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The Long Island Arena: A Glimpse into the Past

The beloved Commack Arena held everything from ice hockey to Styx concerts and even a flea market in its day. Find out what else my generation missed out on.

I only have tidbits of memory that remind me there was ever a Commack, or as it was really named, a Long Island Arena

I can vaguely remember flea market trips to look for that special something for my best friend's birthday, and roller skating parties where someone would end up with cake on their face in the center of the enormous wooden rink.  But this, unfortunately, is the extent of my memories of the Long Island Arena. Though this isn’t really surprising since it closed in 1996 when I was only eight years old.

While my generation only caught a glimpse of the greatness that was the Long Island Arena, many others before us have lasting memories of: blasting concerts, exciting sporting events, drive-in movies and even presidential visits.  It came as quite a shock to me when I realized just the other day exactly how much went on at that beloved arena in its prime.

A quick history lesson is in order for those like me who, like me, were a bit misinformed.  

The Long Island Arena itself was in use from 1959 to 1996.  During this time, it was host to many a Long Island Ducks game (a hockey team back then – not a baseball team).  Until the Islanders came into existence and the Eastern League itself virtually evaporated. 

Another noteworthy team to play in the Long Island Arena, which I always chalked up to strange rumor but which actually turns out to be true, is the New York Nets.  Yup, you heard me right. The New Jersey Nets (as they are known today) were once known as the New York Nets during their stint at the Commack Arena (before 1968 the Nets were not known as the Nets at all, but as the New Jersey Americans instead).

Besides sporting events and games, there were apparently a ton of concerts held at the arena. If you check out the “Long Island Arena Commack” fan page on Facebook you will see a list of confirmed concerts at that site. Biggies include: Alice Cooper, Hot Tuna, Styx, The Who, and even Peter Frampton who actually recorded part of his Frampton Comes Alive album in the arena…though there were a ton more that I’m sure most of you remember.

I also discovered that President John F. Kennedy actually made a visit to the Commack Arena while campaigning for his presidency on November 6, 1960.  In his speech he noted that his wife, Jacqueline, grew up in Suffolk County, and among other things, that he wanted the Federal Government to be able to give loans out to students looking to attend colleges who did not secure scholarships and “free rides” to a university.

Now, in place of the arena, roller rink and drive-in, there are ordinary stores that, in my humble opinion, do not pay enough homage to what that place once was.

