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To the legions of Detroiters who passed through the turnstiles of the iconic Olympia Stadium, its name alone conjures memories of legendary entertainment that spanned more than six decades. While the venue is forever linked to professional hockey in Detroit, the Olympia also played a key role in turning the city into an entertainment destination that rivaled any in the world. In the s, Detroit was experiencing a financial boom thanks to the success of the automobile industry. Detroiters were quick to embrace the rapidly growing phenomena of American professional sports.
InNavin Field later known as Tiger Stadium saw the completion of an addition that expanded its capacity from 23, seats to 30, Inthe Detroit Panthers started playing football in the city. And on May 15,the Victoria B.
This team would go on to become the Detroit Red Wings. Though the Cougars were based in Detroit, the team had a ificant problem: It had nowhere to play. But city leaders soon stepped in with the vision of a far more ambitious project.
The man chosen to blend the vision of a hockey arena and a convention center was C. Howard Crane. Crane was considered a master of architectural acoustics, so it is little wonder that Olympia Stadium would be known as a place where fan excitement was amplified into a near hysterical pitch. At the time it was built, Olympia was the largest indoor skating rink in the United States, and its 77, square feet of floor space concealed 74, square feet of pipes for the freezing of ice.
Just how much money the fight drew is still in doubt. A little more than one month later, on Nov. The ceremonies that took place that night incorporated professional figure skating between periods and performances by the University of Michigan marching band. Smith went to center ice and presented Cougars coach Jack Adams with a huge floral piece. More than 14, enthusiastic fans saw one of the most rapid exhibitions in the Olympia last night that it has been their pleasure to witness.
The hockey morsel pleased their palates, and they yelled themselves hoarse. It was the spectacle itself that charmed the populace. Fans who have been satisfied with baseball, football and basketball were amazed at the speed of the thing, for hockey is new to Detroit. It is true that local fans who like the ice game have had opportunities to view it across the river, but never before has it been brought right home to them in a big way.
The athletes flashed around the big expanse of ice like shooting stars, but every electric movement meant something. They squirmed, dodged, ducked, danced and pirouetted on their flashing blades with such rapidity that at times the eye could not quite follow the maneuvers.
Hockey was viewed as a Canadian curiosity, and many of the fans who attended the games came over from Windsor. Couple that with the fact that the Cougars were an awful team, and you got many of the hometown fans rooting for the opposition. As far as some Detroiters were concerned, that made the Cougars a Canadian team. Things just have to change around here. Despite the early struggles of Detroit fans embracing hockey, the future of Olympia Stadium itself appeared to be bright as numerous bookings for circuses, bicycle racing, basketball, wrestling and boxing was supported by a citizenry with plenty of disposable income.
Byproduction had sunk to 1, From October to Januarythe unemployment had risen from 19, toand Detroit was declared by the U. Gone were the days of Detroiters spending extra cash on entertainment; in were the days of struggling to acquire basic necessities. As the attendance and event bookings began to dwindle, Olympia's management started to focus more on its ature attraction, hockey.
Though the team had been terrible over the course of its first six years, Adams, doing double duty as coach and general manager, had been laying the foundation for a franchise that would carve a niche in the very soul of the city. First and foremost, it is important to understand that there wasn't just one hockey team calling Olympia home fromthere were two.
Having nowhere near the financial backing of other organizations that could afford talented players, Adams was determined to develop his own. With this idea in mind, the Detroit Olympics were born. The idea of having a minor league team was by no means new to sports, or even hockey in particular, but Adams insisted that his minor league team played at Olympia so he could mold his young players into the rugged, precision-style gamers that he adored. Along with developing young players, hockey teams in the Depression era could rarely afford more than 15 men on a roster, and having a second team on hand with cheap talent readily available to replace injured players was often the difference between success and failure.
In the s, the Olympics grew to have its own loyal fan base, and being able to draw 96 games worth of revenue -- instead of just the 48 that the Cougars played -- helped to carry the stadium through the most uncertain times in its history.
Inthe team was renamed the Detroit Falcons. Adams had been doing everything in his power to get the Motor City to embrace hockey, including writing a weekly article for the Detroit Times called Following the Puck.
However, while things were looking up for the team, the finances of Olympia Stadium were so dire that inthe stadium's owners had gone bankrupt and Adams was working for the bankers who were managing the organization through receivership. In an era of hockey history in which teams were constantly folding and being relocated, the team's future would never be more in doubt. It was at this moment, that a savior arrived. James Norris was an immensely wealthy Chicago grain magnate and hockey fanatic who had long dreamed of becoming an NHL owner.
Barred from doing so in his hometown by Chicago Black Hawks owner Maj. Retaining Adams and settling the debts for the stadium, Norris decided to change the team's name again. Having played for an amateur team in his youth called the Montreal Winged Wheelers, Norris thought the logo of a winged wheel would be far more relevant to Detroiters, and in the Detroit Red Wings were born. In their first season as the Red Wingsthe team reached new heights of success, tying the Boston Bruins for first place and winning its first playoff series.
Inthe Wings were even better, winning first place outright and advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals. With this success, Detroiters finally began to embrace their team, but still not at the level that would guarantee the franchise's future. A spark was needed to truly endear the team to the people of Detroit. In order to understand the importance of the season, keep in mind that just a few years earlier, inDetroiters didn't have much to cheer about. Not only was the city gripped in the throes of the Great Depression, but the Detroit Tigers had finished in fifth place and had been underwhelming the fans for so long, attendance had fallen to its lowest since Three efforts to establish a professional football team had failed, the last attempt had come in While the Red Wings had achieved a measure of success, by no means had the team captured the imaginations of the city.
