Music - When the levee breaks by Led Zeppelin
Olympia Stadium - Opened in 1927, closed in 1979 and finally demolished in 1986. Before demolition, I got inside the arena. It was in horrible shape, like a bomb went off. The site is now an armory.
Location - 5920 Grand River Ave. Detroit, Michigan Bounded by McGraw St., Lawton St., Wreford St.
The demolition photos were given to me in 1986 by my two friends Mike DesRosiers and Jerry Szweda. I met both of them when I was in Detroit taking pictures of the Olympia before demolition began. They both took me into the dank, dark arena and showed me around. Kiddingly I said to them, will you send me a seat? And DAMN if they didn't. I have one of the red seats in my office to this day, along with a few bricks from the old barn. Unfortunately, both men have passed away. They both were way too young to leave us. I will never forget their generosity and taking the time to show me the inside of the old barn.
5920 Grand River Avenue, Detroit. This address is sacred ground to Red Wing hockey fans. At the corner of Grand River and McGraw, Hooker Street and Lawton, stood the old red barn, otherwise known as the Olympia. For 52 glorious years it was home to Red Wings hockey. It was a respite from long cold winter nights in Michigan. It was home to countless hockey fans in Detroit. It will never be replaced. The Olympia had the best sightlines in hockey, and a home feel to it. She wasn't pretty, but she was the star in Motown. Much like its cousin, Tiger stadium, Olympia had the feel of a building meant for hockey. She was often credited as having the best ice in the league. And inside her red brick walls, she was spotless. Painted in the team colors, red and white, her concourse was the gathering place for hockey fans young and old.
The Olympia was opened in September of 1927 with, of all things, a rodeo. The Red Wings had been playing their home games across the Detroit River in Windsor Ontario at the border cities arena. That arena still stands to this day. In a bit of irony, the glass doors on the Grand River side of Olympia were moved to border cities after the demolition. She may have opened with a rodeo, but hockey was KING here. On November 22, 1927, the Detroit Cougars (as they were known back then) played their first game at the old red barn. Detroit's Johnny Sheppard scored the first goal in the history of the Olympia, but the original Ottawa Senators beat Detroit that night 2-1. The team was known as the Cougars from 1926 - 1930. They then changed their name to the Falcons for the next two seasons. The Red Wings did not come into existence until the 1932 season. The Wings won their first of 7 Stanley cups in the 1935 - 1936 season. Their final Olympia Stanley cup was in the 1954 - 1955 season. If the Wings were king of Olympia, then Gordie Howe was the ruler of the ice. Mr. hockey played at Olympia for an incredible 25 seasons. When he retired after 32 seasons, he held most of the scoring records in the NHL.
The usual collection of rodeos, circuses, concerts and every other kind of event was held at the barn. It was even home to the Detroit Pistons of the NBA from 1957 thru 1961. It also housed the Detroit Olympics of the IHL from 1927 thru 1936.
The Olympia was structurally sound, but due to the deterioration of the neighborhood, the Wings were seeking a new building. After a Wings game in the 70's, a fan was murdered in the Hooker Street parking lot. The area around Olympia had gone downhill for years. The 1967 race riots didn't help Olympia's cause either. Finally in 1979 the Joe Louis arena in downtown Detroit was built. The last ever Wings game took place on December 15, 1979. The Wings played host to the Quebec Nordiques and the game ended in a 4-4 tie. A sellout crowd watched Detroit's Greg Joly score the final goal at the old red barn, while Rogie Vachon tended goal.
There was one last hurrah at the old barn. A few weeks later, a final exhibition game was held with the Red Wings old timers. Another sellout crowd sent the barn off in a big way. That was the last ever event held in Olympia. Shortly after that, the barn was shuttered for good, and left to rot in the harsh Michigan winters. Finally, the old girl was put out of her misery and demolished in 1986. How fitting that a crime ridden area where Olympia once stood would build an armory on the site.