose won their first game in franchise history there, a 4-3 win over the Calgary Flames.
The Sharks' second season in the Cow Palace was highlighted by a 17-game losing streak and a league record 71 losses. The Sharks ended their run at the Cow Palace at the conclusion of the 1992–93 season with a 3-2 loss to eventual Campbell Conference champion Los Angeles on April 10, 1993. The team moved to the new San Jose Arena (now the SAP Center) to start 1993–94 after going 22-56-4 at their first home.
At the Cow Palace, the Sharks recorded the franchise's first win, shutout (Artūrs Irbe) and hat trick (Rob Gaudreau). The team also introduced their mascot, S.J. Sharkie, on the Cow Palace ice in mid-1992 when he climbed out of the front of a Zamboni. He later bungee-jumped from the rafters near the end of the first season.
In 1995, the IHL's San Francisco Spiders played their only season at the Cow Palace. Interestingly, several players who played for the Sharks during their Cow Palace years suited up for the Spiders that year. Due to poor attendance, the team ceased operations at the end of the 1995–96 season.
The Palace has also hosted professional wrestling events under promoters, most notably Roy Shire, who ran cards there from the early 60s to 1981, oftentimes to sold out houses headlined by Ray Stevens, Pat Patterson and others. After Shire ended operations, other promotions such as the WWF and WCW moved in. Notable cards included WCW's SuperBrawl in 1997, 1998, and 2000 and WWE's No Way Out in 2004.
From 1974 to 1989 the Cow Palace was the site of a yearly tournament on the men's professional tennis tour. Some of the biggest names in tennis played there, such as Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl.
In 2010, the Cow Palace once again had a regular sports tenant when the American Indoor Football Association's San Jose Wolves kicked off. However, the next year they would move to Stockton as the independent Stockton Wolves.
On September 27, 2011 the ECHL formally announced that pro hockey would return to the Cow Palace after a 16-year hiatus with the arrival of the San Francisco Bulls the following fall. To accommodate the new team its ownership spent $2 million on renovating the team locker rooms, upgrading the concession stands, food improvements and installing new widescreen HD monitors to observe gameplay, installing a new ice system (as the old ammonia-based system that was in place for the Seals, Shamrocks, Sharks & Spiders had since become outdated and illegal) and a new custom-made wraparound LED video scoreboard with its game presentation system and ten sets of speaker arrays. The center hung video board has a 360° view for game presentation and full timekeeping and statistics. The new Colosseo Cube scoreboard – made by Colosseo USA – was custom built in order to agree with some of the weight bearing limitations for the roof. The engineers designed new structural steel beams and had them installed in the rafters to provide the additional support required. The Bulls folded on January 28, 2014, 40 games into their second season.
The Cow Palace twice hosted the Republican National Convention. Republicans gathered at the Cow Palace for the 1956 Republican National Convention to renominate Dwight D. Eisenhower for President and Richard Nixon for Vice President. The ticket won in a landslide.
The Republicans came back eight years later for the 1964 Republican National Convention at which Barry Goldwater was nominated for President and William Miller was nominated for Vice President. Both of them would go on to lose to Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey, also in a landslide.
On August 19, 1964, The Beatles opened their first North American concert tour playing at the Cow Palace. They also played two shows at the arena on August 31, 1965, their 10th and final stop on their 1965 North American tour.
A year or two later, on February 25, 1966, The Supremes played there on their "I Hear a Symphony" Tour. Though the group had played the San Francisco Bay Area before, the same titled single was #1 on both pop radio stations, KFRC and KYA! The same titled album had just been released the week before, February 18, 1966.
The Jackson 5 played their second concert at the Cow Palace, June 19, 1970.
During a November 20, 1973 concert by The Who, their drummer Keith Moon, passed out from an overdose of horse tranquilizers. A fan of the band, Scot Halpin, completed the group's set that evening.
The Allman Brothers Band played there on New Year's Eve, 1973, with the Grateful Dead members sitting in. The Grateful Dead also held a double bill, with Santana, on New Year's Eve 1976 and released a live CD, titled Live at the Cow Palace. They also recorded Dick's Picks Volume 24 here on March 23, 1974.
