Whether it's been a sports event, concert, automobile show, graduation or convention, chances are pretty good your life has been touched at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena.

The idea for the nearly 6,800-seat auditorium originated from the creative minds of local print and radio advertisers of the mid-1940s.

It was a long process of getting to the grand opening on Aug. 28, 1973, when the Ice Capades stopped in Binghamton for a three-day tour. But that was only the beginning of an exciting autumn at the Arena.

On Sept. 20 that year, the Arena was host to the Miss World-USA pageant. The program was taped for television. One of the emcees was Mohawk Valley native and host of American Bandstand, Dick Clark. Sixteen semi-finalists were introduced by Clark, and when the contestants returned to their dressing rooms, the capacity crowd was in for a visit by another special guest, comedian Bob Hope.

"Wait until you see me in my swimsuit," Hope quipped after being greeted by a standing ovation.

"You know," Hope continued, referring to an old film partner, Bing Crosby, "I never knew Bing had his own town. That fits him though. Bing-HAM-town."

Hope continued his five-minute monologue, and spoke about pageants, women's liberation and the growing Watergate scandal of the time.

Interestingly, the reigning Miss World-USA, Lynda Carter, later the star of the TV series Wonder Woman, then accompanied Hope with the crown. Clark proclaimed Marji Wallace of Indiana as the new Miss World-USA, and Hope then crowned her.

There have been numerous concerts at the Arena over the years, but one of the more memorable ones was on May 26, 1977, when Elvis Presley gave a sold-out performance. Less than three months later, Elvis died.

In the early years of the Arena, some concerts included The Carpenters, Englebert Humperdinck, the Jackson Five, Tom Jones, Alice Cooper and David Bowie.

Also in the autumn of 1973, professional hockey in Binghamton debuted at the Arena with the Broome Dusters, a charter member of the American Hockey League.

The idea for the Arena surfaced in August 1944 when members of the Binghamton Advertising Club, now a part of today's Communications Association of the Southern Tier, asked the former Broome County Board of Supervisors to sell the old State Armory building on Washington Street for reconstruction as a 5,000-seat coliseum.

The Binghamton Rotary joined the Advertising Club in a proposal to make the coliseum a memorial to the county's World War II veterans. Oddly, the Broome County American Legion voted against this countywide memorial. That put a halt to the effort.

Eventually, the Armory took on another use, as home to the New York State Institute of Applied Arts and Sciences, a forerunner to today's Broome Community College.

Other proposals came and went, and it wasn't until 1963 that then Mayor John J. Burns named a committee to determine if an auditorium could be factored into the city's planned $80-million Urban Renewal program.

There were more starts, stops and changes in plans until 1971, when the present site was named and construction started in June of that year. Rising construction estimates had stymied the project several times to this point. A construction strike in 1972 slowed the building of the Arena.

For trivia's sake, it took eight and a half miles of half-inch pipe to be laid under the concrete floor of the Arena, to help make ice for hockey games and figure skating performances.

Also, the huge "corkscrew" staircase was made of two three-quarter turns of fabricated steel and was the largest staircase of its kind in the world at the time. The design was chosen to give people a number of different visual perspectives of the building's interior as they climb or descend the stairs.

This weekend: Some of Oneonta's earliest codes and borders.

City Historian Mark Simonson's column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or e-mail him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com.

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