Monday, December 3, 2012

Nearly Back Where it all Began

This weekend the TQ Midgets are racing for the first time in Baltimore, Maryland, indoors at the 1st Mariner Arena. This is perhaps the closest that the TQs have gotten to their roots in more than 60 years.

There is a large, run-down building next to the tracks near Union Station in Washington, D.C., 35 miles from the 1st Mariner Arena. In this building commuters park their cars in the morning and leave in the evening without pausing to take a look around. People walk by without a glance. Train passengers look out the window and think nothing of it. But it holds a signficant place in history... and in racing history.

The Uline Arena

It was called the Washington Coliseum when the Beatles performed their first U.S. concert here. Concerts, ice hockey, basketball, circuses, political rallies and much more are all a part of the history of the building that first opened as the Uline Arena in 1941. And when the Tom Thumb Midget Association, the organization that evolved to become the ATQMRA, staged its first-ever race, it did so in the Uline Arena.

It was November 20, 1950, when Tony Bonadies won the Tom Thumb Midget Association’s first race, indoors at the Uline Arena.
Tony Bonadies (Photo courtesy Ron Lauer)

The building was constructed by Miguel L. Uline for his professional ice hockey team, the Washington Lions. It was built along the tracks leading to Union Station in an area now known as NoMa (North of Massachusetts). Uline Arena was also home to the Washington Capitols of the Basketball Association of America, a team which was coached by Red Auerbach prior to his move to Boston.

But it wasn't until jewelry wholesaler Harry G. Lynn bought the arena in 1959, renamed it the Washington Coliseum, and made it a place for concerts that the place became world famous. That's because the Beatles performed their first U.S. concert there on February 11, 1964. Concerts featuring everyone from the Woody Herman Orchestra to the Royal Ballet to Bob Dylan were presented at the arena.

The Beatles perform where TQs had performed before

Newer venues later cut into the arena’s business, and by 1987 there was a planned $17.5 million renovation featuring convention space, a chapel, schools, and radio and TV studios for a faith-based organization. But these plans never same to fruition, and in 1994 the building was converted into, of all things, a trash transfer station.

Finally, following new regulations governing the handling of garbage, the building became the dismal parking garage that it is today.

The decaying interior of the Uline Arena today

Through the years there have been an remarkable array of events at the arena, including such diverse uses as an inaugural gala for President Eisenhower in 1953, and as a holding cell for many of the 12,000 people arrested during protests of the Vietnam War in 1971. But now, the only hope for the first race track on which the Tom Thumb TQ Midgets raced is yet another redevelopment plan, which currently is stalled, at best, due to today’s economic conditions.

A redevelopment concept for the Uline Arena
Perhaps one day the building will be restored to its former glory, since the neighborhood surrounding it is being redeveloped. It happened when Convention Hall in Atlantic City was renovated into Boardwalk Hall. It would be great to see the history of the Uline Arena honored and preserved while moving forward with a 21st century renovation.