Dorton Arena
J.S. Dorton Arena
Former namesState Fair Arena (1952–1961)
LocationNorth Carolina State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Raleigh, North Carolina
OwnerState of North Carolina
OperatorState of North Carolina
Capacity5,110 – Arena Football and Hockey
7,610 – Basketball
SurfaceIce, Concrete, Hardwood
ArchitectMaciej Nowicki, William Henley Dietrick
Carolina Cougars (ABA) (1969–1974)
Raleigh Bullfrogs (GBA) (1991–1992)
Raleigh IceCaps (ECHL) (1991–1998)
Raleigh Cougars (USBL) (1997–1999)
Raleigh Rebels (AIFL) (2005–2006)
Carolina Rollergirls (WFTDA) (2006–present)
Triangle Torch (AIF/SIF) (2016–2017)
J. S. Dorton Arena
Dorton Arena is located in North Carolina
Dorton Arena
Dorton Arena is located in the United States
Dorton Arena
LocationNorth Carolina State Fairgrounds, W. Hillsborough St., Raleigh, North Carolina
Coordinates35°47′37″N 78°42′36″W / 35.79361°N 78.71000°W / 35.79361; -78.71000
ArchitectNowicki, Matthew, et al.; Muirhead, William, Construction
NRHP reference No.73001375 [1]
Added to NRHPApril 11, 1973

J. S. Dorton Arena is a 7,610-seat multi-purpose arena located in Raleigh, North Carolina, on the grounds of the North Carolina State Fair. It opened in 1952.

Architect Maciej Nowicki of the North Carolina State University Department of Architecture was killed in an airplane crash before the construction phase. Local architect William Henley Dietrick supervised the completion of the arena using Nowicki's innovative design. Said design features a steel cable supported saddle-shaped roof in tension, held up by parabolic concrete arches in compression. The arches cross about 20 feet above ground level and continue underground, where their ends are held together by more steel cables in tension. The outer walls of the arena support next to no weight at all.

Dorton Arena was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on April 11, 1973.[1] Originally named the "State Fair Arena", it was dedicated to Dr. J. S. Dorton, former North Carolina State Fair manager, in 1961.[2]

In the past, it has hosted many sporting events, concerts, political rallies and circuses.

Historic significance

The Dorton Arena was the first structure in the world to use a cable-supported roof. The structure is based on two parabolic concrete arches which lean over to the point that they are closer to being parallel to the ground than they are to being vertical. The arches lean toward and beyond each other such that they cross each other 26 feet above ground. These arches, approaching horizontal in plane, thus serve as the outer edges of the structure, which when viewed from above appears almost elliptical. The arches are supported by slender columns around the building perimeter. Cables are strung between the two opposing arch structures providing support for the saddle-shaped roof. This was the first permanent cable-supported roof in the world.

Completed in 1952, the arena was the predecessor of more famous domed stadiums to follow such as the Houston Astrodome in 1965 and the Louisiana Superdome in 1975. Dorton Arena was designated as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2002.[3][4][5]


Dorton Arena has hosted numerous sporting events and teams throughout the decades. The longest-running tenant was the Raleigh IceCaps (ECHL) ice hockey team from 1991–1998. The American Basketball Association's Carolina Cougars also played some games in the arena from 1969–74. It was also the home of the Carolina Rollergirls (WFTDA).

Triangle Torch vs. Lehigh Valley Steelhawks at Dorton Arena, March 25, 2016

The Cougars became tenants after the Houston Mavericks moved to North Carolina in 1969. The Cougars were a "regional franchise", playing "home" games in Charlotte (Bojangles' Coliseum), Greensboro (Greensboro Coliseum), Winston-Salem Memorial Coliseum and Raleigh (Dorton Arena). Hall of Fame Coach Larry Brown began his coaching career with the Cougars in 1972. Billy Cunningham was the ABA MVP for Brown and the Cougars in the 1972–73 season. Despite a strong fan base the Cougars were sold and moved to St. Louis in 1974.[6]

Dorton Arena was a popular venue for professional wrestling in the 70s and 80s, with sometimes weekly matches. Wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper defeated “Nature Boy” Ric Flair for the National Wrestling Alliance U.S. Heavyweight championship in Dorton Arena on Jan. 27, 1981.

