THE CELEBRATED HISTORY OF VETERANS MEMORIAL
Franklin County Veterans Memorial was dedicated on November 11, 1955, to honor the men and women who served our country in the U.S. Armed Forces. At the end of World War II, Franklin County voters approved a $4.5 million bond issue to build a large complex that would include a sports arena, auditorium and veterans hall.
The idea of a sports arena was later dropped from the original plans and shortly after construction began, a second bond issue was needed to complete the project. An editorial by the Columbus Journal on June 23, 1954, called on voters to approve the added dollars, stating “Cost Increase Understandable, Unavoidable.”
The Columbus Dispatch reported that U.S. Senator John W. Bricker, who served as a military chaplain during World War I, delivered the dedication speech in which he focused on the military code of conduct which requires troops to “give my life” in defense of the nation.
Senator Bricker used the speech as an opportunity to call for more civility in the general public: “We can not maintain for long a standard of military conduct substantially higher than the standard of respect by citizens generally.”
The first headline performer to take to the stage of Franklin County Veterans Memorial after the dedication was none other than the “Tennessee Plowboy,” Eddie Arnold. Arnold was one of the most popular performers in the country at the time, with a string of country western hits and the syndicated television show, Eddy Arnold Time, which began airing nationwide the same year Arnold appeared at Veterans Memorial.
It did not take long for the venue to become the center of the new musical art form known as rock and roll.
Just two months after the release of the hit single, Heartbreak Hotel, a very young Elvis Presley played two shows the evening of May 26, 1956. The next day’s edition of the Columbus Dispatch reported “Long hair flying he bumped and rolled through half a dozen numbers amidst piercing screams from a house three quarters full. The audience was teenagers with a heavy sprinkling of adults.”
Veterans Memorial has hosted the likes of the Columbus Symphony, the Central Ohio Symphony and the Grand Ole Opry. In 1964, Ray Milland graced the stage in the Kenly Players presentation of “My Fair Lady,” and other stars who made appearances that year included Anita Bryant, Victor Borge and Captain Kangaroo.
Years later, Veterans Memorial would be the host of live album recordings by such groups as King Crimson (1974) and Phish (1994). The auditorium would also host over the years concerts by a diverse group of performers including Bob Dylan, Bette Midler, Neil Diamond and Bruce Springsteen.
In 1959, Veterans Memorial served as the temporary shelter from those trying to escape some of the worst flooding in Ohio history. A particularly cold winter left the soil frozen a foot deep, so when the rains came on January 21, 1959, there was no place for the water to go. Despite its close proximity to the Scioto River, Veterans Memorial set out cots and fed those seeking to escape the rising waters.
The Mr. World Weightlifting Championship came to Franklin County Veterans Memorial in 1970, in a program televised to more than 50 million homes by ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Some 5,000 spectators crowded into the auditorium to witness the crowning of Arnold Schwarzenegger as that year’s Mr. World.
To commemorate his bodybuilding title, Mr. Schwarzenegger returned to Veterans Memorial in 1989 to host the first annual Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic. “The Arnold”, as it is known locally, makes the auditorium the center of the weightlifting and physical fitness universe every March. Today the event is the largest multi-sport festival in the nation and a bronze statue of Mr. Schwarzenegger’s classic bodybuilding pose is prominently located on the south lawn of Veterans Memorial.
Veterans Memorial has successfully hosted various trade shows, concerts, productions, sporting events and more. Among these events are:
- Greater Columbus Golf Show
- AAA Great Vacation Expo
- Columbus Bride Show
- International Gem and Jewelry Show
- L & L Home Improvement Show
- International Festival
- The Columbus Toy Show
- Senior Living Festival
- Several High School and College Graduations
- Family Entertainment Events and Concerts
- Public Expositions
Veterans Memorial has undergone two major expansions. The North Exhibition Hall was added in 1982 and the Rotunda extended the front entrance in 2000.
In March, 2012, Veterans Memorial announced plans for a $3 million upgrade to the facility, with continuous future plans for upgrades. Other improvements included a new stage elevator, safety upgrades, a new HVAC system in the North Hall and new service equipment.