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Thread: Excellent Write up On Civic (Mellon) Arena

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    Default Excellent Write up On Civic (Mellon) Arena

    Accidentally stumble upon this. This is from the Pittsburgh Magazine but it's a cool write up. the picture with the "Plan" for the arena can be seen larger by clicking the link at the very end...
    Home Sweet Dome

    For a half-century, Pittsburgh’s iconic Civic Arena, an engineering marvel and shining symbol of the city’s post-war renaissance, has hosted championship teams, all-stars, icons and legends. Now, the landmark is ready for a swan song of its own—the arena will face an uncertain future after the completion of the new Consol Energy Center this month. Join us for a last look back at life under the dome we called home.
    By Craig McConnell
    A new landmark in an evolving city, the arena foregrounds a 1960s-era skyline.
    Photos courtesy Senator John Heinz History Center and Frank Fuhrer Distributors

    Inside the heart of every Pittsburgher is a shiny dome. You know it as the Civic Arena, Mellon Arena or “The Igloo.” Of all the buildings that make up the city’s signature skyline, few have had more of an impact on our lives. If you’ve grown up in the Pittsburgh region, most likely you can name the concerts, games and events you’ve attended beneath its silver dome.

    A lot has changed since the Civic Arena first opened its doors in 1961. Throughout that timeframe—nearly a half century—Pittsburgh has become famous for many things. Light opera is not exactly one of them. But that very art form helped to build the structure that fans would later come to know as Mellon Arena and “The Igloo” with its rich, storied and sometimes magical history.

    The Civic Arena anticipates a 1974 tennis playoff between the Pittsburgh Triangles and the Detroit Loves. An open arena was a common sight during these matches, which were held during the summer months.

    In the mid-1940s, Edgar Kaufmann, the Kaufmann’s department store magnate, grew tired of sitting in the rain during Civic Light Opera performances at the University of Pittsburgh’s stadium. He pledged $1 million of his own money to help build the CLO a new home—but with one condition: The new facility had to include a retractable roof so he and other patrons could enjoy performances under the stars.

    At about the same time, Pittsburgh Mayor David L. Lawrence was pushing his Renaissance initiative and was desperately looking for a way to show the country that Pittsburgh had shed its “Smoky City” image. What better way than to build a massive, open-air structure unlike any other in the world?

    “When it was first designed, it was a fabric-roofed, single-use structure intended only for the CLO,” says Pittsburgh-based architect Rob Pfaffmann, who is leading the preservation effort to save the building. But when they actually thought about what Pittsburgh needed, that’s when they went to the ‘hard top’ design … for a lot of different uses.”

    As Pfaffmann goes on to say, “That was the first time people used architecture to show that we had changed as a city. It really put Pittsburgh on the map.” (Check out Pfaffmann’s alternative plan).

    The highlight of the design by Pittsburgh architects Mitchell and Ritchey was the retractable roof, which was—and still is—truly an architectural achievement. It’s constructed of eight metal sections, which are supported by a cantilever arm—the half-arch that looms over the dome. Six of the eight sections rest on enormous steel wheels, which roll on top of a monorail-like track. To open the roof, motors pull the six retractable sections underneath the two stationary sections, revealing the Pittsburgh skyline to the audience in just more than two minutes.

    “At that time, most arenas just looked like big barns,” says former Pittsburgh Penguins rear guard Duane Rupp. “This one, with that
    big dome … It was unbelievable.”

    “I had never even heard of a building where the roof opened up,” says lifelong Pittsburgher Kay Turnbull, 73. “We felt very proud that it was in our city.”

    And the roof wasn’t the arena’s only unique feature. What is now known as the West Igloo seating section used to “rise up” to reveal the stage for theatrical performances, complete with lights and curtains pre-attached underneath the structure.

    Spectators cheer on the Pittsburgh Triangles during a WTT match in the arena.

    Ironically, after all of the time and effort invested into meeting specifications for light opera, the CLO packed up and left the arena in 1969 after eight seasons in the sun.The cavernous space of this building might not have been conducive to light opera such as The Sound of Music, but it was perfect for another kind of music: the burgeoning rock ’n’ roll scene of the mid-1960s. And once rock ’n’ roll moved in, it stayed for good.

    As the productions got bigger, louder and brighter between then and now, the chance of seeing an open-air performance decreased. That’s because of the maze of steel cables strategically hung from the roof in order to accommodate the need for extra light grids, pyrotechnics, speakers and anything else groups such as The Black Eyed Peas, who visited the arena in March, might want to use to dazzle a crowd.

    To open the roof, which was last done in 1994 to complete maintenance, arena management would have to disassemble the maze of cables. Because they’re all hanging at different lengths and at different locations all over the roof, re-assembling would likely take days.

