Civic Arena (formerly the Civic Auditorium and later Mellon Arena) was an arena located in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Civic Arena primarily served as the home to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the city's National Hockey League (NHL) franchise, from 1967 to 2010. It was the first retractable roof major-sports venue in the world, covering 170,000 sq. feet, constructed with nearly 3,000 tons of Pittsburgh steel and supported solely by a massive 260-foot-long cantilevered arm on the exterior. Even though it was designed and engineered as a retractable-roof dome, the operating cost and repairs to the hydraulic jacks halted all full retractions after 1995, and the roof stayed permanently closed after 2001. The first roof opening was during a July 4, 1962 Carol Burnett show to which she exclaimed "Ladies and Gentlemen...I present the sky!"
Constructed in 1961 for use by the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera (CLO), it was the brainchild of department store owner Edgar J. Kaufmann. The Civic Arena hosted numerous concerts, the circus, political and religious rallies, roller derbies as well as contests in hockey, basketball, fish tournament weigh-ins, pro tennis, boxing, wrestling, lacrosse, football, ice skating championships, kennel shows, and soccer. The structure was used as the backdrop for several major Hollywood films, most prominently Sudden Death in 1995. Prior to its demise, it was known as Mellon Arena, named for Mellon Financial, specifically American businessman and 49th Secretary of the Treasury Andrew W. Mellon, which purchased the naming rights in 1999. Their naming rights expired on August 1, 2010 and the arena was once again known as the Civic Arena.
The Civic Arena closed on June 26, 2010. The former Mellon naming rights expired soon after, and the Penguins and all other events moved across the street to the new Consol Energy Center. After various groups declined historic status for the venue, it was demolished between September 2011 – March 2012. In its place, existing public parking lots in the area were expanded over the entire site. The Penguins have the rights to redevelop the property and a preliminary plan exists for residential units, retail space and office space. Delays in redevelopment are partially attributed to complaints lingering from Hill District resident-groups claiming not enough affordable housing was included in the initial plans, as well as the Penguins looking to work with a new Mayor as of January 2014.
The US$ 22 million ($176 million in 2016 dollars) arena was completed for the CLO in 1961. Mayor David L. Lawrence had publicly announced plans for a "civic theater" as early as February 8, 1953 after years of public pressure had built after CLO president, civic leader and owner of Kaufmann's department store Edgar J. Kaufmann announced his intention on December 1, 1948 to find a new home for the group. Funding was provided by a combination of public and private money, including grants from Allegheny County, the City of Pittsburgh, and Kaufmann. The arena's design incorporated 2,950 tons of stainless steel from Pittsburgh.
To make room for the arena, the city used eminent domain to displace 8,000 residents and 400 businesses from the lower Hill District. Demolition began in 1955 and was finished by 1960. On July 21, 1959 a steel strike halted work on the arena and delayed its opening date.
The Arena was designed for the CLO, which previously held productions at Pitt Stadium. The roof, which is supported by a 260-foot (79 m) arch, is free of internal support leaving no obstruction for the seats within. The roof, which has a diameter of 415 feet (126 m), is divided into eight sections. Six of the sections could fold underneath two—in 2½ minutes—making the Civic Arena the world's first major indoor sports stadium with a retractable roof. A total of 42 trucks mounted on 78 wheels, 30 of which are individually driven, support and move the six moveable sections. The trucks, gear motors and 480-volt AC motor drive that moves the roof sections were designed and manufactured by Heyl & Patterson Inc., a local specialist engineering firm. The stadium's capacity fluctuates depending on the event being hosted, but has increased due to additions between 1972 and 1991. The arena originally consisted only of lower bowl seating, but over time, upper decks were installed in the arena's "end zones" to increase capacity. In December 1999, Mellon Financial purchased the Arena's naming rights in a 10 year, $18 million agreement, which renamed the arena Mellon Arena.
The original center scoreboard, an electromechanical Nissen scoreboard with digital clock display which appears in the movie The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, was replaced during the 1986 renovations by an American Sign and Indicator scoreboard with a black-and-white three-line matrix animation/messageboard on each side, which appears in Sudden Death. White Way Sign created the arena's final center scoreboard, this one with a Sony JumboTron videoboard on each side, which remained for the arena's final sixteen years of use.
The Pittsburgh Triangles of World TeamTennis hosted three Eastern Division Championships at the arena from 1974 through 1976 and the Bancroft Cup finals in 1975, winning the title on August 25, 1975 with paid attendance of 6,882.
On July 11, 1971 the world's first "authorized" production of Jesus Christ Superstar opened at the Civic Arena.
On August 14, 1974, Canadian rock band Rush played the first show on their first US tour with new drummer Neil Peart at the Civic Arena.
