Civic Arena opened with great fanfare at a public dedication Sept. 17, 1961. A 50-piece band played "The Star-Spangled Banner," and a crowd of 5,000 watched as the paneled roof retracted, it did work in the beginning, to reveal the Pittsburgh skyline. The first event at the arena took place the following night, as the Ice Capades performed for nearly 7,000 attendees, including Mayor Joseph M. Barr.
Cost of construction
Ground was broken in 1958, and the project was originally budgeted to cost $19 million. Changes to the retractable roof ultimately upped the price tag by $3 million. The total cost comes to $177 million in 2016 dollars, when adjusted for inflation. That's still only about half of what it cost to build Consol Energy Center.
Diameter of the roof
The arena's distinctive roof was made up of eight panels and, at first, took 2 1/2 minutes for six of the panels to fold under the other two, providing a panoramic view of the Pittsburgh skyline. A new hanging scoreboard installed in the 1990s rendered the roof permanently closed, though, at least until demolition began in 2011. The Penguins ended up selling more than 40,000 ornaments forged from the roof's stainless steel cover.
First hockey game
The first hockey team to call the arena home was the AHL's Pittsburgh Hornets, who rejoined the league after a five-year hiatus prompted by the demolition of the Duquesne Gardens. The Hornets lost the first game in their new digs, 2-1, against the Buffalo Bison in front of 9,317 fans. The team struggled for most of its second iteration but won the Calder Cup in 1967, its final season.
First pro basketball game
The honor went to the Pittsburgh Rens of the ABL. The team lasted only two years, but Civic Arena went on to have a rich basketball history. The Pittsburgh Pipers and Condors of the ABA called the arena home, and Duquesne and Pitt regularly played their annual City Game there, as well. It also staged the first and second rounds of the 1997 and 2002 NCAA tournaments.
First Penguins game
The Penguins lost, 2-1, against the Montreal Canadiens in their home debut. Jack Riley, the team's first general manager, recalled that he specifically requested a game against the defending Stanley Cup champions, for hopes that the upstart Penguins might catch them off-guard. It didn't work, and the Penguins would have to wait until Oct. 25, when a 4-2 win against the Blackhawks game them their first win at "The Igloo".
Last hockey game
The Canadiens also had the honor of closing out the Penguins' tenure in the arena, handing them a 5-2 defeat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals to end the Penguins' season. Montreal's Brian Gionta scored the final goal at the arena, but Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was the last player off the ice.
Seating capacity at closing (with standing room)
The arena could only seat 10,732 when it opened but continually grew to meet its expanding needs. It increaded to 12,508 in 1967 to meet the NHL minimum for the Penguins, and the arena added a pair of balconies in 1975 to grow to 16,402. The F-level balconies were the final ones added, which upped capacity by about 1,000 seats in 1993.
First concert: Judy Garland
Garland played the first proper concert at Civic Arena, just a few weeks after it opened, in front of 12,219 fans. The event was a financial success, with a gross sale of $58,523. Critically, though, it wasn't as well received. The headline for the Post-Gazette review the following day read "Just Just Wasn't a Wow At Arena Last Night."
Last concert: James Taylor and Carole King
Taylor and King, who first played the arena in 1971, also had the honor of closing it down on a Saturday night in late June. Taylor called the concert "bittersweet" as the duo played a 28-song set that ended with "You Can Close Your Eyes", a fitting end to the last-ever event at Civic Arena.
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