Heard on CultureShift

Here Are Detroit’s Weirdest, Wackiest Memories of Joe Louis Arena

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Image credit: Sandra Svoboda

The demolition of ‘the Joe’ is approaching, and it’s tugging at our heart strings.

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Sandra Svoboda
Sandra Svoboda

We’re not crying, you’re crying.

Okay, we’ll admit it… the demolition of Joe Louis Arena is approaching, and we feel some type of way. After all, it’s been a part of the city’s fabric for nearly 40 years. Fact: Letting go is not always easy.

Making its grand opening in 1979, the arena was home to the Detroit Red Wings and a host of entertainment, concert and sports events. The final skate across the ice pushing a black, vulcanized rubber disk happened two years ago, in April. So, sure, it’s been inoperable for quite some time. But still, it’s Detroit history. For many, the final days of the Joe is bittersweet, but we’ll always have stories to share.  

We asked you for your memories of the arena and you did not disappoint. We received calls from across the city with colorful tales of the beloved Joe Louis Area that range from concert stage crashers to catching “Ewoks on Ice” and more.  

Click the player above to hear stories of the ‘Joe,’ and read caller comments below.


All Work and no praise?

Finally, somebody wants to hear what I gotta say about that place. Back in 19??, I’m a contractor, a union contractor, been on the streets doing a thousand jobs in the Detroit Metropolitan area. We did floors, that went up on the Joe Louis tile that we put in there …it’s got big, black letters. We had one week to put that in. We used to say, ‘we got the job done’. It looked beautiful, I thought. The gentleman on Channel 2 was doing news, sports at that time and says: ‘Grand Opening …the Gordie Howe entrance…” So, I call everybody I knew (laughs). I got everybody my president, vice president, all my sales department, everybody watching and I’m like ‘man, they’re going to show our floor in there. It looks really nice.’  And uh…lo and behold the segment that they had on the Joe Louis Arena was a snapshot snippet of a couple of guys hanging a sign on the exterior of the building and didn’t have nothing to say about our floor at all. We were the only main contractors that did the biggest and most work that weekend on the Gordie Howe entrance. To this day, I’m still looking for that guy to say: Hey! You didn’t give us our just due.” 


First-time concertgoers 

I remember the first rock show at JLA, Rush Moving Pictures. I took my older brother there. What a great night. What a great show. The seats weren’t the greatest in the house, but it sure was good to be there. I’ll never forget.” — Drew, Garden City   

I remember going to my very first concert with my older brother and younger sister. We went to see the Average White Band along with Parliament-Funkadelic. And that was the concert, where the gangs were really going strong in the city and the Errol Flynns jumped on the stage with AWB and shut the concert down. Great concert. Great memories. I’m going to  miss the Joe.” — Tara


February Freeze: Cheers to the “craziest-best” of times

It had to be the Van Halen concert in 1984. Tickets went on sale in February, on the coldest, coldest set of days, and my boyfriend and I went down at midnight and stood in line with a bunch of people. It was so cold! But, we saw somebody fall from the walkway between the parking garage and Joe Louis. They landed on somebody. That guy wouldn’t get out of line. They had to come — there was a paddy wagon, there was a flurry of people. It was just the craziest-best time to get concert tickets with other people, having fun, and then the concert was fantastic.” — Anonymous


Red Wings love the kids

My favorite memory of Joe Louis is when the Red Wings used to practice, and they’d have these fundraisers for the food banks. I took my nieces and nephews to see them. The kids loved it, especially my nephew.” — Jo


Yep, ‘Ewoks on Ice’ did actually happen

When I was young, and Star Wars was a big thing, we saw — and I know this is going to make you jealous — Ewoks on Ice! Looking back, I can’t even believe that was a real thing. But that’s one of my fonder and weirder memories. Thank you, kindly.” — Shawn, Saline, MI


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