Tag Archive | Pittsburgh

Under the Dome

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.

—end transmission—

The Beginning is the End is the Beginning

Less than a year from now, my traditional winter home will more than likely be lying under three feet of its own rubble. The once proud metal dome will probably be taken away for recycling, reduced to cans or building materials or even some phat rims by this time next year. My favorite bright orange seat either auctioned off to someone richer than I for a few thousand dollars or beneath the concrete, rebar, and remnant plastic beer cups.

Tonight marks the beginning of the end of an era.
There will be people who will speak of the good ol’ Igloo in dismissive, even angry, tones of voice. There are people who for years have been calling for the building to be put out of its misery and offered as a sacrifice to the Hockey Gods that we may move on and prosper in greener buildings and, if we are lucky, greener pastures.
As right as these people may have been, I shudder to see my old home torn down. Then again, I’m much more sentimental than most. I’m sure at least a few of the Pens fans reading this will already be asking “Why do you care? Things are going to be so much better across the street! This place is a dump!”

Yes, it is a dump. But, dammit, it’s my dump. Hell, it’s our dump.

Since I was but a toddler, when my mother had the foresight to bring me to my first Pens game during Lemieux’s rookie season, this dump has been my home.
My mother, excited that her son would at last be interested in a sport (I showed no favor for baseball, football, or basketball), continued to bring me to the Igloo after that first night. I loved the game, she loved the game before I was even born. It was the first real thing that we could do together on common ground. It was the first thing we were both actually interested in, meaning that it wasn’t Muppet-related, animated, or written in an ABAB rhyme scheme in 24 pt. Times New Roman.
For those first few years, we would go when we could. Tickets weren’t exactly hard to come by back then and you could easily pick up a pair for a few measly bucks at the box office as you walked up to the building. At first, we went on giveaway nights where advertising included the phrase: “The first thousand kids through the door receive” a Pens gym bag, or a stocking cap, or a teeny, tiny youth jersey made of t-shirt material. Most of these collectables I still have. My mother has kept them. She would never throw anything Pens related away.

Our attendance grew into a habit.
We were seating mercenaries, taking whatever we could get that was cheap. As a result, I can say that I’ve sat in almost every section of the Arena. I’ve seen every view (even the partially obscured ones) of the ice that you can see in that building.
Within a few years, we had purchased a 10-game roaming ticket plan. 10 games, guaranteed, but they moved your seat every time.
Soon after, we purchased a partial season, curtailed our gypsy ways, and settled down in good old E-16.
Over the next few years, we watched the team grow. We made friends in that section with whom we are still close today. We watched their kids grow up, graduate high-school (at least 6 years behind me), move on to college, get lives. These people were invited to my wedding. These people are family.
Eventually, we left our original row when the prices started to go up. We moved to the top of E-14 and only spoke to our friends in between periods. Of course, we made more friends in our new seats. When you’re sitting next to the same person for sometimes 4 nights a week, you wind up talking and, most of the time, becoming friends.

Regardless of where we sat, it was always me and my mom. We loved the Pens. We held our breath together when Mario would be on a breakaway. We screamed and railed together when Jay Caufield would drop the gloves. We cried together when we beat Boston in the 1991 Wales Conference Final. We cheered together when they raised the first Cup banners a year later. We cried together again soon after when we all held light-bulb candles and stood silent to mourn the great “Badger” Bob Johnston.
Our experiences at the Arena were defining moments for my strong relationship with my mother. We lived half of our lives there in the fall, the winter, and if we were lucky, into late spring.
If trick-or-treating fell on a game night, I would have to finish my rounds quickly so we could get to the arena to catch the drop of the puck (still in costume). If there were a game on New Year’s Eve, we wouldn’t be at the party until around 11 o’clock (games ran much longer back then).

We were season ticket holders for 12 years by the time I came to graduating high school. I was going to be in art school and had a lot of night classes. My mother and I had a long conversation regarding the possession of our season tickets. I told her that I didn’t know if I could make a lot of the games. She agreed that it might be foolish to hang on to them when we couldn’t go together. My mom banded together with one of the ladies we used to sit near. Her husband had died and she continued to come to the games and, eventually, offered my mom her extra ticket permanently.

After school was all said and done and the lockout had come and gone, my future wife and I decided to get our current partial season tickets in E-17. We’re section neighbors with my mom and her friend and we go to dinner with them before every home game we have tickets for.

I doubt any of the traditions of the game will change when the Igloo finally breathes its last.
The team will play on, the crowd will pour in, I will still retain my partial season, my mom and her friend along with myself and my wife will continue to have dinner. But, the atmosphere will be different. Maybe better, maybe even more comfortable (because those Mellon seats are damn narrow), but still different.
The floors will be too new; not yet stained by the salt of four-decades of winter, the spills of a billion beers, or the floods of victorious or sorrowful tears. It will be plain and will smell like new plastic and upholstery. It will be virginal and untouched. It will have no character of its own.

I suppose, however, the character is where this generation of Pens fans comes in. We may be losing a large member of the Pens family when the Arena empties for the last time and is dropped to the ground shortly thereafter, but it is our job to care for the newborn across the street. It’s going to be our task to make sure that the Console Energy Center gains enough character in the many years to come. It will be our job to bring our children into the fold so that they, too, can bond with us over hockey. When I am graced with children, I can only hope that I grow as close to them in this new facility as I did to my mother all those years ago.

I will miss my old winter home when it’s gone. More than likely, I will cry on demolition day as if a piece of my heart has been destroyed.
I do, however, look forward to the new place across the street, all the new memories we’re going to make, and all the future banners we will raise within those walls.

Hoist those banners high tonight, boys. Let them fly inside the belly of the Mellon for one more year. This year, we need to rock that place so hard that they won’t need explosives to bring it to the ground.

Welcome back to Hockey Season, Pittsburgh.

Go Pens.

—end transmission—