The Rolling Stones played the Cow Palace July 15–16, 1975
Kiss and Cheap Trick played the Cow Palace on August 16, 1977. Kiss dedicated "Rock and Roll All Nite" to Elvis Presley who had died that day. Elvis himself had performed here over two consecutive nights during the previous November, towards the end of his fall tour of 1976.
On April 13, 1975 Pink Floyd performed here during their Wish You Were Here Tour. The set list included a performance of their entire The Dark Side of the Moon album.
In 1976, Paul McCartney and Wings played here. Part of the concert, in edited form, appears on the 2013 remaster of Wings over America.
A majority of the songs on the album, Live Rust and the concert film, "Rust Never Sleeps", by Neil Young & Crazy Horse, were recorded during a concert at the Cow Palace on October 22, 1978.
On December 31, 1978, The Runaways performed their last concert ever before their break up in April.
In February 1979, Neil Diamond fell onstage and couldn't get up. Less than two days later, he underwent 14 hours of delicate surgery, to remove a nonmalignant tumor, located dangerously close to his spine.
The Jacksons performed at the Cow Palace on September 17, 1981 during their Triumph Tour.
On December 30, 1981, Ozzy Osbourne & Randy Rhoads kicked off the opening night of the North America leg of the Diary of a Madman Tour at the Cow Palace.
Pat Benatar performed at the Cow Palace on March 19, 1983 during her sold out 'Get Nervous' world tour.
Prince brought his Purple Rain tour to the Cow Palace for six sold-out nights from February 27 to March 5, 1985. Sheila E. was the opening act. On the tickets it said "Wear Purple".
U2 played two concerts at the Cow Palace on The Unforgettable Fire Tour on March 7 & 8, 1985. They returned the following year with Amnesty International's A Conspiracy of Hope Tour, and then for two more concerts of their own with The Joshua Tree Tour on April 24 & 25, 1987.
The arena played host to Amnesty International's A Conspiracy of Hope Benefit Concert on June 4, 1986. The show was headlined by U2 and Sting and also featured Bryan Adams, Jackson Browne, Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed, Joan Baez and The Neville Brothers.
Fleetwood Mac filmed both December 12–13, 1987 concerts at the Palace for a 1988 home video release.
Van Halen sold out 3 nights at the Cow Palace from May 9 to 11, 1984 during the 1984 Tour (the last tour with David Lee Roth until 2007) as well as 5 nights for the last 5 shows of the 1986 Tour (the 1st tour with Sammy Hagar).
Nirvana played at the Cow Palace twice. The first time was December 31, 1991, along with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam. The second time was a Bosnian rape victims benefit concert on April 9, 1993, along with several other acts such as The Breeders and L7. The 1993 concert was one of the few shows Nirvana had played that year where most of the material off their final album, In Utero, were played live and the last time for some older songs, such as "Negative Creep" and "Love Buzz." As of April 2016, is a full video of the concert on YouTube, along with an interview.
The Cow Palace is officially the 1-A District Agricultural Association, a State agency of the California Department of Food and Agriculture's Division of Fairs and Expositions. It has extensive stable and barn facilities for animal events, which are used for the annual Grand National Rodeo and occasionally for other events.
It also used to host events on the now-defunct BRO (Bull Riders Only) tour.
In the spring of 2008, State Senator Leland Yee advanced legislation to allow Daly City to purchase the Cow Palace from the California Department of Food and Agriculture's Division of Fairs and Expositions in order to develop housing, basic amenities, and possibly a school for the surrounding area. However, the legislation was opposed by groups that regularly use the venue and other California citizens outside Daly City.
On September 9, 2008 Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed this proposed sale of the Cow Palace overflow parking lot. Following the 2008 publicity associated with Leland Yee's failed bill, the Cow Palace board of directors entered exclusive negotiations with Cypress Equities for a 60-year lease to develop the 13-acre (5.3 ha) proposed by Daly City. Due to the lack of progress, this agreement was subsequently terminated and negotiations then commenced with a Marin County-based developer in early 2010.
U2 is scheduled to play again at The Cow Palace for a private concert in October 2016 for the annual Salesforce conference, "Dreamforce."
Starting in 2015, the Academy of Art University held its commencement ceremony at Cow Palace.
The Cow Palace has a Daly City address, and except for the very northwest corner of the parking lot which is across the San Francisco border, it lies entirely within Daly City.