The Memorial Coliseum was the home of the Portland Buckaroos of the Western Hockey League and was the venue for the 1965 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship, where UCLA won its second of ten such championships in the 1960s and 1970s.
When the Portland Trail Blazers franchise was awarded for 1970, the Memorial Coliseum became the team's home court, capable of seating 12,666 when configured for basketball. Three NBA Finals have been (partially) played in the Coliseum; in 1977 (when the Trail Blazers won) and in 1990 and 1992. The Blazers were 10–0 in the Coliseum during the 1977 playoffs.
On November 1, 1974, Gerald Ford became the first president to attend an NBA game. At the Memorial Coliseum, he watched the Trail Blazers defeat the Buffalo Braves, 113–106.
Construction began on the nearby Rose Garden arena (now Moda Center) soon after the 1992 NBA Finals, and it became the team's home arena when it opened in 1995.
As part of the team's 40th anniversary celebration, the Blazers played a pre-season game at Memorial Coliseum on October 14, 2009, against the Phoenix Suns. Team founder Harry Glickman, former players Jerome Kersey, Terry Porter, and Bob Gross, as well as broadcaster Bill Schonely attended the game. The Suns defeated the Blazers, 110–104, with 11,740 tickets sold.
The building is currently the home arena of the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League, which splits its schedule with the Moda Center next door. In August 2007, the City of Portland and the Portland Winterhawks reached an agreement to have replay screens installed in the main center ice scoreboard in time for the 2007–2008 hockey season. The city agreed to rent the screens, which are owned by the Winterhawks, for the first year, and then either buy them outright or replace them with different screens in 2008–09. Other improvements included adding a beer garden area, replacing graphic displays, and general painting and repairs.
The original Portland Timbers (1975–82) of the NASL played indoor soccer at the coliseum. The Portland Power of the American Basketball League played in the Coliseum from 1996–1998. It hosted the OSAA 4A Men's State Basketball Tournament in March 1966 – 2003 and the March 2005 Big Sky Conference Basketball Tournament. The Memorial Coliseum hosts the Oregon High School Hockey League; local high school hockey teams play a few games each season and it also hosts some other events such as conventions, touring shows, and high school graduations. The Memorial Coliseum also hosts the OSAA High School Dance and Drill team State Championships every year in March.
The Memorial Coliseum was designed with large doors at both ends to accommodate the floats of the Portland Rose Festival’s Grand Floral Parade. The 4.2-mile-long (6.8 km) parade begins at the Memorial Coliseum, where paying guests watch the parade cross the Coliseum’s floor from reserved seats inside and from bleachers outside. The Rose Festival Queen’s coronation has also been held in the facility since 1961.
On August 22, 1965, The Beatles played two shows at Memorial Coliseum to 20,000 screaming fans as part of their 1965 American Tour. Allen Ginsberg, who was in the audience, wrote a poem about the event called "Portland Coliseum".
Elvis Presley performed at Memorial Coliseum on November 11, 1970, and again on April 27, 1973, in front of 12,000 and 13,000 fans respectively.
The Bee Gees performed two sold-out concerts here on July 17 & 18, 1979 as part of their successful Spirits Having Flown Tour.
A political rally for 2000 presidential candidate Ralph Nader sold 10,500 $7-tickets at the venue on August 26, 2000, with every seat sold except those behind the stage.
President Barack Obama spoke at the Memorial Coliseum on March 21, 2008, before winning the Democratic Nomination.
Led Zeppelin performed at the Coliseum on March 23, 1970 & June 17, 1972 during their fifth & eighth North American concert tours.
In 2004, Portland was selected as one of five cities in the U.S. to host the Dew Tour, an extreme sports franchise started in 2005. Titled the Vans Invitational, the event was held at the Rose Quarter August 17–21, 2005. The Memorial Coliseum hosted BMX: Park, BMX: Vert, Skateboard: Park, and Skateboard: Vert. The Dew Tour returned to the Rose Quarter again with the Wendy's Invitational on August 12–15, 2010, marking the tour's sixth year in Portland, which is the only city that has qualified to host the tour in every year since its inception.
From November 30 through December 2, 2007, the Memorial Coliseum hosted the 2007 Davis Cup Tennis final between the USA and Russia.
Financed by an $8 million bond approved by voters in 1954, construction was completed by Hoffman Construction in 1960 and dedicated on January 8, 1961, to the "advancement of cultural opportunities for the community and to the memory of our veterans of all wars who made the supreme sacrifice." The facility is 100-foot (30 m) tall and has a footprint of about 3.1 acres (1.3 ha). It is sometimes referred to as "The Glass Palace" in Portland. The building was designed by architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.
Original plans called for a building made of wood, which is plentiful in the region, but cost and safety factors precluded that. The structure instead consists of a modernistic gray glass and aluminum, non-load-bearing curtain-wall cube around a central ovular concrete seating bowl. Four 70-foot (21 m) concrete piers support the steel roof, with no interior columns required. The exterior appearance, with 80,000 square feet (7,400 m2) of glass, is of a skyscraper laid on its side. The curtain-wall windows inside offer views of the city in all directions. The 1,060-foot-long (320 m) black curtains can be closed to block sunlight in 90 seconds. Seating includes 9,000 permanent seats expandable to 14,000 with portable chairs and bleachers. At its opening, it was called the largest multipurpose facility of its kind in the Pacific Northwest.
The war memorial consists of two black granite walls below ground level and near the main gate. The names of the dead are inscribed in gold paint, now faded with age. There are no dates given, only the names and an inscription: "To the memory of a supreme sacrifice we honor those who gave their lives for God, principle and love of country".
The International Style glass and concrete building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in September 2009.
In 2011, the Portland City Council voted to change the name of the arena from Memorial Coliseum to Veterans Memorial Coliseum, to better reflect its history as a memorial to war veterans, and as part of the larger Rose Quarter Development project.
The seating capacity for basketball has been as follows:12,666 (1960–1988)
It was proposed that Memorial Coliseum be demolished to make room for a 9,000-seat new ballpark for Merritt Paulson’s Portland Beavers baseball team, since the team was moving from PGE Park to make room for the new Portland Timbers Major League Soccer franchise, also a Paulson-owned team. That proposal was dropped early in May 2009 with Lents Park being re-considered as a ballpark site.
Opposition to razing Memorial Coliseum included some veterans and architectural historians who successfully applied for National Register of Historic Places status for the building. Former governor Vic Atiyeh also opposed demolition if it led to the veteran memorial being forgotten. The Memorial Coliseum was given a rank of the highest importance in the city’s historic resource inventory of 1984.
Other proposed uses of the grounds include turning the site into an entertainment district, a recreation center, a retail center, or a multilevel center for arts, athletics, and education. Another possibility is to update and repair the facility to improve its marketability.
However, there had been talk about using two of the outer glass walls as part of the exterior for a new ballpark.
In December 2011, it was announced that the Coliseum will undergo a $30 million renovation, partially paid for by the city and partially by the Winterhawks. The renovations would be completed in the spring and summer of 2012.