Beginning in 2016, it became the home of the Triangle Torch in American Indoor Football.[7] The Torch have since played as members of Supreme Indoor Football but left Dorton Arena prior to the 2018 season in the American Arena League.

Other events

Besides hosting sporting events, the arena is also used for concerts during the North Carolina State Fair. Various conventions and fairs also use floorspace of the arena as an exhibition space, often in conjunction with the neighboring Jim Graham building.

The arena has hosted the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) regional robotics competition and was the first space to hold a regional in the state.

Both Shaw University and Meredith College use Dorton Arena as a site for graduation, and the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics use the facility as a rain site for their commencement exercises.

Concerts (non-fair)

Dorton Arena and Reynolds Coliseum were the only concert venues in the Capital City for many decades before Walnut Creek Amphitheater and PNC Arena were built. The building was originally designed for livestock shows, not for concerts, so while there are unobstructed views of the stage, the sound tends to bounce off the glass. Fair officials have made significant changes to improve the acoustics of the building in recent years. Many of the biggest names in entertainment have played in this arena.

Performer Date Reference
Ray Charles and his Augmented Orchestra October 8, 1962
Johnny Cash September 8, 1963 [8]
The Original Hootenanny: The Journeymen, The Halifax 111, The Geezinslaw Brothers, Jo Mapes, Glenn Yarbrough November 1, 1963 [9]
Caravan of Record Stars: The Shirelles, The Supremes, The Coasters July 22, 1964
The Four Seasons May 4, 1964
The Beach Boys, The Embers, The Unknown 4, Inmates July 12, 1965 [10][11]
Warner Mack, the Wilburn Brothers, Harold Morrison November 26, 1965 [12]
The Righteous Brothers October 28, 1966 [12]
Wilson Pickett Show, Jr. Walker and the All Stars,

Sam & Dave, Billy Stewart, James Carr, TV Mama, King Coleman and Al "TNT" Braggs and his orchestra

November 14, 1966 [12]
Otis Redding, the Marvelettes, James & Bobby Purify, The Drifters January 30, 1967 [12]
The Supremes February 5, 1967 [13][14]
Lou Rawls February 18, 1967 [13]
The Temptations March 12, 1967 [15]
The Beach Boys, Davy Jones April 23, 1968 (rescheduled from April 6) [11]
The Four Seasons May 4, 1968 [16]
Jimi Hendrix Experience, Fat Mattress April 11, 1969 [11]
Led Zeppelin April 8, 1970 [17]
Jerry Lee Lewis, Linda Gail Lewis Aug. 29, 1970 [18]
The Grand Funk Railroad April 23, 1971 [11]
The Jackson 5 August 1, 1971
Jerry Lee Lewis, Dolly Parton, Porter Wagoner May 28, 1971 [19]
James Taylor, Carole King March 4, 1971 [20]
The Jackson 5 August 1, 1971 [11]
Black Sabbath March 6, 1972
King Crimson March 29, 1972
Jethro Tull, Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band April 20, 1972 [11][21]
Chicago April 26, 1972
The Guess Who August 10, 1972 [22]
The Sylvers November 16, 1973 [23]
Blood Sweat and Tears with the North Carolina Symphony January 12, 1974 [24]
Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings February 15, 1974
Todd Rundgren's Utopia March 8, 1974 [11]
Marvin Gaye, The Independents November 16, 1974 [11]
KISS Rock & Roll Over tour November 27, 1976 [25]
Climax Blues Band November 27, 1976 [26]
The Outlaws, Rick Derringer, Foghat January 22, 1977 [27][28]
Rick James, Prince March 15, 1980
Kool and the Gang, The Gap Band, Skyy, Yarbrough and Peoples March 27, 1981 [29]
PKM March 1, 1982
Loverboy September 1982 [30]
Prince March 12, 1982 [11]
Maxwell House Give 'em A Hand Concert: Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, Jerry Reed, Lee Greenwood, Cabin Fever July 2, 1983
Heart August 31, 1985
Ratt, Bon Jovi November 1, 1985
George Thorogood November 30, 1986 [31]
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble February 11, 1987
Petra November 2, 1990 [32]
Third Day May 18, 2012 [11]
Thompson Square / Lainey Wilson September 23, 2018 [11]
Third Day May 18, 2012

