Located just off the Hempstead Turnpike, Nassau Coliseum has served the Long Island community since opening its doors in 1972. Throughout the 1970s and beyond, it has served as host to countless events, from sports to concerts to the circus big top. Suffice to say, there are few locals who haven’t visited this arena at one time or another.
The area where Nassau Coliseum resides is the site of the former location of Mitchel Field, a United States Air Force base that operated from 1918-1961 and served as Air Defense Command during WWII. When the base closed, plans were put in place for Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum (its name, a nod to it military history). Built to hold 15,000 visitors, the arena opened its doors in 1972, when it hosted an NBA basketball game between the New York Nets and the Pittsburgh Condors.
The Nets would win two championships at Nassau Coliseum in the early 70s, but they were far from the only notable sports team to inhabit the venue. During its first year of operation, the stadium became host of its own NHL hockey team, the New York Islanders, thus fueling a heated rivalry between them and the New York Rangers that has yet to subside.
If you weren’t a sports fan in the 70s, there were still plenty of reasons to visit Nassau Coliseum. For one thing, it has hosted the Ringling Bros. Barnum Bailey Circus every year since 1972 (a record number of performance), delighting millions of kids from the 70s and every decade since. Former youngsters may also remember seeing the Harlem Globetrotters at Nassau Coliseum, as well as Disney on Ice and Sesame Street Live.
Of course, Nassau Coliseum also has a rich history of hosting musical events over the years. The Grateful Dead hold the record, having played there a whopping 35 times. Long Island favorite, Billy Joel, is also no stranger to the Coliseum, having performed there 19 times, including a stretch in 1998, when he performed nine sold-out shows in a row (also a record for the venue). Elvis Presley played three sold-out shows there in 1973. He returned in 1975 and was scheduled to perform there on August 22, 1977. Sadly, the King was found dead a week earlier. Also worth mentioning, Frank Zappa played his last concert at the Coliseum in 1988, before succumbing to cancer a few years later.
Nassau Coliseum has sadly started to show its age. Plans to build a new arena and redevelop the entire area weren’t met with enthusiasm from local voters, and in recent years, the New York Islanders announced they would be ending their tenure there and moving to Brooklyn. A new developer has recently shared its ambitious plans to bring new life to the Coliseum in the coming years. Hopefully, this will allow Long Islanders to enjoy Nassau Coliseum for many years to come.
Do you have fond memories of visiting Nassau Coliseum as a kid in the 1970s? Perhaps you saw the circus, or your first concert, or watched the Islanders beat the Rangers? We’d love to hear all of your recollections of this historic venue in our comments section below.