Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Joe Louis Arena

Joe Louis Arena was home to the Detroit Red Wings before the opening of Little Caesars Arena in 2017.  Built in 1979 for $34 million, it is named for legendary Detroit boxer Joe Louis. The arena, one of the oldest in the NHL, was also one of the few that maintained its original name without a corporate sponsorship. 

“The Joe,” as it was known locally, was located on the Detroit River adjacent to Cobo Hall. The arena was owned by the City of Detroit and operated by Olympia Entertainment, an Ilitch Holdings, Inc. company. In 1977, Red Wings’ owner Bruce Norris announced plans to build a new stadium in Pontiac, once the closing of their long-time home, Olympia Stadium, was determined. However, a sweetheart deal with the City of Detroit convinced Norris to take over Joe Louis Arena. Following their final game at Olympia on December 15, 1979 the Wings played their first in the new arena on December 27.

Criticism of the new arena was rampant, describing its location, on the river and next to Cobo Hall, as creating a roadblock to pedestrians, and the steep and narrow stairs as a challenge to entering the building.

Capacity for Joe Louis Arena ranged from 20,000 for hockey games to over 21,000 for concerts. Throughout its history Joe Louis held six Stanley Cup playoff games and four Red Wings Stanley Cup victories, in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008. In 1984 the Detroit Pistons basketball team played a playoff game there, when their venue, the Pontiac Silverdome, had a scheduling conflict. They were back there for 15 games of the 1984-85 basketball season when the Silverdome’s roof collapsed. 

The arena also hosted events such as the 2006 WNBA Finals championship game, which the Detroit Shock won. Other events hosted by “The Joe” include Detroit Rockers’ soccer games, World Wrestling Entertainment events, concerts, the 1980 Republican National Convention and three NCAA Frozen Four college hockey finals. Joe Louis Arena was the site of the infamous Nancy Kerrigan attack prior to the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championship.

Demolition began in 2019. The City of Detroit owns the arena site, but development rights were awarded to Financial Guaranty Insurance Company to compensate for a loss during the city’s 2014 bankruptcy.



Joe Louis Arena under construction, 1979 - 2008.033.520

Joe Louis Arena steps under construction, 1979 - 2008.033.527

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