One of the Best Examples of Modern Architecture Is a Former Livestock Pavilion in North Carolina

Dorton arena in raleigh, north carolina
Dorton Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina / © William Morgan

When you hail from one of the magnificent capital cities of New England, such as Boston or, in my case, Providence, Rhode Island, it’s sometimes a little hard to admit that there are worthy architectural landmarks anywhere else. But on a recent trip to Raleigh, North Carolina, I discovered what might be one of America’s greatest examples of modern architecture: Dorton Arena, the former livestock pavilion at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds.

Although cattle-judging long ago moved to new quarters, Dorton Arena seats more than 7,000 spectators; it has been home to football, basketball, pro wrestling, and hockey (it was home to the Raleigh Ice Caps for most of the 1990s). It has hosted various college and high school graduations, as well as concerts. (The Supremes, the Beach Boys, the Four Seasons, Johnny Cash, and Ray Charles all played here.) The day I visited, it was set up for an extreme bicycle competition.

Built in 1952, the arena sharply contrasted with the existing Spanish Colonial stucco and red-tile fair structures built in 1928. State fair manager J.S. Dorton insisted that the new building should be the most modern in the world, and like much bold modern architecture, the arena is an engineering marvel. It is comprised of two reinforced concrete parabolic arches, between which is suspended a saddle-shaped roof. […]

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