I know I’ve written before about the Great Silver Dome on the Hill.
I wrote about how much I would miss the old barn. I wrote about the years I spent growing up there, the events I’d seen, the genuinely magical feeling I got every time I walked through those doors realizing I was going to cheer on the Pens in person.
However nostalgic I may be regarding the place, I was very much a proponent for tearing it down.
A particular Facebook comment my wife read to me is the inspiration for this post. When one of the local news stations reported that all efforts to preserve the Civic Arena had fallen through and that demolition would begin Monday, September 26, someone had the ignorant gall to say: “Pittsburgh doesn’t give a crap about history.”
How dare you, sir. How dare you.
If you are a True Pittsburgher, you would realize that we care only too much about history and that, most of the time, it is that care for history which slows progress or, at the very least, causes progress to necessitate another approach.
I get that the Arena is a unique structure. Trust me, I spent over two decades of my life frequenting the place through the winter. Some years, if we were lucky, we would stay until late spring or even the summer. I still say tear it down.
I’m hardly the longest-running attendant of Old Lady Mellon, but I can say that I am one of the most sentimental. I used to be a pretty bad pack rat (nowhere near a hoarder level, mind you), collecting little pieces of junk and never throwing anything away due to the memories attached to it. I kept some strange things over the years. I would have put the Arena in my pocket and carried it with me always if I could. But, I can’t, and I won’t, and the City shouldn’t either.
The most interesting thing about Pittsburgh, to me, has always been our sense of self. We are a microcosm of a city, more so than anywhere else in the world. Sure, you’ve got people being proud to be from New York or Chicago or Boston or (God forbid…) Philthydelphia (not a typo). Pittsburgh, however, has always been more than just a state of mind, but a state of being.
At just a quick glance, you can see that Pittsburghers will always be Pittsburghers. Whether they’re transplanted to another city or adopted to this one, they will always be Pittsburghers. Go anywhere in the world and find someone else from Pittsburgh. Even if you lived on the other side of the county (hell, even the region) from them, they’ll still give you the benefit of the doubt as a fellow Pittsburgher. You will warrant at least that knowing smile and the obligatory question: “Where you from?”, as if being from Munhall and meeting someone who lives in Greentree would be like saying you were from two separate islands in the same chain. I don’t think there’s any other city in the world that has that sort of mutual respect based on current or previous co-habitation.
Pittsburghers love Pittsburgh. Though it may seem redundant and you may think it sounds stupid, how many Rick Sebak documentaries have you watched when there was nothing else on? I’ll go a step farther and ask: how many of those documentaries have you watched knowing that they were out-of-date just so you could count the mullets and talk about what stuff in the show is different or not there anymore? That’s what I thought. Caught you red handed.
It is that appreciation for history and tradition that makes Pittsburgh what it is, but this pride goes untempered and wild when a threat against an institution is presented.
The Arena needs to go. People can’t face this because it is more than just a building. It’s a symbol; something that indelibly marks our city. In the realm of sports and events venues, especially when it comes to indoor arenas, The Igloo was distinctive. Much like the original Maple Leaf Garden or even (GAG) the Spectrum in Philthy, it was a place of tradition, no matter how brief in the grander scope of hockey history.
Most indoor sporting venues, at least those geared mainly for hockey, have taken on a similar appearance to our now beloved Consol Energy Center. Though each has something that makes it unique, they’re just big boxes at the end of the day. The Civic Arena was something different. The dome was something uniquely Pittsburgh. There were really no other venues like it.
Though this may be the case, pride was what stood in the way of progress. To say that Pittsburgh doesn’t care about history isn’t just insulting the people who pushed for the demolition, it’s a slap in the face to our entire societal makeup. It’s a kick to the gut of the entire city. It makes me sick to hear someone say that and it makes me that much sicker to hear it coming from our own rank and file. If you live here, you should know better.
Pittsburgh cares so much about history that strips of abandoned steel mills go untouched and fester like open sores along the river. It took decades for the Homestead Waterfront to come to be because there was bickering about what should be torn down, what should be preserved, and what shape the area would take to go around that history. In different parts of town, defunct industry sits waiting for redevelopment, but progress halts for history at every conceivable turn.
Main streets of these old mill towns become wrecked with derelict buildings because historical societies stand in the way of demolition, citing events that occurred in these places or the people who designed the building giving completely just cause as to why these places should survive even if developers present promises of an economic boost once the places are leveled.
While I don’t always agree with the scorched earth tactics of most developers, if you’d seen the state of some of these places… they’ll sit vacant forever because of the stubbornness of Pittsburgh. They will continue to rot and collapse and be unfit for human habitation because of our city’s love for history.
There’s nothing wrong with this love, don’t get me wrong, but some concessions to history must be made to promote progress. If you love something, you must give it room to grow. Pittsburgh has a wonderful and rich history of which we can be, and indeed are, proud. We’ve got to continue moving forward at some sort of pace or we will be left in the past.
I understand that if the vote had gone through and the Arena was to remain standing that it would have been repurposed. How long, then, would the building have stood vacant while three hundred different commissions and councils and initiatives and groups clamored and squabbled over the rights to turn it into their vision? Months? Years? A decade?
Preservation is fine, but there are plenty of things in this town that are preserved. This is not progress for the sake of progress, this is progress for the sake of the City. This is progress for the sake of all of us. And, if you’re feeling nostalgic once it’s all over, stare out the windows of the bar on the upper balcony of the Consol, look down at all the progress, and remember Old Lady Mellon. Remember why she died — she died for progress. She died for Pittsburgh.