By Carroll Trainum
On Thursday, May 16, at least a hundred people stood in line at the demolition site of University Hall—the former hub of UVA basketball—to get a brick. They all had their own memories of U-Hall, known to some as “the house that Ralph built,” and they wanted a piece of history.
I couldn’t make it, but as the university prepares to blow up this longtime landmark (the “implosion” is scheduled for this Saturday, May 25, and will be live-streamed), my own memories have come flooding back.
Built in 1964, U-Hall hosted UVA basketball and other sports programs from 1965 until the John Paul Jones Arena took over in 2006. It also served central Virginia as a cultural center, providing a wide variety of events and entertainment throughout the years. For a townie like me, University Hall offered experiences that Charlottesville would otherwise lack.
My first visit to U-Hall was in 1967, when my sixth-grade class attended what was my first symphony. Three years later, I saw my first rock concert there: The Guess Who, which rocked my world so much I would attend 20-plus concerts at U-Haul in the next 18 years.
When the Ike & Tina Turner Revue came to town, I showed up at the backdoor to earn my admission by helping the lighting crew. This was the first of several shows that I worked. I became a familiar face at U-Hall, and eventually landed a job selling sodas in the stands at sporting events.
When I wasn’t working a show, I’d be in the audience. The acts that I saw during the ’70s and the ‘80s at U-Hall were a who’s who of classic rock, including Steppenwolf, Leon Russell, Alice Cooper, Faces (featuring Rod Stewart), The Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, Chicago, James Taylor, Paul Simon, Loggins and Messina, The Kinks, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt with Little Feat, The Band’s “Last Waltz” tour, Boston, R.E.M,, Talking Heads, and Bruce Hornsby and The Range. Good shows, good memories, but also a lot of stories.
One favorite is the night that singer-songwriter Harry Chapin played a solo benefit show for the World Hunger Organization. Chapin played two sets of hits, including “Taxi” and “W.O.L.D.” At intermission, he jumped off the stage and ran through the audience to a merchandise table to sell and sign souvenirs. He returned afterwards for several more songs, and wrapped it up with a rousing version of “Cat’s in the Cradle.” And then he jumped off the stage, returning to the merch tables. Amazed, I followed him.
When I got to the tables, he and the poor guy helping him were deluged by fans buying programs and songbooks to be autographed by Chapin. Realizing their predicament, I climbed over the table into the small space. Surprising them, I explained I was there to help. I quickly began selling merchandise, allowing Chapin to sign the purchases. The three of us reached over and around each other for most of an hour.
When it was over, Chapin asked my name, grabbed a program, signed a thank-you to me, and then handed it and his pen to me.
He died four years later in a car accident, at the age of 38. I still have the program over 40 years later. I’m okay without a brick.
Carroll Trainum is a Charlottesville native who is also proud of two other U-Hall artifacts: an autographed program from a Red Skelton show, and an original R.E.M. poster from a 1983 concert. Trainum also quit high school and ran away with a circus he met at U-Hall. He graduated the following year. Seriously.