In short, Detroit was viewed by the rest of the country as a second-class, Midwest baseball town that had never won a World Series. Inall of this began to change. During spring training, Cochrane made the startling prediction that the Tigers would play in the World Series -- and his prediction would come true. For a city that had been trampled on by the Great Depression, the Tigers' renaissance drove the city into a baseball fever.
Though the Tigers lost in the seventh game of the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, the city would soon embark on the greatest season in the history of American sports. That year, an unknown Detroit boxer named Joe Louis turned pro, fought and won his first 12 fights including three fights at Olympia Stadiumpositioning himself as the ninth-ranked heavyweight going into While the Red Wings seemingly took a huge step back after finishing in fourth place, the midseason acquisitions of two young superstars -- Syd Howe and Scotty Bowman -- would help set the stage at Olympia Stadium.
On Jan. Not for several years had a heavyweight champion fought at Olympia Stadium, and on this night, Max Baer was putting his title on the line against Babe Hunt. But the match that Detroiters would be talking about starred a young unknown local boxer who had won his 13th fight with such skill, people began to talk about him as being a challenger for the heavyweight crown.
He is quick and well coordinated. He can hit from any angle. He is not a showman, but he is a fighter. Before that night at Olympia, boxing had been in decline. Between the Great Depression and the lack of a true superstar, the rise of Joe Louis electrified the boxing world, and as his fights grew in importance inso did the massive street celebrations that followed. By the end of the year, Louis had become an international superstar and the pride of Detroit. As incredible as the rise of Louis was, however, there would be many more celebrations. On the same day that the Lions won their first title, Dec.
Official coronation ceremonies will take place sometime next summer. The Red Wings are storming through [the] hockey wars with the lusty thump of hard-riding Cossacks. And today, bless their hearts, the Detroit Lions [brought] the professional football championship of the world to this town of Champions.
Stop off at Detroit. For the first time in the team's history, the Red Wings became the darlings of Detroit, and as they fought for their first championship, many people who may have never even thought about hockey were now swept up in the excitement of a team playing its hearts out in pursuit of something more than just a Stanley Cup. As the season progressed, Olympia began to see sold-out crowds that shook the rafters in their enthusiasm. The Wings "were angry, greedy wolves that ganged the opposition, and skimmed the ice with burning, red hot steel," the Detroit Times wrote in January More than 14, fans, occupying every seat as well as every available inch of standing room, gazed down on the ice drama being unfurled below.
There were scrambles in front of nets … violent bumpings along the boards … a burst of speed and then the spilled form of an athlete sliding across the white ice on his face. The 14, mingled screams and boos. The City of Champions season is one of the greatest, albeit unknown, stories in the history of sports, and no team benefited from it as much as the Red Wings.
The dogfight that this team went through against some of the greatest players in NHL history was simply extraordinary and the fact the Detroit Olympics won their own championship merely one day after is the stuff that legends are made of. Carrying the hopes of a Depression-weary city on their shoulders to the eventual Champions Day celebration at the Masonic Temple endeared the Red Wings to Detroit.
The Wings would repeat as Stanley Cup champions in During these war years, the team would win the Stanley Cup, and while 24 players left to serve their country, only 23 returned home. Goalie Joe Turner, who was killed fighting in the Hurtgen Forest in Germany inwas memorialized by the International Hockey League, which named its championship trophy after him.
Shortly after the war ended, a player arrived on Olympia's ice that would usher in a new era of Detroit hockey and would become synonymous with the Detroit Red Wings: Gordie Howe made his debut in Experiencing the boom of post-war America, Detroiters would flock to the stadium like never before.
It was in this era that hockey would become a cultural institution in Detroit. As one of the six teams out of 10 to emerge from the Great Depression, the Original Six era was dominated by the Red Wings. Seven straight first-place finishes with four Stanley Cup championships. During the Stanley Cup Finals, local Detroit fish market owners Pete and Jerry Cuisimano started what would become a tradition, when Jerry threw an octopus on the ice at Olympia for good luck, the eight tentacles representing the amount of wins the team needed to win the championship. This tradition lives on today.
Inthe Detroit Pistons became the newest residents of Olympia and called the Old Red Barn their home until Two years later saw the end of an era, with the announcement that Jack Adams had been fired by the Norris family who owned the team until after 36 years as general manager.
To this day, Adams is the only man to have his name on the Stanley Cup as a player, coach and executive. In the mids, Olympia began to take on an increasing of concerts, which only grew into the s and '70s. From tothe team dropped in the standings and frustrated fans with repeated trade and draft blunders. In this era, things got so bad, groups of fans, such as the Boos Brothers, organized impromptu performances among the crowds who still turned out.
The decline of the Red Wings coincided with the decline of the surrounding neighborhoods and Detroit itself. On Dec. There was no grand farewell celebration. Much like Tiger Stadium, Olympia lingered as a deteriorating, heartbreaking, unused shell from until it was demolished in Cranes gradually ate away at it, from rear to front, while construction workers handed out bricks and chairs to tearful onlookers.
Eventually, the Michigan National Guard built an armory on the site. The Guard named its new home after the storied venue that once stood there. Today, the Olympia Armory is home to a plaque that honors the lost and storied piece of Detroit history. While many Detroiters still lament Olympia's passing, many celebrate the old stadium for what it created.
Olympia played a crucial role in the creation of a sporting and entertainment culture in Detroit that grew so large, the Old Red Barn's walls could no longer contain it.Red wings olympia club
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