The Davis Islands Coliseum
by Rodney Kite-Powell
Tampa Bay History Center
A devastating fire gutted the once-venerable Davis Islands Coliseum, formerly
located on the corner of Chesapeake and Danube (90 Chesapeake), forty years ago this
month. On the evening of January 26, 1967, the dark night skies turned a brilliant
orange-red with the out of control blaze. The fire, which started at around 9:30 in the
evening on January 26, 1967, occupied most of the Tampa Fire Department’s force –
fourteen units, twenty-three fire trucks and over one hundred fire fighters battled the
blaze from 10:40 until well past midnight. There was little firefighters could do since the
building had burned undetected for over an hour. Flames and smoke, which reached
“hundreds of feet” into the sky, could be seen as far away as Sulphur Springs to the north
and St. Petersburg to the southwest.
The building was only forty-two years old, but it was a full forty two years.
Though once a popular facility, with a full social calendar and promising future, the old
Coliseum was already considered obsolete before its fiery demise.
The Davis Islands Coliseum, constructed in 1925, embodied the largest project
originally planned for the community. Funded through the sale of stock certificates, the
Coliseum was instantly considered a landmark for both Davis Islands and the City of
Tampa. The massive building – among the largest of its kind in the southeastern United
States – housed concerts, auto shows, conventions and many other events. Dances and
formal gatherings, including Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla’s annual Coronation Ball,
were also common during the Coliseum’s early years.
Harry J. Warner, who served as the general manager of the Coliseum before
World War II, purchased the Coliseum building and installed a skating rink, which
operated for over twenty years. Warner sold the building in 1963 for $100,000 (over
$610,000 in today’s dollars), and the rink gave way to a bowling alley and cocktail
lounge. The new owners defaulted on their loan from Warner, and he took back the
building two years later.
With his resumption of ownership, Warner had a new idea for the old Coliseum –
a grocery store. The city, however, refused to change the zoning from residential to
commercial. He next offered to sell the building to the city for $100,000 for use as a city
recreation building. The city refused this, as well, and the building sat empty for the next
year and a half.
It took only a few hours to erase a structure built on forty-two years of memories.
Joe Gomez, the city’s fire marshal, ruled that vandals caused the fire. Warner reported
that he’d had to repair several acts of vandalism over the past few months. The fire
attracted close to a thousand onlookers from all parts of the city. The Tampa Tribune
reported that, despite the high volume of cars pouring onto the Islands, the new bridge
handled all of the traffic without incident.
One problem that did arise, though, was the countless numbers of burning embers
that were spread across the neighborhood. Through the valiant efforts of the Tampa Fire
Department, aided by residents with garden hoses, no other buildings were lost during the
The remnants of the burned-out building continued to smolder well into the next
night. The memories of the long-lost Davis Islands Coliseum still smolder within Tampa
residents to this day.
Rodney Kite-Powell is the Saunders Foundation Curator of History at the Tampa Bay