This week, NPR’s Scott Simon and photographer Mike Mitchell visited the site where Mitchell shot a historic evening 50 years ago. Hear their conversation at the audio link.
Now a humble parking lot, the Washington Coliseum has seen a lot in its days. Malcolm X once spoke there, circus lions jumped through hoops there — and on Feb. 11 1964, The Beatles played their first-ever U.S. concert there.
Photographer Mike Mitchell was photographing that day. He was 18 years old, he recalls in an interview with NPR’s Scott Simon, and couldn’t afford a flash for his camera. He took concert photos using only the available light.
“I had to take my cues from what the light was doing,” Mitchell said. “And the light was very kind.”
In the 50 years since that day, a lot has changed. The building fell into disrepair after being sold, and for 10 years was a transfer station for Waste Management.
Still, on any given day, beautiful shafts of light can been seen spilling through the circular windows in the vaulted ceilings onto the abandoned clusters of stadium seating lurking in dark corners along the walls.
Working without flash, like Mitchell, we set out to make long-exposure photographs showing what exists today of the crumbling structure that once played host to history.
This weekend, if you find yourself wandering in the D.C. neighborhood formerly known as Swampoodle, and into this parking lot formerly known as a music venue, you’ll find a temporary exhibit of Mitchell’s photos, commemorating the 50th anniversary of that night in Beatlemania.