The Civic Arena

The Civic Arena (Mellon Arena) in 2010.

The Civic Arena, originally known as the Civic Auditorium, and in it's later years named Mellon Arena, was built in 1961 as part of the twenty-year Renaissance I redevelopment of the city landscape. The arena, which covered 170,000 square feet, had the first retractable roof ever on a major sports venue in the world. It was constructed with just shy of 3,000 tons of steel manufactured in the city of Pittsburgh.

The Civic Arena under construction.    The Civic Arena nearing completion in 1961.

The Civic Arena under construction.    The Civic Arena under construction

The Civic Arena under construction.    The Civic Arena under construction
Construction of the Civic Auditorium on Pittsburgh's Lower Hill in 1960/1961.

The Civic Arena on the
Lower Hill shortly after construction
The Pittsburgh Civic Auditorium shortly after construction was completed in the Fall of 1961.

Located on the Lower Hill, the Civic Arena saw its share of glory and excitement over the years. Designed to house the Civic Light Opera, the multi-purpose venue was used for a variety of events. The grand opening was held on September 17, 1961, when the Ice Capades performed before a sellout crowd. Since then, the arena hosted thousands of concerts and exhibitions. It became home to several Pittsburgh sports franchises and Universities. The Pittsburgh Penguins played their home games there for 43 years, and brought the Stanley Cup to "The Igloo" three times, in 1991, 1992 and 2009.

The Civic Arena (Mellon Arena) in 2000.
The Mellon Arena with the skyscrapers of Pittsburgh in the background.

The Beatles performed at the arena in 1964, the same year President Lyndon Johnson held a campaign rally. Elvis Presley came in 1976. The Harlem Globetrotters, Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus and the Monster Truck 'Bigfoot' have all headlined. A World Heavyweight Title bout was fought in 1981 between Larry Holmes and Renaldo Snipes. These are but a few of the many memorable moments in Civic Arena history.

The Civic Arena with the roof open in 1964.    The Civic Arena with the roof open in 1974.
Images of the Civic Arena with the retractable roof open in 1964 (left) and 1974.

Fans watch a Pittsburgh Triangles tennis match
under the open roof of the Civic Arena in 1975.
Spectators watch a Pittsburgh Triangles tennis match under the open roof of the Civic Arena in 1975.

One of the Arena's feature attractions was the retractable roof, which was supported by a 260-foot arch. Free of internal support, there was no obstruction of the view for the spectators within. The roof consisted of six sections, which could fully retract in less than three minutes. Those fortunate to experience an open air show at the arena were treated to a breathtaking view of the city skyline.

The Civic Light Opera performs in
the Arena with the roof retracted.    The Big Igloo - Click on image for larger picture
The Civic Light Opera performs an open-air concert (left) and a poem about the "Big Igloo."

As the 21st century dawned, the arena's primary tenant, the Pittsburgh Penguins, petitioned the city for the right to construct a new home. Despite extensive renovations in 1972 and 1991 to increase seating capacity, the club could not remain financially viable in the aging facility.

Pittsburgh Penguins play the Montreal Canadiens
at Mellon Arena on May 12, 2010. The Penguins
lost in the conference semi-finals. It was
the last time the Penguins played at the Arena.
The Pittsburgh Penguins play their final game in Mellon Arena on May 12, 2010.

After years of legal battles, plans were initiated to replace the Civic Arena with the Consol Energy Center, built on land adjacent to the Igloo. No longer a viable economic attraction, and with an eye towards further development of the Lower Hill area, the Civic Arena has been scheduled to be razed. The final Penguins home game was played in May 2010.

Mellon Arena stands next to the new Consol
Energy Center, under construction in 2010.
The new Consol Energy Center rises next to the old Civic Arena in 2010.

Since then, efforts to save the structure with historic status designation have failed. Internal demolition began in 2011. By 2013, Pittsburgh's Civic Arena had disappeared from the city's landscape. But, the memories of fifty years of Igloo entertainment will live on forever.

New York Times: "Civic Arena, Once Pittsburgh's Pride, Moves Toward Demolition ..."

Wikipedia: Civic Arena.

The Civic Arena during demolition in 2012
The Pittsburgh Civic Arena in 2012 during demolition. The Big Igloo did not go down without a fight.
The sturdy steel and aluminum dome resisted efforts to bring it down for a couple months.

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