It was Jan. 27, 1964. Oakland had invited Charles O. Finley to move his storm-tossed Kansas City Athletics here to play the 1964 season in a rebuilt Frank Youell Field and to stay for 25 years in the $25 million Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The team -- renamed the Oakland A's -- played its first game in Oakland in 1968.

Four world championships and 44 seasons later, the A's are still pitching no-hitters in the cement colossus at the eastern end of the city.

Of course, the iconoclastic Finley long ago gave up the team, and the gray lady has become the last dual purpose football-baseball stadium left in the nation.

"We've nurtured the hell out of that building," Coliseum usher Nick Cabral said.

Cabral helped pour the concrete that created the Coliseum. He returned to work as an usher in 1995 in his free time. Now 70, the Alameda native said the workers, who have made a tremendous effort diverting attention of fans from the antiquated state of the complex, deserve a new building.

The Coliseum, he said, "is like a lady who needs a new dress."

"That little ol' bullring filled with blue-collar crazies." That is what former Raiders quarterback Kenny Stabler called the Coliseum. But it has always been more than a building. The stadium especially embodied a big-league dream come true for the group of men -- Robert Nahas, Edgar Kaiser and former Oakland Tribune Publisher William Knowland -- who pushed and prodded and pleaded to make the Coliseum a reality. It would "break the log jam and unleash progress and prosperity throughout the entire county," predicted then-Oakland Chamber of Commerce President Nils Eklund in 1961.


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Not everyone was convinced and argued for elected officials to weigh the financing against demands for education, transit, parks and welfare.

But the enthusiasm was contagious.

Candlestick Park was just across the bay, but every community wants its own stadium, said George Vukasin Sr., who led the seven-member Coliseum board beginning in 1984.

"Oakland had a sports complex and ended up having three sports franchises. It was exciting," he said.

But in 1961, while Oakland scrambled to push through a vote in the City Council to approve the Coliseum plan, San Jose stood poised to catch the Raiders if the deal had fallen through. Then-San Jose City Manager A.P. "Dutch" Hamann told the Tribune he was sure Spartan Stadium would be available.

Instead, the Raiders played the first pro game at the Coliseum on Sept. 18, 1966.

It was raining that day. When owner Al Davis walked onto the field, the rain stopped, said Harold Miller, 82, who worked as a ticket-taker that day and is now the longest-serving employee at the Coliseum.

His full-time job while the Coliseum was being constructed was as an equipment operator, and he helped lay the water main to the complex.

As a part-time Coliseum event manager, he has seen some of the most famous performers take center stage in the arena or the stadium.

The Rat Pack trio of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin crooned there.

Madonna (three times), Elton John (four times) and the Rolling Stones (four or five times) rocked out there.

Evangelist Billy Graham commanded an audience of 55,000 people. And Bill Graham filled the stadium year after year for Day on the Green, grossing millions from tickets and merchandise sales. The concert series was "pretty awesome," Miller said.

The Grateful Dead sold out every show it played there but one, he said, demonstrating in his living room the way "Dead Heads" used to dance in a circle with their arms in the air.

"The Coliseum is still a great place to see a game," Miller said.

For Finley, it was the only ballpark vacant when he was itching to move his team out of Kansas City. But the front offices hadn't even been finished, and the cinder blocks were still visible in 1968 said Nancy Finley, daughter of Charlie Finley's right-hand man and cousin, Carl Finley. She still attends games there.

"It's like going to my old neighborhood," she said, remembering exploring the "catacombs" through underground tunnels and doing her homework at the very top of the third deck, which is now covered by a tarp during A's games.

She recalled Charlie Finley's orange baseballs, mule on the field, the white-dyed kangaroo leather Finley put on players' feet. During a 1971 game, women paraded on the field in hot pants, and later a young MC Hammer phoned blow-by-blow accounts of games to his boss.

"I feel like ghosts are there," Nancy Finley said. "It's very haunting."

Charlie Finley sold the team in 1980, and the front office walls were finally finished by the new owner, Walter Haas. The Coliseum changed hands twice before current owners, Gap magnate John Fisher and Lew Wolff, took control.

The Raiders meanwhile had left for Los Angeles in 1982 in search of club seats and luxury boxes. The team's return in 1995 was accompanied by a new wave of euphoric and overconfident proclamations.

"Oakland is now on the threshold of greatness," former City Councilman Nate Miley proclaimed that summer, echoing the chant by many elected officials and boosters.

The return of the Raiders prompted the only major physical change the Coliseum has seen in its 46-year life span. The arena was gutted and rebuilt, and the stadium was reconfigured with luxury suites, to which the moniker Mt. Davis has been attached.

The luxury boxes gave the stadium another dimension, Cabral said.

"They gave it a little more class."

Others complained that it took away their view of the hills.

Eventually, Mt. Davis will be torn down along with the edifice to possibly make way for a shiny new sports-entertainment complex.

Or the teams could move elsewhere. The Coliseum would be filled with other events in their absence, and Cabral and Miller would still have work to do. But Cabral said he foresaw a "tremendous void in the city of Oakland" without a Coliseum.

"It gives Oakland an identity," he said.