Wembley Arena is an indoor arena adjacent to Wembley Stadium in Wembley, London. Used for music, comedy, family entertainment and sport, the 12,500-seat facility is London’s second-largest indoor arena after The O2 Arena, and the ninth-largest in the United Kingdom. The Empire Pool was built for the 1934 British Empire Games at Wembley, by Arthur Elvin, and originally housed a swimming pool, as reflected by its name. The pool itself was last used for the 1948 Summer Olympics. The building is used for music, comedy, family entertainment and sport.
It was designed by the engineer Sir Owen Williams, without the employment of an architect. Williams built a unique structure, with cantilevers meeting in the middle, thus avoiding the need for internal pillars. He also used high quality concrete, meaning that it has aged far better than many more recent concrete buildings.
Work on the Empire Pool began in November 1933, and it was opened on 25 July 1934 by the Duke of Gloucester. At the time it had the largest span of any similar structure in the world. As with the Stadium, construction was supervised by R.J. Fowler, Wembley’s chief building inspector. Elvin introduced ice hockey to the new Empire Pool in October 1934. In 1976, the Empire Pool was awarded Grade II Listed status, recognising it as a building of special architectural interest, technological innovation and virtuosity. On 1 February 1978, the Empire Pool was renamed Wembley Arena.
When the venue was known as the Empire Pool, it hosted the annual NME Poll Winners Concerts during the mid-1960s. Audiences of 10,000 viewed acts like The Beatles, T. Rex Genesis, David Bowie, Cliff Richard & The Shadows, The Monkees, The Hollies, Dusty Springfield, Joe Brown & the Bruvvers, The Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi, INXS, Pink Floyd.
The venue was renovated, along with Wembley Stadium, as part of the early-21st-century regeneration of the Wembley Park area. The arena was closed for fourteen months, starting February 2005, for a refurbishment costing £35 million, with events moved to a neighbouring temporary 10,000-seat venue, the Wembley Arena Pavilion. The new arena opened to the public on 2 April 2006, with a concert by the English electronic-music band Depeche Mode. The temporary pavilion was moved to Attard, Malta, opening as the permanent Malta Fairs & Conventions Centre in December 2006.
The Grateful Dead have released recordings of complete shows from 7–8 April 1972 as part of Europe ’72: The Complete Recordings. The Grateful Dead also performed at Wembley Arena on 31 October 1990 as part of their fall 1990 European concert tour. Bruce Hornsby accompanied the band for this concert.
A notable attendance record was set in the early 1970s by David Cassidy, in his first tour of Great Britain in 1973, when he sold out six performances in one weekend. The experience and the associated mass hysteria was documented in a TV special called David Cassidy: Weekend At Wembley.
ABBA played six sold-out concerts, from 5 to 10 November 1979. The shows were filmed by Swedish television for a documentary which was released in 2004 on DVD as ABBA in Concert. In September 2014 Universal Music released Live at Wembley Arena, featuring most of the concert of 10 November on CD, vinyl LP and digital format. After the tour, the members of the band talked about the warmth of the Wembley audience. It was like coming home after a couple of nights, said guitarist Björn Ulvaeus. A finale from these concerts, The Way Old Friends Do, is the closing track on ABBA’s seventh studio album, Super Trouper.
From 1934 until 1990 the Empire Pool / Wembley Arena was the venue for the Wembley Professional Tennis Championships which was a part of the professional Grand Slam from 1927 until 1967. Indoor sporting events such as boxing, five-a-side football and ice hockey have long been popular at the venue, notably the World Championship bout between then champion Alan Minter and challenger Marvin Hagler, which the latter won.
From the late 1960s to the late 1970s, the Skol 6-Day cycle race was held here. An indoor velodrome of 166 metres was assembled from sections each September. This was Britain’s first indoor velodrome. Top professional riders from the European 6-Day circuit came to London, including Eddy Merckx, Peter Post, Patrick Sercu and many others. British riders such as World pursuit champion Hugh Porter and British Champion Tony Gowland rode with distinction.
From 1979 to 1983, indoor speedway was held during the winter as a one off event, with the riders racing on concrete on a 181-yard track As well as the 1979 News of the World Darts Championship. The Wembley Lions and Wembley Monarchs were two ice hockey teams that used the venue regularly during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, while the London Lions used the venue for a season in the 1970s.
More recently netball, darts, basketball, and mixed martial arts have made regular appearances on the calendar. During the 1948 Summer Olympics, the venue hosted the Olympic boxing, Olympic diving, Olympic swimming, and Olympic water polo events. The Horse of the Year Show was held there from 1959–2002.
Square of Fame
With the reopening of Wembley Arena in 2006, a Square of Fame area has been created in front of the arena. Similar to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, notable Wembley Arena performers are invited to have bronze plaques imprinted with their names and handprints. The first star to have a plaque was Madonna, on 1 August 2006. On 9 November 2006, Cliff Richard added his handprints to the Square. Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi, of Status Quo, unveiled a plaque, with one of each of their handprints, on 16 December 2006.
Seven time World Snooker Champion Stephen Hendry added his handprints on 21 January 2007. International country superstar Dolly Parton unveiled her plaque, on the final night of her UK tour, on 25 March 2007. Canadian musician Bryan Adams unveiled his plaque, on 10 May 2007, just before his 25th appearance at the venue. Just three days later, singer Lionel Richie was presented with his plaque on 13 May 2007, after another sold-out performance at the arena.
Wembley Arena is served by Wembley Park station on the London Underground via Olympic Way, and Wembley Central station via the White Horse Bridge.
Train services are operated by Chiltern Railways from Wembley Stadium station to London Marylebone and Birmingham. London Buses route 92 stops directly outside the arena. Wembley Central station is located nearby on High Road and is served by London Overground, London Underground, Southern and London Northwestern Railway services.