Historic Structures

Olympia Arena (Olympia Stadium), Detroit Michigan

Date added: October 17, 2013 Categories: Michigan Stadium Romanesque Revival

From its opening in October, 1927, until its closing in December, 1979, Olympia Arena was Detroit's principal indoor arena for sporting events, including professional hockey and basketball games, track meets, boxing matches, and bicycle races. The building hosted other forms of mass entertainment, including ice shows, the circus, rodeos, and rock concerts. Over its long history, Olympia was the center for political and social conventions, trade shows, expositions, and various other attractions and events. It is best remembered as the home of the Detroit Red Wings. Designed by C. Howard Crane, an internationally known theater architect, Olympia Arena is a Detroit landmark because of its handsome Romanesque exterior and its imposing size. It is an engineering monument as well, because it contained the largest indoor skating rink in the United States when it opened in 1927.

Olympia Arena is a polygonal, six-sided, steel and reinforced concrete building located on Grand River Avenue between McGraw and Hooker, south of West Grand Boulevard. As originally built, three of the sides, facing Grand River Avenue, McGraw, and Lawton, were 173 feet, 317 feet, and 224 feet in length respectively. The north wall originally had three segments, which, proceeding from west to east, were 140 feet, 117 feet, and 145 feet long. The 1965 addition to the east end of the building, facing Lawton, was 224 feet long and 81 feet wide. The front of the building from grade level to the top of the pediment is 107 feet high.

On the interior, the main steel roof trusses, built by the Massillon Bridge and Structural Company of Massillon, Ohio, have a span of 186 feet and are 90 feet above the arena floor. Olympia Arena has five distinct levels: the ground-floor arena level; a mezzanine; a main seating section; the balcony seating section; and a fifth section containing the roof supports. When originally built, Olympia enclosed 7.3 million cubic feet and provided a floor space of 77,393 square feet. Underneath the oval ice-skating rink measuring 242 feet long and 110 feet wide, was a labyrinth of 74,380 feet of 1 1\4 inch pipe, placed four inches apart, center-to-center, which carried the brine coolant to create the ice surface. A layer of concrete covered the pipes. The center of the basement housed brine coolers and pumps to move the brine throughout the piping system.

The style of the exterior of Olympia is Romanesque in derivation. Overall, the building appears heavy and fortress - like, weighed down by the massive use of dark red brick which is relieved occasionally by brown buff terra cotta trimmings. The main facade along Grand River Avenue is symmetrically arranged and is the most decorative of the facades. A count of denticulated brick, bordered with stone, surrounds the entire structure at the mezzanine level, setting off the entrance section from the remainder of the building. The entrance level was designed to accommodate up to thirteen retail stores along Grand River and McGraw, with passageways only to the outside. A three-sided marquise stands above the Grand River entrance, with the letters "OLYMPIA" in the middle. Above the marquise, two original steel flag poles protrude from the facade on a 45 degree angle. Other features include two large neon OLYMPIA signs on the Grand River and McGraw facades, at the intersection o£ the two streets. These signs date from the 1950s and replaced a 60 foot high vertical neon sign which was also on the Grand River facade, but which extended about ten feet over the sidewalk.

Immediately above the lower-level course line, nine steel-sashed, square and rectangular windows stretch along the Grand River facade. The window spaces function as the first stages of a series of elongated, Romanesque-like arches, each filled with denticulated brick and outlined by a border of 8 inch brick, that extend more than half way up the building, corresponding to the main seating and balcony seating levels on the interior. A series of two windows and three stylized arches also appear on the Hooker and McGraw facades, near the front of the building. Prominently displayed in the center of the Grand River facade, in the middle of a aeries of stylized arches, is a large and deeply-recessed arch, which currently displays a Detroit Red Wings logo, painted on a wooden background. The archway was originally filled with black glass. Briefly interrupting the solid brick work in the space between the series of arches and the cornice are three terra cotta medallions which feature hockey players and runners. Two additional examples of medallions with runners can be seen on the McGraw and Hooker facades.

The Grand River facade culminates in a pediment, corresponding to the crest in the gable-shaped roof. The architect described the roof as light-weight and made of "I-plate construction covered with two thicknesses of insulation and an asbestos roof." Originally, three steel flag poles rose vertically from the roof, one of them from the center of the pediment. A cornice follows the pediment and continues along the roof line of the entire building. Composed of dentils and moldings, the cornice is separated from the rest of the building by its light terra cotta composition. Blind arcading, appearing only on the building below the pediment and cornice, gives an added decorative touch to the Grand River side.

Except for the course line and cornice extending the length of McGraw and Hooker, and short segments toward Grand River which contain medallions, windows, and arches, the McGraw and Hooker facades are large and relatively unadorned surfaces, broken occasionally by very noticeable air vents and by two entrances on each side. Faintly detectable along the McGraw and Hooker facades are large rectangular areas outlines with eight inch brick that project one half inch. The rectangular, concrete and steel four-story addition made to the rear of the building in 1965 stands sharply apart from the rest of Olympia.