MECCA Arena floor restoration brings back a piece of Milwaukee history
MILWAUKEE - It was more than just a basketball floor, it was an iconic centerpiece of Milwaukee's culture and Milwaukee's history. But Friday night, the past is coming back to life, in the place it once called home.
In 1977, when world-renown artist Robert Indiana was commissioned to re-paint the basketball floor at the old MECCA Arena, now known as U.S. Cellular Arena, he created the world's largest pop-culture painting. But once the Bucks and Marquette moved across the street to the Bradley Center in 1988, the MECCA floor was largely forgotten about.
Over the years, many had assumed it had either just been destroyed or discarded. After all, the Wisconsin Center, who runs the arena, had no use for it anymore.
"It got moved around to a number of different warehouses," according to Andy Gorzalski, who was tipped off a couple of years ago to the floor being auctioned off.
Gorzalski, 37, was so moved by the possibility of being able to not allow such an important piece of Milwaukee history get out of the city that he took out a personal line of credit for what he describes as a "scary amount" and went about finding someone who would be interested in somehow restoring one of the lost treasures of our past.
Local sports court manufacturer Greg Koller, who built the Bucks current floor at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, intervened and purchased the Indiana-designed MECCA floor with the intention of displaying it somehow, someday. But tragically, he was never able to see his vision come to light, as he as struck down by a heart attack just days after purchasing it in 2011.
Today, Koller's son Ben is the MECCA floor's owner. And Friday night, at the same arena where it became famous, Koller and Gorzalski are inviting the public to share in memories, take pictures, and enjoy some of the city's returning basketball royalty from 7-10 p.m.
Aged now almost 60 years, it's also the world's oldest modular basketball floor still in existence. Of course, that it still is in existence at all defies logic. Koller says his plan is to display the floor all over the city in the coming years, with his ultimate goal to have it in some way on display in the still-in-the-planning-stage new Milwaukee arena to replace the Bradley Center.
Koller and Gorzalski enlisted the help of local creative firm Flux Design to see what they could come up with. The Flux team said to Koller. What they came up with is a modular vertical design incorporating different pieces in different designs. The only stipulation Koller insisted upon was that at any time, the floor could be pieced back together for what it was intended to be in the first place: a basketball floor.
Friday night from 7 to 10 at the arena, the floor will be restored to its former glory in the place where so much history was made will be on living display. That night, Gorzalski and Koller will be hosting a truly one-of-a-kind night open to the public, featuring other works of art, music, Marquette and Bucks legends, including announcers Jim Paschke and Jon McGlocklin, and much more.
Tickets are $10, with all proceeds going to the MECCA Exhibit Project. For more information, log onto www.OurMECCA.org.