Checkerdome column brings back memories

News-DemocratAugust 24, 2013 

Last week I wrote a column about the St. Louis Checkerdome, which is what Ralston-Purina called the Arena when they owned it in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

A woman was looking for proof that the roof had been painted in red and white checkers.

There is none -- at least any that I can find.

But I did get some nice responses from people, remembering great times there, and even a few pictures.

I did a lot of looking myself on the Internet, but here is how my information gathering system really works.

A guy was in St. Louis doing something or the other. He was in a store. I don't know what kind. He saw this picture of the Arena in its early days.

He questioned a clerk about it who didn't know much so he figured, what the heck, I'll just buy it so Wally can see it.

I don't know what it cost.

He brought it to the barbershop, gave it to the guys and told them to give it to me to see.

It is picture of a painting, I think. And paintings are notorious for interpretation as opposed to documentation. Since other pictures from that day are black-and-white, it is a little difficult to tell how accurate this particular colorful piece of art is.

There are some big differences between the bright painting and a 1930 black-and-white picture of the Arena.

In the actual picture, the sign on the building is simply "The Arena," not the Highland Arena which is something people apparently called it in the early days.

The picture also shows that "dairy" is on the eastern tower and "show" is on the western tower, not both words on both towers.

In none of the black-and-white pictures I looked at was anything resembling the big red and yellow squares on the front of the building in the painting.

The Arena was built in 1929 specifically for the National Dairy Show. At the time, the building was the second largest indoor arena, after only Madison Square Garden in New York City.

The timing was awful, what with the Depression and everything looming. Despite plans for a yearly event, apparently that was the only dairy show ever held there.

Eventually hockey became the bellwether for the Arena. It hosted the St. Louis Flyers of the American Hockey League for several seasons until the 1934-35 season when the Ottawa Senators of the National Hockey League moved to St. Louis to become the Eagles.

That team finished last in the Canadian Division and lost tons of money due to extensive rail travel to Canadian cities.

At the end of the season, no one would buy the team and it folded although Ottawa kept the right to the Senators name and later got another team.

In 1938, St. Louis businessmen tried to buy the Montreal Maroons of the NHL but the league, after its experience with St. Louis' traveling expenses, refused and the Maroons eventually were folded as well.

It wasn't until 1967 that the NHL returned to St. Louis with the Blues.

Anyway, it was great fun looking at all the websites and pictures. There even is a site with a listing of many of the Arena concerts and the set lists from the concerts.

It's not complete so I will just have to wait to know if Billy Ray Cyrus played "Achy Breaky Heart," in 1994 when he performed there.

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 618-239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com

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