a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Mellon Arena: Threatened to extinction

Pittsburgh, originally uploaded by Scott Beveridge.

It’s with a bit of irony that Preservation magazine is counting Mellon Arena among America’s threatened landmarks in a city that doesn’t seem to care much about saving the odd building from demolition.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is featuring Pittsburgh’s dome-shaped amphitheater in its current publication’s short list of endangered structures in transition because there isn’t a plan for its reuse.

No one has come forward to offer a strong plea to restore the 48-year-old stadium after it’s main tenant, the Penguins hockey team, moves to its new home next year, not even the city’s Historic Review Commission. It voted in 2002 against giving historic designation to the former Civic Arena.

It would be shame to see this structure disappear because it’s the world’s largest building of its kind, one with a retractable roof that has been likened to a flying saucer lodged in the city’s Lower Hill District.

The civic center designed for Pittsburgh CLO opened Sept. 19, 1961, with a performance of the Ice Capades. Judy Garland, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Page are among the musical legends that have taken its stage. Present Barack Obama even campaigned there last year.

The Trust appears to be fond of the Steel City, as features about Pittsburgh landmarks routinely appear in its magazine. The organization also has a lot of clout, having been instrumental in saving an impressive number of American treasures through its annual list of the nation’s 11 most endangered historic places.

Just maybe the brief in this magazine will catch the attention of a group with enough passion to keep this arena supported by 2,950 tons of Pittsburgh steel on the horizon. Pittsburgh without a stainless steel bowl would be like Seattle sans the Space Needle.


Chris said...

I love your blog, but I think you might want to rethink this one. It's not that people don't care. It's that the Arena represents a very divisive issue within the city:


"For many Hill District residents, the Mellon Arena has been the symbol of the beginning of the end of our community and communal process," Wheatley said.

"The presence of the Mellon Arena is on the same par as having the Confederate Flag put in the middle of a community of African Americans, because it symbolizes destruction and hate, even though some saw value in it."

I'm pro-preservation, and like the Arena as a building. But its historical context must also be recognized - something many preservationists (including those at the Trust) seem to overlook.

Scott Beveridge said...


Anonymous said...

Save the Igloo!