See also


  1. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 13, 2009.
  2. ^ Survey and Planning Unit Staff (August 1972). "J.S. Dorton Arena" (PDF). National Register of Historic Places - Nomination and Inventory. North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office. Retrieved 2015-05-01.
  3. ^ "Extended history of the J.S. Dorton Arena". North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. Retrieved June 29, 2017.
  4. ^ "Dorton Arena". American Society of Civil Engineers. Retrieved January 26, 2022.
  5. ^ Petroski, Henry (November–December 2002). "Dorton Arena, On the occasion of its 50th anniversary and its dedication as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark" (PDF). American Scientist. 90 (6): 503–507. doi:10.1511/2002.39.3324. Retrieved March 3, 2021.
  6. ^ "Remember the ABA: Carolina Cougars". Archived from the original on 2013-11-27. Retrieved 2014-05-19.
  7. ^ "AIF in Raleigh NC begins today as new team has been awarded to Raleigh, NC". Triangle Torch. August 12, 2015. Archived from the original on August 22, 2015. Retrieved August 12, 2015.
  8. ^ Billboard, August 31, 1963
  9. ^ The Daily Tar Heel, October 27, 1963
  10. ^ "Vintage Concert Posters - Buy or Sell Concert Posters". Retrieved 2022-09-24.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Concert History of Dorton Arena Raleigh, North Carolina, United States | Concert Archives". 2023. Retrieved July 23, 2023.
  12. ^ a b c d The Daily Tar Heel
  13. ^ a b The Daily Tar Heel, January 12, 1967
  14. ^ "Diana Ross Supremes Timeline 1967". Retrieved 2023-12-15.
  15. ^ Daily Tar Heel, March 10, 1967
  16. ^ Billboard, April 27, 1968
  17. ^ "Led Zeppelin | Official Website J. S. Dorton Arena - April 8, 1970". Led Zeppelin | Official Website - Official Website. Retrieved 2022-09-24.
  18. ^ "Concert Tickets". Retrieved 2022-09-24.
  19. ^ "Concert Tickets". Retrieved 2022-09-24.
  20. ^ "The Daily Tar Heel from Chapel Hill, North Carolina on March 4, 1971 · Page 3". Retrieved 2022-09-24.
  21. ^ Billboard, April 22, 1972
  22. ^ Billboard, August, 12, 1972
  23. ^ Billboard Magazine, October 27, 1973
  24. ^ Daily Tar Heel, January 9, 1974
  25. ^ "KISS Setlist at J.S. Dorton Arena, Raleigh". Retrieved 2022-09-24.
  26. ^ Billboard, November 27, 1976
  27. ^ "Concert History of Dorton Arena Raleigh, North Carolina, United States | Concert Archives". Retrieved 2022-09-24.
  28. ^ The Technician, January 24, 1977
  29. ^ "NC State University Libraries' Rare and Unique Digital Collections". Retrieved 2022-09-24.
  30. ^ The Technician, September 10, 1982
  31. ^ Daily Tar Heel, December 1, 1986
  32. ^ "Petra Setlist at J.S. Dorton Arena, Raleigh". Retrieved 2022-09-24.