If you look closely, there are still signs of the old Washington Coliseum. As you walk in, you see the abandoned ticket window off to the side.
Go a little farther, and you notice aging balcony seats that overlook a parking garage.
To Naomi Banks, 66, who lives next door in this northeast Washington neighborhood, these aren't just dusty relics of a forgotten landmark, but reminders of a night when music history was made. Fifty years ago, the Beatles performed their first concert in the USA at the Washington Coliseum in the nation's capital — and she was there.
"Pandemonium," she says of the show on Feb. 11, 1964. Four days earlier, the band had arrived in New York and was greeted by screaming crowds before an iconic appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on Feb. 9. That show was seen by about 73 million Americans, including Banks.
"I think everybody watched them on Ed Sullivan," she says. She'd first become aware of the Beatles, as many Americans had, with the release of I Want to Hold Your Hand, the single released in late 1963 that became the band's first No. 1 hit in the USA.
"I like that beat," she recalls thinking, and after learning the band would make its American concert debut a stone's throw away from her front door, she told a manager of the Coliseum whom she knew, "Please take me in there to see the Beatles!" He agreed.
These were no ordinary times for Washington. Less than three months before the nation first said hello to the Beatles, America said goodbye to another giant of history.
President John F. Kennedy's death on Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas was a transitional moment in a transitional decade. All that lay ahead could hardly have been predicted by the time the Beatles arrived in America.
Events such as the unthinkable death toll in Vietnam and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy would cast a shadow over a once hopeful generation.
The turbulence of the 1960s was not on display the night of the Beatles' performance in the nation's capital. That night belonged to 8,000 screaming fans and a group of guys from Liverpool, England.
WHERE MUSIC HISTORY WAS MADE
The Beatles "took your mind off of what happened" in November 1963, Banks says. She has more than memories to remind visitors of this era.
There's the house Banks lived in since the mid-1950s, right across the street from the Coliseum.
There's the transistor radio that isn't quite that old — she isn't sure when she acquired it — but is, nonetheless, a departure from the portable listening devices one is accustomed to seeing in 2014.
"It still works," she points out proudly, and demonstrates.
Then there's the scrapbook with images of the Coliseum marquee and the show. She even has a replica of the set list that was on stage. She acquired it from Texas collector Mark Naboshek, who owns the original version and gave her a copy of it.
Naomi Banks remembers the excitement of seeing The Beatles perform at the Washington Coliseum on Feb. 11, 1964. She still lives in the house across the street from the Coliseum. By H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY.
But it is her memories that paint the most vivid picture of that 50-year-old night, and she's become accustomed to sharing them with fans who make the pilgrimage to the site where music history was made.
They're not hard to spot, she says, and she happily shares her account and will even take them inside the Coliseum to see where it all happened.
"I will always tell that story," she says.
The Beatles' arrival in Washington was an event in itself. They reached Union Station on Feb. 11 by rail — a snowstorm in Washington had led to a change in travel plans. Awaiting them were approximately 2,000 fans, who weren't going to let the snow change theirs.
The band would stay at the Shoreham Hotel, now called the Omni Shoreham. Then-general manager Phil Hollywood remembers getting a call from Capitol Records asking if the Shoreham could provide accommodations.
Rock 'n' roll history is filled with stories of bands proving to be less-than-ideal hotel guests. Hollywood, 88, says that was not the case with John, Paul, George and Ringo.
"They were just really nice young men," he says.
"No requests, no demands," he adds. Well, except for one.
They paged him for a hair dryer, he says, perhaps not a surprising request from a group that was well known for their mop-top hair styles. He acquired one from the hotel's head cashier.
Despite the frenzied atmosphere and screaming fans, Hollywood described a smooth exit for the band. He avoided the crowds by taking the group through the kitchen, where they waved to cooks as they left.
"Extremely polite," he says of the group.
The Beatles would play 12 songs at the Washington Coliseum, opening with the Chuck Berry cover Roll Over Beethoven and closing with Little Richard's Long Tall Sally. Sprinkled throughout the set were the songs that made them stars, including I Want to Hold Your Hand and She Loves You.
Notably different, Banks says, from the Sullivan appearance was the band's demeanor on stage.
"When they were on Ed Sullivan, they just played," she says. "But when they got in that Coliseum, they hop, skipped, jumped around the stage." It was, she recounts, "exciting."
In a visit to the old Coliseum, she points out where she stood in the balcony, which she describes as "my corner."
Looking at her corner, you would be hard-pressed to know that someone who once stood there had witnessed music history.
The building, including the balcony where Banks stood, shows its age. Rather than the sounds of guitars and melodious lyrics, you'll hear cars entering and leaving the garage these days.
"It's so heartbreaking to see it look like that," Banks says.
On Tuesday, the 50th anniversary of the show, the sounds of Beatles songs will once again reverberate through the Coliseum.
A re-enactment show featuring a Beatles cover band performing the original set list will be held at the Coliseum (also known by its other name, Uline Arena). Tommy Roe, one of the original opening acts, will perform an acoustic set.
Though the arena is best known for its role in Beatles' history, its story goes beyond the Fab Four, says Rebecca Miller, executive director of the D.C. Preservation League. In addition to showcasing other musical acts, the Coliseum was an important part of the civil rights movement. It was desegregated in 1948 and would later play host to speeches by Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X.
In 2006, after a lengthy process initiated by Miller's group, the Coliseum was designated a D.C. landmark. Douglas Development, which acquired the Coliseum in the mid-2000s and has plans to redevelop the property, will co-host the concert with the league.
The Washington Coliseum, sight of The Beatles' first concert in the U.S., is now a decaying parking lot. But redevelopment and a tribute concert are on the horizon. By H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY.
'YOU HAD TO BE THERE'
Banks will be there Tuesday, just as she was 50 years earlier. "I'm going to stand in my same little corner," she says.
She and the several thousands who saw that first show bore witness to the beginning of the Beatles phenomenon that would change rock music forever. The band would stop touring in 1966, opting to withdraw to the studio, tired of performing music they could barely hear amid screaming crowds.
Mike Mitchell was 18 and just starting a career in photography when he shot The Beatles' first concert in the USA at the Washington Coliseum on Feb. 11, 1964. He is selling prints at a 50th-anniversary tribute concert. By H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY.
For about 40 minutes on Feb. 11, 1964, the story of the Fab Four would become part of the Washington Coliseum's history and part of Naomi Banks'. How do you truly capture what that was like?
"I mean, I guess you had to be there to really get the full effect of it," she says.
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