Ten thousand vintage wooden seats that held crowds for the world’s greatest artists – from Elvis to James Brown to David Bowie – are being plucked from the floors of the Bojangles’ Coliseum this month, as part of a $16 million renovation of the 60-year-old domed building.
Most are destined to be dismantled for recycled parts, which is a less than dignified end to their long life in the entertainment business.
However, the Charlotte Regional Visitor’s Authority, which manages the site, realizes there is Charlotte history in the piles of chairs, so it is making 800 of the nearly 10,000 seats available next month in sets of two and three for sentimentalists and fans of the Charlotte Checkers, who call the city-owned coliseum home. Interested buyers must sign up for details at www.gocheckers.com.
A price has not yet been established, but it will likely be less than $50 per set, officials said.
“We don’t have a lot of buildings that have been around this long in the community, so we realize this place is a connection to our past that is important to people who grew up here,” said Tom Murray of CRVA. “It’s part of our heritage in this city, with these amazing performances, sporting events and high school graduations.”
CRVA says 189 people have already signed up to receive purchase details, suggesting the allotment of seats will go fast. Some Checkers fans have also asked to buy the team’s old lockers, but they are being recycled to go into the visiting team locker room, CRVA officials said.
When opened in 1955 as the Charlotte Coliseum, the site was the largest unsupported steel dome in the world. Events there have included everything from Lawrence Welk extravaganzas to Billy Graham crusades. The biggest performers of the past 60 years appeared there, including Elvis, the Rolling Stones, B.B. King, James Brown, Liza Minnelli, Bob Dylan, Evil Knievel, Alice Cooper, John Denver, Tom Jones, the Jackson 5 and Curtis Mayfield.
And nearly every high school in the region held graduation ceremonies there at one time or another.
Among the fans who have already signed up for a pair of seats is Kurt Golembrosky, 46, who lives in Newark, Del. His father, Frank Golembrosky, was a popular Checkers player from 1968 to 1972 and again from 1973 to 1976.
Kurt Golembrosky, who coaches high school hockey with his father, intends to put the seats in a mini museum he has to his father’s career in his basement. He’s hoping to surprise his father, who is now 70, with an unveiling of the old seats.
“I sat in those chairs a many a game, watching my dad play,” Kurt Golembrosky says. “It’s all about memories, you know. This brings back sweet memories of blood, sweat and tears. My dad will be really tickled. If those seats could talk …”
Checkers fan Bill Barrett – who fondly remembers Frank Golembrosky’s heyday – has also registered to get seats for his recreation room here in Charlotte. Barrett, 61, was an usher at the coliseum as a youth, earning $2.50 a night. Tips of 25 to 50 cents were earned by wiping the seats off with a towel, he says.
“My dad took me there when I was little, I took my son there when he was little, and I’ve taken my grandson there, so I see that place as a Charlotte tradition,” says Barrett, who’d like to get three sets of chairs. “I want the seats to pass them to my grandchildren.”
Barrett guesses he’s been to as many as 500 events at the coliseum, including Elvis’ last concert in 1977. “It was crazy, with women screaming and throwing panties.” His date, who kept her underwear that night, eventually became his wife of 38 years, Laura Barrett.
The seat removal is part of an extensive renovation that will continue into November and will include replacing the scoreboard and sound system and refurbishing the Checkers’ locker room and nearby VIP suite.
CRVA officials say the thousands of wooden chairs will be replaced by plastic seats that are a few inches wider for the comfort of event attendees. As a result, there will be fewer seats per row, officials said. An exact sale price for the old seats will be set in the next few weeks, based on the cost involved in dismantling, storing and redistributing the seats, officials said. CRVA says its intent is not to make a profit off the sales.
Bojangles’ Coliseum operations manager George Hite says a row of the old seats will be kept at the arena as part of a small historical exhibit about the building. Like Barrett, he was once an usher there.
Hite says he’s sad to see the original seats go but admits they’ve lived a long and occasionally rough life, including concerts where fans stood on them and/or jumped up and down on them. There were the occasional fights, too, during the big rivalry hockey games and professional wrestling matches.
“They are very durable and have stood the test of time, including having initials carved in them, cigarettes burned into them and everything else you can imagine,” says Hite.
“We hear stories of people having first dates here, meeting their future wife here, proposing marriage here, fathers bringing their kids and their kids growing up and bringing their own kids. There are a lot of great memories in these seats.”
How to get seats
Those interested in purchasing a set of Bojangles’ Coliseum seats can sign up now at www.gocheckers.com for information on the sales process. Details and a price are not yet finalized. The seats will be made available during three upcoming days in August on a first-come, first-served basis. They will be sold in the condition they were removed. Purchasers will be responsible for supplying any missing part not provided at the time of sale.