The Civic Arena: A Historic Landmark of Pittsburgh
The Civic Arena, an emblem of Pittsburgh’s architectural prowess and a beacon for sports and entertainment, was truly a sight to behold. Known famously as the first major sports venue with a retractable roof, the Arena, often referred to as the “Igloo,” was an iconic structure that brought together thousands of fans, artists, and athletes for five decades.
The Arena’s story began in the mid-20th century, during the city’s Renaissance I, a twenty-year redevelopment program aimed at transforming the cityscape. The Arena was an integral part of this ambitious project, located on Pittsburgh’s Lower Hill. Initially known as the Civic Auditorium, it later gained the moniker of Mellon Arena, reflecting the city’s dynamic evolution.
Design and Construction
The construction of the Civic Auditorium in the early 1960s was a testament to the city’s industrial prowess. The structure spanned a vast area of 170,000 square feet, with its roof alone requiring almost 3,000 tons of locally manufactured steel. The design was a marvel of engineering, boasting the first-ever retractable roof on a major sports venue.
Inauguration and Early Years
The grand opening of the Arena on September 17, 1961, was an event etched in Pittsburgh’s history. The Ice Capades, the inaugural event, drew a full house, setting the tone for the numerous memorable moments that would follow. The Arena, originally built to house the Civic Light Opera, was a multi-purpose venue that hosted a myriad of events, from sports matches to concerts, and exhibitions.
Sports at the Arena
Sports played a significant role in the Arena’s history, with it serving as home to several Pittsburgh sports franchises over the years. The Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League became one of the Arena’s most prominent tenants, bringing the Stanley Cup to the Igloo three times in their 43-year tenure.
The Retractable Roof
One of the defining features of the Arena was its retractable roof. The roof, supported by a 260-foot arch, was free of internal support, offering spectators an unobstructed view of events. The six sections of the roof could fully retract in under three minutes, transforming indoor events into open-air spectacles against the backdrop of the city skyline.
Concerts and Events
Over the years, the Arena played host to a diverse range of events. From the Beatles in 1964 to Elvis Presley in 1976, the Arena was a sought-after venue for concerts. Political rallies, boxing matches, and circus shows were also part of the Arena’s eventful history.
Despite its popularity and the numerous renovations to increase seating capacity, the Arena faced financial challenges. The Pittsburgh Penguins, the Arena’s primary tenant, felt the financial strain of operating in the aging facility, leading to discussions about building a new home for the team.
The New Home for Pittsburgh Penguins
After years of legal battles and negotiations, the Penguins secured the rights to construct a new arena, the Consol Energy Center – now PPG Paints Arena. Located adjacent to the Igloo, the new arena was designed to offer a larger seating capacity and modern amenities, addressing the financial challenges that the Penguins faced in the old facility.
Final Games and Events
The last home game of the Penguins in the Igloo was held in May 2010. This marked the end of an era, as the Penguins prepared to move to their new home across the street. The closing of the Arena was also the end of the road for the numerous events it used to host.
With the Penguins’ move to PPG Paints Arena, the Civic Arena was deemed no longer economically viable. Plans were initiated to replace the Arena with further development of the Lower Hill area. Internal demolition began in 2011, and by 2013, the Civic Arena had disappeared from the city’s landscape.
Legacy and Memories
Though the physical structure of the Civic Arena is no longer part of Pittsburgh’s cityscape, its legacy lives on. The memories of fifty years of entertainment, sports, and history that took place within its walls are a testament to the Arena’s iconic status. The Civic Arena, in its time, was a symbol of Pittsburgh’s spirit and resilience, and its legacy will continue to inspire the city for generations to come.