By Jim Bucher
What is it about a place that conjures up so many memories?
As a born and raised Daytonian it’s always tough to see a piece of your personal past disappear.
Too many times I’ve reported on the demise of a local company. It seems never-ending.
So you can imagine the heartbreak this past Friday with the news of Hara Arena & Exhibition Center closing its doors.
As family matriarch, spokesperson and marketing director Karen Wampler said, “With heavy hearts, the Wampler family announces that Hara will be hosting its last event on August 27, 2016. The iconic venue brought sports, concerts, entertainment and special interest shows to the Miami Valley for 60 years, but ultimately could not overcome an internal legal battle that has spanned the last two decades.”
It was a slow and painful death, but as my pops would always say, ‘Life goes on.’
First, a little background.
In the 1940s, the land where Hara now sits was the Wampler family fruit orchard. In 1943, the Red Barn was built on Wolf Road as a fruit and vegetable stand for Wampler Farms.
Harold Wampler, Sr. and his wife Myrtle enjoyed dancing, so they built a hardwood floor on the loft of the Red Barn and created an exclusive dance venue, the Cedar Loft Club.
Harold soon began to rent out the Red Barn. Demand exceeded supply, so he began a tradition that his sons and their sons would follow; build to meet a demand.
Right across Shiloh Springs Road, he began what is now today’s Hara Complex with the Ballarena was constructed in 1956. Dancing was at the height of its popularity and it wasn’t long before more room was needed. Harold’s two sons, Harold, Jr. and Ralph seized the opportunity and added the Silver Arena in 1959.
Noticing that the Dayton area did not have a place to host the Shrine circus, the Wampler’s responded to a need and built the 5,500 seat Hara Arena in 1964 which ushered in an era of entertainment the Dayton area had never seen before.
The name Hara was taken from the first two letters of Harold and Ralph’s names.
“We’re thankful their birth order wasn’t reversed. Otherwise, we’d be welcoming people to Raha Arena. No Where else but Raha!” says Wampler.
From those humble fancy feet beginnings, Hara was the place to see and be seen.
The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, The Who, the Grateful Dead, Prince, Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley, Kid Rock and Godsmack to name but a few.
Dayton was suddenly a market where ice shows, car shows, circuses, rodeos, monster truck challenges stopped and who can forget the hottest ticket in town, Dayton Gems Hockey.
“It’s been a long goodbye that began with the passing of one of Hara’s founders, Harold Wampler, in 1996. His unresolved estate – under which Hara is co-owned – launched a twenty year family and legal battle that drained Hara of the resources for much-needed renovations and reorganization.” Karen adds.
The loss will come in the form of $36 million in annual economic impact; youth, men’s and professional hockey programs; and the hundreds of events that called Hara home this past year.
Hara was one of the few family-owned venues of its kind. The Wamplers, with the help of national venue management company, VenuWorks, worked relentlessly for years to change that to a public/ private ownership structure to clear Hara’s debt, lighten its tax burden and place it on a more sustainable path, but were unsuccessful.
My heart goes out to my friends the Wampler’s and the City of Trotwood who has had its fair share of economic ills for some time now.
When I recently asked for Hara stories on facebook, the memories flowed like water on the arena floor before it freezes.
Bill ‘Seg’ Dennison, a radio personality at Cincinnati’s 700 WLW calls it ‘The Hockey Barn of Bedlam’ to Terry who saw ‘The Beach Boys’ to Mellissa experiencing a Bomber’s game and also meeting her future husband there.
Mark says, ‘it’s funny, you had to dump your bottles before you entered a concert, but the pot flowed.’
Speaking of, Janet got her first contact high at an AC/DC concert and Danny who shares, ‘very few places leave me with a sense of awe like Hara.’
For now, we have a few more weeks to attend the remaining events and walk through the facility for a final memory.
Hats off Hara. You will certainly be missed.
Jim Bucher is an area resident and guest columnist.