“Charlotte will grow with these buildings, and grow into them.”
Charlottean David Ovens led the committee that built the original Charlotte Coliseum and the auditorium that still bears his name on Independence Blvd. He shared the words above with the Charlotte Observer on Sept. 8, 1955. That evening saw more than 400 of Charlotte’s civic leaders attend a red carpet unveiling of Ovens Auditorium, which hosted its first public event, a performance by the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, less than a month later.
According to Ovens, naysayers told him Charlotte had “built greater than the times called for” with the construction of the auditorium and the coliseum. His response to them was, “They’ll take that back later.”
In the end, history has been on Ovens’ side. Generations of Charlotteans have enjoyed plays, musicals and performances by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Diana Ross, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Jerry Seinfeld and Aziz Ansari in the auditorium. (Not to mention hundreds of thousands of Charlotte students who have attended graduation ceremonies there.)
According to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA), the auditorium has played host to more than 7,000 events over its 65 years. It’s stood the test of time. Ovens Auditorium and the Coliseum outlasted the “new” Coliseum that opened off Tyvola Road in 1988 … and was demolished in 2007. With a new addition connecting the auditorium to the Coliseum completed in 2020, it looks like Ovens’ retirement is still years away.
While live performances aren’t happening now, the auditorium stands as a reminder that Charlotte can rise to the challenge and that culture and the arts will always give us reasons to gather, celebrate and connect with one another.
See photos of the red carpet event on Sept. 8, 1955 from the former Charlotte News here.
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