Monday, June 15, 2009

Agora Ballroom

Popular '80s West Hartford Music Hall To Be Demolished
By BILL LEUKHARDT | The Hartford Courant
June 14, 2009
WEST HARTFORD — - A demolition crew will soon bring the house down at the long-closed Agora Ballroom, which drew crowds in the 1980s to hear R.E.M., The Band, the Ramones and other national and regional bands.

The building, constructed in 1963 and not used for nearly 20 years, is too decrepit to be renovated and will be knocked down this summer, said Timothy Arborio, vice president of the Arborio Corp. and Charter Oak Utility Constructors Inc. Members of his family own the building.

The Agora, a cavernous former bowling alley in an industrial area near the Hartford line, was once the place to play in Connecticut for bands on the way up or down. The building — home to Columbia Music Hall, Finnochio's East, Hard Rock Cafe, Stage West, Agora Ballroom and The Forum — could hold about 5,000 people and often drew crowds that large.

"I cut my teeth in that place with those amazing shows," said Hank Zukowski, a Hartford native who started in the late 1970s as a $5-an-hour bouncer and became co-owner of the Agora in the mid-1980s. "Santana, The Allman Brothers, Jerry Garcia, Little Feat, Tower of Power. We had groups on the way up and groups on the way down. We had boxing matches there. Stryper, a Christian heavy metal band, played. They threw tiny Bibles into the crowd."

In 1990, the last club, the Forum, closed, not long after vandals with a chain saw ruined the interior, wrecking fixtures and posts that supported an interior gallery. Police say no one was ever charged with the destruction, which rendered the building unusable. Nor did police figure out why it happened.

Since then, the building has been vacant as its owners tried to decide what to do with the 5-acre parcel on Dexter Avenue. The issue was recently settled after the owners, including heirs of some original owners, agreed to lease the land to the town.

The town has used it as a storage site for recycled materials and for town-owned equipment from the nearby public works complex. Crews are removing asbestos from the building now in preparation for demolition, Arborio said.

Still, no matter what the fate of the old building, people have fond memories of the Agora and the other clubs, even though it's been two decades since a band played there.

"The Agora was probably my favorite place to play when I was the drummer for Max Creek," said Greg DeGuglielmo, who played in the popular Connecticut rock band from 1985 to 1991. He recently began filling in as a drummer in the band again but says he's not found another place like the Agora, often a stop for Max Creek on its steady 50-weeks-a-year East Coast schedule.

"Fans loved it. Lots of room to dance. A great big room with a wooden stage. The sound was tremendous. The old wood in the place really resonated," DeGuglielmo said in an interview from Boston, where he teaches and plays music.

Jim Koplik, who launched his career as a concert promoter in the 1980s, ran the Agora from 1979 to 1984, but eventually quit over lack of upkeep of the place. He was surprised to hear the building is still standing.

"We drew people from all over Connecticut and western Massachusetts," Koplik said last week. "It had a great bar and a lot of parking. Definitely a good stop."

There were folks who used crisp twenties to buy drinks and poor college students who'd count out pennies for a short beer.

Paul Zukowski, Hank's brother, who worked there when his brother was co-owner, remembered the night Wendy O. Williams, lead singer of the Plasmatics, "blew up" an old Cadillac onstage as part of the act.

One night in 1986, the members of NRBQ refused to get on stage because it was Game Six of the World Series and the Boston Red Sox were playing the New York Mets, Zukowski said. The band played once the game ended, even though by then some fans were angry and vocal.

"There was a certain vibe in that place," said Paul Zukowski, who lives in Hartford.

There also was a certain atmosphere — the rotten-egg stink of methane. The building was built in 1963 atop an abandoned town landfill. At times, pungent whiffs of methane would waft into the club, especially into some dressing rooms, Paul Zukowski said.

The landfill led to the conversion from bowling alley to concert hall. When the building began settling into the landfill, the lanes warped, making bowling challenging. So the building was renovated and turned into a concert hall in the 1970s.

When the end came, it was tough to take, said Hank Zukowski, who'd sold his stake in the late 1980s because his then-wife was tired of his long days and nights at the Agora. He estimates he put on 1,000 shows during his time there.

"Someone told me that police said people had spent eight hours inside, destroying it," said Zukowski, now co-owner of the 6,900-seat Carolina Entertainment Complex in Marion, S.C. "I went and looked at it. I had tears in my eyes."

I saw the Stray Cats there in 84. Ostrich Boy grew up there, his pops was part owner. He has some good stories about the bands and fans during his time there. He still hates Aerosmith to this day for the bullshit they pulled on him.

I wonder who the chainsaw guys were?


Hacksaw said...

there was Agora in NewHaven.
around 1980. those days i am very sketchy on the details. i do remember we went down there once or twice a month to rumble with the bouncers.
i dont remember whom played gigs there, never was i allowed inside for very long. LOL! we enjoyed rumbling. alot!

Spooky Lil Girl said...

Wow. I've been gone from CT for about 14 years now. I had no idea that the club had been closed for 20.
Lots of good times and endless nights spent there in early 80's. Saw Aerosmith there.
Time goes on. Guess I'm getting old.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I was playing games online however for reading this post more interesting thanks for the share please do keep it going great job....Loving this.

Naton wide cash is easy and fast

夫妻\a片共享 said...


a片影片 said...

汽車二胎貸款‎ said...


The Beer Taps of Knowlegde


Blog Archive