Richard May 16, 2011 at 10:16 PM
Concerts? Hot Tuna. They were a warmup group for someone else; I don't remember who. The Who played the arena a year or two befoer I moved here, which was in 1974. NOW: How many of you remember when there were two high schools? Commack South, which is now the middle school and North, which is now the high school. My kids graduated from South in 1983 and 1987. Rosie O'Donnell was a student at South when my older son was there.
Annie D. May 16, 2011 at 11:00 PM
I took my daughter to the "Arena" when the circus came to town. There were elephant rides outside! Imagine that!!!
Marie Kennedy May 17, 2011 at 12:09 AM
I saw the Who, Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Yardbirds, President JFK, many Duck games, and other concerts I can't even remember. And yes, the Who wrecked all of their equipment at the end of the concert. I caught a piece of a guitar but have long since lost it. We also used to ice skate there during those glorious years. Later on it became a flea market and the circus would come to town at the Arena. The Long Island Arena was the pride of Suffolk County and its demise was a heartbreak to those of us who grew up having it in our town.
mona May 17, 2011 at 01:16 AM
I loved the flea market. The Champion sweatshirts,tye dyed clothes, sportstar t shirts ,hair ribbons,pickles,pretzels,italian ices.My boys and daughter loved the place.
Bob Dealy May 17, 2011 at 03:28 PM
The Long Island Arena was part of growing up in Commack. There was public skating on weekends and school vacations, pee wee hockey, The Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers circus, the Nets and Ducks. The Ducks were part of the community. Most of the players lived in Commack within walking distance of the arena, boarding in houses or a group would rent a house for the season. Once in a while a student, for show and tell, would come into school and produce an autographed B/W photo of a player who boarded in their house or lived a couple of houses away. The arena was also a staging area for the Memorial Day parade, which would end at Marion Carll school, now Pep Boys on Jericho Turnpike. When they started holding concerts at the arena they renamed it (for a short while) the Island Forum and Peter Frampton recorded part of "Frampton Comes Alive" album there. It may have been called an "old barn" or "quonset hut" but it was ours!
Annie D. May 23, 2011 at 01:53 PM
Commack Flea Market: remember buying the folding brush & comb combo, 3 for $1.00 Still have one - Ha!
Matilda June 21, 2011 at 12:45 AM
I remember going to see car races in the Arena, they had empty rubber tires piled up to protect the audience from the cars. There were also flower shows in the arena. Then the flower shows moved to the Nassau Coliseum. This would have been in the late 1960's and early 1970's. - Matilda
Paul L. July 02, 2011 at 01:15 PM
I graduated from South in 1975 and a few years before I graduated, there was another celebrity graduate - Bob Costas When I was a kid, I remeber going to the circus there and years later attending a number of concerts there - Styx, Marshall Tucker Band, REO Speedwagon, Rainbow, Atlanta Rhythm Section and Bob Seger - Seger was just becoming well known with his Night Moves album (geez, remember albums?) and the Arena was only half full.
Erica Jackson (Editor) August 02, 2011 at 03:39 AM
I remember my parents taking me to that circus and I remember the elephants. I wanted a ride so bad, but my dad said he already spent enough money. I'll have to remind him of that. Will give him a chuckle.
Kurt Youngmann November 17, 2011 at 09:35 PM
I grew up in Commack, the Arena was a great place. I went to the circus there when I was a kid. A portion of Peter Frampton's "Frampton Comes Alive" was recorded there back in 1974/1975. The Commack Drive-in was right next door. I left Commack in 1979, eventually moving south, but looking back, Commack always brings back fond memories...
richard f scarnati February 11, 2012 at 11:17 PM
I grew up in long island arena my dad was the night watch man that was his second job. learned how skate at night after hockey games long island cougers. My first job cleaning the stands after games&concerts then learning how to drive the zamboni setting up concerts
Peter S. March 10, 2012 at 01:23 PM
Saw Blue Oyster Cult, Fleetwood Mac (pre-Stevie), Alice Cooper, Deep Purple, and Frank Zappa at the LI Arena. During Zappa's first or second song, a friend of mine threw an egg and hit him right in the face, with the egg splattering on his guitar! I thought the drummer was going to jump off the stage after the guy. Zappa finished the song and left the stage, never to return. That was a bummer but it was truly amazing to have this venue just a twenty minute walk from my home on Joyce Lane.
craig c May 01, 2012 at 01:33 AM
YEA man i was there along with half o f Smithtown east class of 77..Yes its true we were live on Frampton album Read the credits on the back of the album.It says LI arena were the song was recorded. Thanx for the great memories. Craig C class of 77
Rosemary June 25, 2012 at 12:25 AM
Wow that is pretty funny Peter. My husband lived on joyce lane.Long Island Arena saw many concerts there and also used to love the flea market...So many fund memories of Commack.
Mike C August 02, 2012 at 01:40 PM
I grew up in KP in those years and my dad took me to Ducks games and one night while leaving we passed the refs and he turned to me and gave me the game puck he was holding. I never got to see any concerts there, I guess I led a sheltered life. I did see the circus when it came to town. I remember the flea market. The top section agent all the way around, then you went down to the floor and there was ton more to look at. I also remember the roller skating rink next door. Spent a lot of time there too. Good times, good times.
Paul L. August 02, 2012 at 02:19 PM
I have a very vivid memory of going to the circus there with my Dad when I was 4 years old. We were walking around the area outside the main ring where they sold souvenirs and as we passed the entrance into the ring, a bunch of clowns passed us and one stooped down and said to me "Hey, Butch!". I remember being terrified and crying after that. I'm surprised that I didn't grow up with a fear of clowns.
Andrea pappas Gansky August 20, 2012 at 12:53 AM
Love Commack!I grew up there what great memories!
Andrea pappas Gansky August 20, 2012 at 12:54 AM
I would love to,see some old pictures if anyone has any to post.
Stephen Rochfort December 05, 2012 at 02:51 AM
Also the place had roller derby ...My dad took me to see Wrestling and boxing shows in the 1970's
Ba Ba Booey December 19, 2012 at 12:31 AM
I remember my first homosexual encounter there. He had a handlebar mustache and spoke with a mandarin accent. It remains a loving memory of the arena.
Ntkorbjr February 13, 2013 at 01:23 PM
I grew up in Deer Park and started going to the arena with friends to see the Ducks play. Also saw a lot of concerts there. To name a few, Frank Zappa, Blue Oyster Cult, Alice Cooper, Hot Tuna, Foghat and my first rock concert, Traffic in '68. Remember mom dropping off me and my friends for the shows. Good thing she didn't know what was in our Marlboro cigarette packs!!!
ben dare dunn dat March 19, 2013 at 08:32 PM
I too worked the LI arena with Richie and his bad ass GTO. My 69 firebird smoked him in the parking lot, Henry James LIVES FOREVER. Great Shows, no time limits go to a show the bands played forever still have my back stage passes from The Jerry Garcia Band, Frampton,Black Sabbath and J Giles Styx and Blue Oyster Cult..... Good Times... Oh yeah Brentwood sucks.. lets rumble..
joseph panzarino June 14, 2013 at 05:26 PM
Sort of late to this story but witnessed and skated with the Roller Derby back in the earlyn to mid 70d`s also do not think Nets played there but at the Ole Island Graden Arena in Hempstead
Jim Becktel June 29, 2013 at 07:58 PM
I was at the Zappa show when he got hit with the egg. I think he said "Sorry this is not that kind of show." I also saw the Frampton show, where he was actually the opening act for Alvin Lee and Ten years After. also went to the circus in early 60's and a car show or two. we lived at 36 hunter place in commack 60-63. I remember seeing JFK in a motorcade in front of mayfair shopping center. also remember a nice stationary store where dad bough his true's and argosy's and i got a few disney comics.
Deborah Perham July 17, 2013 at 11:25 PM
Such great stories! Would love to include them in the "We Are Commack Proud Living Legacy Project." Check out details in the "About" section of: https://www.facebook.com/groups/WeAreCommackProud/ (Everyone is welcomed to join the group, post story prompts, and keep up to date on details of the project.)

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