Extended history of the J.S. Dorton Arena
The J.S. Dorton Arena was built to serve agriculture, industry, commerce and the general welfare of North Carolina. Built in 1952, the building was officially named the State Fair Arena. However, it was commonly referred to by fairgoers as the livestock pavilion or "Cow Palace". In 1953, Governor William B. Umstead referred to it as "a great tribute to the vision and foresight of not only the builders, but of all the people of North Carolina."
At the opening ceremonies of the 1961 State Fair, the arena was officially dedic ated as J.S. Dorton Arena, in recognition of long time State Fair Manager Dr. J.S. Dorton. It has earned an international reputation since its construction in 1952. The late Matthew Nowicki, while head of the Department of Architecture at North Carolina State University, created the innovative design. Professor Nowicki was killed in an airplane accident shortly after being commissioned as the architect. His personal friend, William Henley Dietrick of Raleigh was named to the project.
The building is 300 feet in diameter, elliptic in shape, with a central concrete floor 221 feet long and 127 feet wide at the widest point of the ellipse. There are 4,750 permanent seats and 360 box seats. Portable seats can be installed when a stage is used. Seating capacity when used with a stage is 6,500. Dorton Arena boasts the world's first cable supported roof system. Dorton Arena uses arches leaning away from each other to support its weight. Cables strung between the arches hold the heavy metal roof, with the load of the roof carried down the arches. The metal roof, suspended on a network of cables, which extend crosswise from the 90-foot parabolic arches, is saddle-shaped. The 14-foot wide arches reach a maximum height of 90 feet. They cross each other about 26 feet above the ground, then extend into a tunnel below the surface at the east and west ends. Tension cables equalize the weight of the roof, with 14 two-inch strands connecting each end of the parabola through the stress tunnel. The roof, so suspended, eliminates any necessity for structural steel supports and presents no view obstructions from any seat. The exterior walls are constructed of glare-reducing tinted glass. The two lobbies are on the ground level. These lobbies and the two lower level concourses provide about 25,000 square feet of exhibition space. Restrooms, dressing rooms and storage areas are also available.
Currently, Dorton Arena is used for nightly entertainment during the annual N.C. State Fair. Year-round use of the building includes trade shows, exhibitions, concerts, athletic events, circuses and more. In 1972, Dorton Arena was placed on the National Historic Registry. In 2002, the building will celebrate 50 years of serving Raleigh.