Concrete buildings reinforced by plain (smooth) bars are one of the special types of old reinforced concrete buildings that were generally built before the 1970s. As columns are generally the most important structural members of a framed structure, understanding their realistic seismic behavior is very helpful in estimating structural deformations, forces and energy dissipation capacities. Furthermore, in most of old-framed building structures, columns play a key role in the final behavior because of strong beam–weak column conditions. This article reports the results of experimental monotonic and cyclic tests on four concrete column specimens reinforced by plain bars and with various types of splices. Through the experimental results, it tried to obtain more clarification on the complicated behavior of such old reinforced members as well as the differences compared with relevant results of columns reinforced by deformed bars. It was realized that slip (fixed-end rotation) contribution is the major source of deformation in all specimens independent from type of splices. Moreover, general mode of behavior was restrained-rocking action independent of type of splice detailing. A simple theory for the explanation of hysteresis force–displacement response was proposed. The theory assumes a concrete block rocking element that is restrained with plain bars at both ends. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.