Elvis Presley played his final New Year's Eve show at the Civic Arena on December 31, 1976, and played to a sellout on June 25 and 26, 1973. The Beatles had their lone Pittsburgh concert to a sellout crowd at the arena on September 14, 1964. The arena has hosted other major concerts by every act from Frank Sinatra to Garth Brooks to Jimmy Page/Robert Plant.
By the mid-1970s the arena was among the premier venues in the nation, with Billboard magazine naming it the 9th best in the U.S. on December 30, 1976. Sly and the Family Stone, The Steve Miller Band, Grand Funk Railroad, Boz Scaggs and The Beach Boys all played the arena in 1974.
The Jacksons performed at Pittsburgh Civic Arena on August 13, 1981 during their Triumph Tour.
Pop superstar Michael Jackson performed three concerts at Pittsburgh Civic Arena on September 26, 27 and 28, 1988 during his Bad World Tour.
The Doors recorded their May 2, 1970 concert at the Civic Arena. This would be released 38 years later as "Live in Pittsburgh 1970" aka "Pittsburgh Civic Arena (The Doors album)". It is considered by most music critics to be The Doors very best live recording.
The final event was to be a Maxwell concert on July 10, 2010. However, the show was canceled. On June 8, 2010, the arena's management group, SMG, announced that James Taylor and Carole King's Troubadour Reunion Tour concert stop would be the final event at Mellon Arena on June 26, 2010.
As part of the 1967 NHL expansion, the city of Pittsburgh was selected to host one of six new franchises. With a hockey seating capacity of 12,508, Pittsburgh's Mellon Arena was eight seats over the NHL's minimum seating benchmark. Due to its outward appearance, the Arena was nicknamed "The Igloo" which led to the naming of the Penguins. The Penguins debuted at the Civic Arena on October 11, 1967 in a 2–1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. Andy Bathgate scored the Penguins's first goal in the arena. It was the first NHL game played between an expansion team and an "Original Six" team. The Penguins won their first game at the Arena on October 21, when they became the first expansion team to beat an original NHL franchise—besting the Chicago Blackhawks 4–2. On January 21, 1990, the Civic Arena hosted the 41st National Hockey League All-Star Game. Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux scored three goals on his first three shots—the first coming 21 seconds into the game. He later scored a fourth goal and was named the game's Most Valuable Player. The arena also hosted the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, as well as games of the 1991, 1992, 2008, and 2009 Stanley Cup Finals. The 2008 Finals marked the only occasion that the Stanley Cup was presented on Mellon Arena ice, after the Penguins were defeated by the Detroit Red Wings in six games.
The Penguins originally planned to wear a jersey patch to commemorate their final season in the Igloo, but it was later scrapped.
The Pittsburgh Penguins played their final regular season game at the Mellon Arena on April 8, 2010 when they defeated the New York Islanders 7–3. More than 50 former Penguins were in attendance for a pre-game ceremony and "team picture."
Pittsburgh Penguins past and present were honored during a pregame ceremony prior to the final regular season game at Mellon Arena, April 8, 2010.
The Pittsburgh Penguins played their last game in Mellon Arena on May 12, 2010; a 5–2 defeat at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens to eliminate them from the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. This means the Canadiens both opened and closed the Penguins' career at the arena, handing out defeats at both events.
Panoramic view of the Civic Arena from D-Level in October 2007. The balconies on either end of this photo were not part of the original structure. The lower E-level balcony was added in 1975 and the upper F-level balcony was added in 1993 season to extend seating capacity.
For five seasons the arena hosted the Eastern 8 Conference Men's Basketball Tournament every March. From 1978 to 1982 many of the current Big East Conference powers Atlantic 10 powers fought for their conference crown at the center. For the final season, the Mellon Arena hosted a record crowd of 16,056, the third-largest conference basketball championship crowd in the nation that year.
Between 1964 and 1973 the arena hosted 14 regular season NBA games, primarily as a satellite city for the Philadelphia 76ers. On February 24, 1967 at the arena, Wilt Chamberlain set the all-time record for consecutive NBA field goals as well as single NBA game field goal percentage, a record that still stands. On October 10, 1971 the world champion Milwaukee Bucks led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played the Condors at the arena. The Arena also hosted dozens of pre-season NBA contests from the 1960s until 2009, many of them hosted by the nearby Cleveland Cavaliers, the closest NBA team to Pittsburgh.
The Pipers were part of the inaugural season of the ABA in 1967–68, which quickly established a rivalry to the older National Basketball Association. On May 4, 1968, the Pipers, led by future Hall of Famer Connie Hawkins, claimed the ABA's first ever championship, defeating the New Orleans Buccaneers before a Game 7 sold out crowd of 11,457 in the Civic Arena.
In 1957, before the arena was opened, the under-construction building was officially known as the Civic Auditorium Amphitheater. By 1961, when it opened, Pittsburgh sign makers had decided that Civic Arena fit better on street signs, and the new, shorter name stuck. Still though, for the few years after it opened, it was sometimes referred to as the Civic Auditorium.
