When Arnold Seigel was 11, another boy would occasionally come to his house in Northwest Washington so they could take Hebrew lessons together from the same teacher. The two kids became fast friends, and both ended up attending Roosevelt High.
“He went toward business, and I went toward science,” said Arnold, who studied engineering and physics and has a PhD from the University of Amsterdam.
The other kid was Abe Pollin, real estate developer, owner of Washington’s NBA and NHL franchises, and the man who built what was once the premier sports and entertainment venue in the area: the Capital Centre in Landover, Md.
The Capital Centre opened in 1973, and if you flip through the souvenir dedication booklet printed back then, you will see Arnold listed as a “special consultant.”
“I had free rein with Abe,” Arnold, 93, told me the other day. “He said, ‘Do whatever you need to do.’ ”
What Arnold did was make the Cap Centre a test bed for new technology, encouraging Abe to green-light two features that would become common around the country: massive TV screens hanging from the ceiling above midcourt — dubbed the TelScreen — and a computerized ticket-buying system called Ticket Centre.
Before Ticket Centre, each ticket-selling location received an allotment of physical tickets. Which tickets you got depended on which place you went. The Cap Centre’s program would allow customers to get the best available seating option regardless of which outlet they stopped at.
That 1973 dedication book includes a photo of an unidentified boy holding what are described as the “first tickets to be sold” for the first event: the Washington Bullets vs. the Seattle SuperSonics. (The Bullets won, 98-96.)
The kid might have been in for a surprise when he got to his seats, said Jerry Sachs, the Cap Centre’s onetime president.
“The program wasn’t ready for prime time, because it could double- and triple- and occasionally quadruple-sell the same seat,” said Jerry. “It caused us enormous pain.”
It took a couple of months, but the glitches were finally worked out.
It’s kind of amazing that the Capital Centre was as successful as it was. Pollin had built apartments and owned sports teams, but never an arena.
“We didn’t know the first thing about it, actually, but we got the thing built,” Jerry said.
Jerry had worked doing marketing and PR for the Orioles, the Atlanta Braves and at Coca-Cola when Pollin hired him. Empty units in the Rittenhouse — a Pollin-owned apartment building on 16th Street NW — became offices as the team scrambled to get the Cap Centre built.
“Abe was up for us trying everything,” Jerry said. “We were the first arena in the country to actually design in sky suites. Madison Square Garden had them, but they were retrofitted into the arena.”
Pollin created his own circus, too, after feuding with Irvin Feld, owner of Ringling Bros.
“Abe actually went to Russia and recruited Russian talent,” Jerry said. Clown Emmett Kelly Sr. was signed up, along with the Flying Wallendas and others. The result was Circus America, which went head to head with Feld’s circus when Ringling Bros. was at the D.C. Armory.
You’ll hear stories like these if you go to a reunion of Capital Centre employees on May 21 at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland. (For details, visit capitalcentrefamilyreunion.
com.) Ex-staffers are invited back to reminisce. It’s in conjunction with an exhibit on “Heavy Metal Parking Lot,” the classic cult documentary about a 1986 Judas Priest concert at the Cap Centre by Jeff Krulik and John Heyn.
Jeff is hoping people who worked at the Capital Centre will come to see old friends — and bring memorabilia to donate to an archive on the arena that U-Md. is creating. I wonder if that kid in the Ticket Centre photo can be found.
Here’s another anecdote: Since he’d helped develop the ticket system, Arnold said he felt he should pitch in wherever necessary. That included standing at one of the Capital Centre’s entrances and using an infrared light to weed out counterfeit tickets.
“Here comes this 6-foot-12 guy and I said, ‘This ticket is counterfeit,’ ” Arnold said. “He said, ‘So?’ I said, ‘Come on in.’
“I’m not that stupid.”
The Capital Centre closed in 1999 and was imploded in 2002. Somehow, the Langley Punks have yet to implode.
The Punks are a group of guerrilla filmmakers who, starting in the 1970s under the moniker Travesty Films, made such low-budget classics as “Phantom of the Beltsville Drive-In,” “Invasion of the Paramecium Men” and “Alcoholics Unanimous.”
Like post-nuclear cockroaches, the Langley Punks never really go away. What is being billed as the “Travesty Films First Absolutely Final Retrospective” is coming to the AFI Silver Theatre on Saturday. The festivities will include a screening of the magnum opus “Hyattsville Holiday” and be emceed by Arch Campbell.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.