The Nassau Coliseum, a fixture on Hempstead Turnpike since 1972, has hosted some of the biggest names in music and sports.
Journalist and historian Nicholas Hirshon, who wrote the only book that's ever been published about the Coliseum's history, explained how the arena, which was world-class when first constructed, put Long Island on the map.
“Before the Nassau Coliseum everyone who lived in this area had to go to Madison Square Garden or somewhere else in the city to see a major event,” said Hirshon, an assistant professor at William Paterson University.
The project was spearheaded by then-Nassau County Executive Ralph Caso, a World War II veteran whose military service might have influenced the building's official name: the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Of course, the arena's most famous tenant was the New York Islanders hockey team, who occupied the Coliseum until the club's move to Brooklyn in 2015.
The early days were tough for the fledgling franchise, though their fortunes quickly turned around. In the early 1980s, the Islanders became one of the most dominant dynasties in the history of modern sports, winning four straight Stanley Cup titles. The fans here in Nassau County just couldn't get enough.
“When the Islanders won, they became the underdog team in this area. People on Long Island related to them,” said Hirshon. “All of the players lived in the community. You'd see them at the supermarkets and at the bars, driving around town. So it was more than just a team that you happened to watch winning. It was one of your own winning, and that made it special.”
But it wasn't just hockey that drew fans to Uniondale. Some of the top acts in the music business made regular appearances at the coliseum, including Long Island's very own piano man Billy Joel, the heavy metal mega group Metallica and pop superstar Madonna. Other sporting events also happened here, including professional wrestling.
“Not a lot of people know that Nassau Coliseum played a major role in WrestleMania 2 when Mr. T fought Rowdy Roddy Piper in a boxing match in 1986,” said Hirshon.
In terms of basketball, the Coliseum was once the home of the New York Nets, a team that would spend decades in New Jersey before moving to Brooklyn.
Even tennis matches were held under the coliseum lights. In a recent interview, one of the sport's all-time legends, Billie Jean King, recounts her time in Nassau County, and the influence it had on the rest of her life.
“The reason I live in New York City is because when I first played team tennis, I played for the Philadelphia Freedoms in 74,” said King. “And in 75, I came to play for the New York Sets, and we played at the Nassau Coliseum. And I started looking at apartments then that I wanted to live in in New York.”
But as the years passed, the Coliseum's once modern design became dated. And after several failed attempts to refurbish the arena, the Islanders, its premier franchise, packed up and left.
This change, however, signaled opportunity and soon a $165 million refurbishment was underway, revealing a brand-new Nassau Coliseum: a building that's once again a world-class sports and entertainment venue.
“Now that the arena has finally been renovated, which had been talked about for decades, there is hope that they'll get all of those headlining acts again and it will be great for the residents around here,” said Hirshon.
And now that the Coliseum is back, lots of people around here are wondering if the Islanders will come to play here once again. There has some talk among elected officials about trying to make it happen, but so far, nothing is official.