In the early days, The Pittsburgh Dome was also popular name choice, but nothing came of it.
In April 1988, city Councilman Mark Pollock proposed renaming it the Richard S. Caliguiri Arena, after the city's popular mayor who was diagnosed with amyloidosis. Caliguiri died a month later, and nothing came of this name, either.
Allegheny County Commissioner Pete Flaherty believed that officially renaming the arena The Igloo would bring marketing potential in 1992. Again, the Civic Arena name stayed.
In 1997, the Penguins sold naming rights to Allegheny Energy for $5 million, which would've renamed the arena Allegheny Energy Dome. However, the Penguins did not own the building nor its naming rights – the Sports Commission of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County did, and the deal fell through.
But, by 1999, this had changed. When Mario Lemieux bought the Penguins out of bankruptcy, the naming rights were also awarded to him. They then sold the rights to Mellon Financial for $18 million, and the arena was finally renamed Mellon Arena. The arena kept the name after Mellon merged with The Bank of New York to form The Bank of New York Mellon in 2007 and didn't go through with the "BNY Mellon" rebranding like other buildings bearing the Bank of New York or Mellon name such as One Mellon Center.
The Mellon Arena name was let to expire on August 1, 2010, with the building now vacant and the Penguins moving to the new Consol Energy Center across the street. The closed building officially became the Civic Arena again.
At its closing in 2010, the Civic Arena was the oldest and third smallest arena in the NHL by official capacity (the Islanders and Oilers arenas seat fewer). In later years, the arena's staff was forced to use space for multiple purposes never intended in the building's original design. The Penguins franchise agreed to a deal with city and state officials to fund a new home arena for the franchise in March 2007. The Consol Energy Center is located across the street from the site of Mellon Arena and has a higher seating capacity. The Penguins played their first game at Consol Energy Center October 7, 2010.
The Penguins 3 Stanley Cup Championship Banners displayed at the Arena in 2009–10
A March 2007 agreement between the SEA and the Penguins states that Civic Arena would be demolished after completion of Consol Energy Center in July 2010. During this time, SEA conducted a historic assessment of the arena. It was currently eligible to appear on the National Register of Historic Places, mainly because of its unique, retractable dome. A private consultant to SEA was hired to conduct the survey. The consultant followed the state Historic and Museum Commission guidelines to determine whether demolishing the arena, or reusing it, would adversely affect historic structures or artifacts in the area. The recommendations of the consultant to SEA were scheduled to be delivered in June 2010.
The arena undergoing demolition in January 2012. At that time, all of the dome's stainless steel had been removed.
On September 16, 2010, the Allegheny County Sports and Exhibition Authority voted unanimously to demolish the Civic Arena. SEA Board chairman, State SenatorWayne Fontana, D-Brookline, said the board's decision will not be final unless someone comes forward with a better idea on the use of the Arena. During the summer of 2010, workers removed asbestos from the building while a demolition plan was designed. The Board also decided to sell assets (handled by the auction company Asset Auctions) from inside and would later award a demolition contract in February 2011. Proponents for retaining the building have vowed to fight the demolition decision in court, and continue to seek landmark status. On November 24, 2010, the building's demolition was delayed due to a last-minute nomination as a National Historic Landmark. Also, on January 5, 2011, the Pittsburgh Historic Review Commission voted 5–1 in favor for preliminary approval of the arena's historic nomination status. The vote paved the way for a formal hearing on the proposed designation on March 2. The HRC ultimately voted against landmark status on March 2. After also failing to get historic status approval from City Planning and City Council, Preservation Pittsburgh filed a federal lawsuit in another attempt to save the arena. The 3rd appeals court denied the lawsuit saying it had no jurisdiction in the matter, and demolition began Monday, September 26, 2011. The demolition is not a traditional type of demolition for sports arenas. In November 2011, the Penguins started selling Christmas ornaments crafted from the Civic Arena's steel roof. The team used the promotion to raise money for its charitable foundation. Grove City-based Wendell August Forge, the oldest and largest forge in the United States, created two types of ornaments: one with the arena and the Pittsburgh skyline and another with the arena with the Penguins' logo. The Penguins had originally planned to sell 6,000 ornaments, but due to demand, the team ended selling over 40,000 pieces. The arena was being disassembled over time, and originally expected to be complete in May 2012. However, demolition was finished early as the last panel of the retractable roof fell down on March 31, 2012. A timelapse video on YouTube breaks down 9 months of Civic Arena demolition work in just 31 seconds. It is called "THE DISAPPEARING CIVIC ARENA". It was posted Tuesday, July 2, 2012, by Daniel A. Yazvac with the description, "9 months of dismantling the Civic Arena" with a hand-held camera, time lapse photography.