    Rock ’n’ Roll Moves In

    The Civic Arena and those who frequented it couldn’t have had better timing when it came to hosting or witnessing live music. The 50-year lifespan of the building coincided with the golden age of rock ’n’ roll. You’d be hard-pressed to find a nationally known act that did not play there: From Sinatra to Madonna, from Elvis to Eminem, from AC/DC to ZZ Top, anybody who was anybody wailed “Helllllo, Pittsburgh!” from the arena’s stage.

    Case in point: The Beatles invaded the United States in 1964, and only one place in Pittsburgh was big enough to accommodate the madness. “[The Beatles’] management said, ‘Where can we make the most money with the least aggravation. Who has the biggest capacity?’” says Pat DiCesare, now 72, who was then an up-and-coming concert promoter.
    Patrons enjoy a CLO performance. The arena was originally built for the CLO with the condition it have a retractable roof so performances could be experienced under the night sky.

    But DiCesare had one problem. Five thousand of them, actually. “Their agent said, ‘If you want The Beatles, you’ll have to come up with $5,000 in cash and leave it at a bar in Brooklyn in a paper bag, and we’ll consider you.’ At that time, we did not have that kind of money.”

    So the promoter-meets-prodigy explained the problem to his father, who intently listened during dinner but did not respond. The next day, the elder DiCesare went to the Westinghouse Credit Union and secured a loan for his son’s business proposition even though he didn’t know John Lennon from Vladimir Lenin.

    The money was delivered; the Brooklyn bartender came through, and the Civic Arena hosted its first blockbuster event, although it didn’t look very “blockbuster” to the man in charge of the band’s setup.

    “There were only two people needed to set up their equipment: me and one other guy,” says Bob Miller, who was the head of a stagehand’s union for more than 40 years. “They played and sang through the P.A. system that was used for hockey games. But sound didn’t mean much with all of the screaming and excitement.”

    The audience was delirious, but it didn’t rub off on the band’s veteran drummer, Ringo Starr. “I remember being backstage, looking up at Ringo Starr, and he looked bored to death … just drumming away,” Miller says.

    A few years later, the buzz was palpable in the arena for another big concert, but this time for an entirely different reason. On May 2, 1970, The Doors visited Pittsburgh, not long after frontman Jim Morrison was arrested for allegedly exposing himself during a concert in Miami. Security was tight, and so was the arena’s management.

    “The fellow who ran the arena said, ‘Bob, we can’t have him exposing himself onstage,’” Miller recalls. “He said, ‘Keep your eyes on his crotch. If anything happens, bring the houselights up.’”

    Fortunately, Morrison’s clothes stayed on, and the houselights stayed off. The band even recorded the concert and recently released a CD of that show titled, appropriately enough, Pittsburgh Civic Arena (The Doors Album).

    From Music to Movies

    The arena’s clear sightlines made it the perfect place to be a spectator. Those sightlines, combined with the unique shape of the dome, even lured producers of two future “cult classics” to film there.

    The first was The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh released in 1979. The plot read like this: A professional basketball team in Pittsburgh had spiraled into last place despite having the league’s best player (portrayed by the real Julius Erving), so the team’s ball boy finds an astrologer who decides to surround Dr. J’s character with players all born under the sign of Pisces, which obviously works, and the team wins the championship.

    “When it came out, you saw that it was hokey,” says sports talk-show host Paul Alexander, who went to the Civic Arena to be part of the crowd. “The movie was pretty bad. But we were just high school kids, and we got to be close to Dr. J all day. It was pretty cool.”
    1962 covers from the Civic Light Opera featuring revues of Carol Burnett and Jerry Lewis.

    Years later, the arena was once again center-stage for the filming of another movie: Sudden Death, which was released in 1995. Jean-Claude VanDamme starred as a troubled Pittsburgh firefighter who takes his kids to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals and uncovers a terrorist plot to blow up the building and kill all 17,000 inside. That is unless VanDamme can send the game into overtime by masquerading as the Penguins’ starting goalie.

    This time, there was no Dr. J around to draw locals in for the crowd shots, so producers (including the Pens’ then-owner Howard Baldwin) had to pull out all the stops to keep Pittsburgh from looking like a town that couldn’t fill the stands for Game 7.

    “They ended up doing a little of everything, like giving away free hot dogs and sodas,” says Jay Roberts, the Mellon Arena’s general manager. “But they were worried that after people ate their hot dogs, they would leave. So they raffled off a car.”
    The recently released She’s Out of My League also included scenes from the arena that were shot at a real-life Penguins game. Luckily for those producers, no raffles were necessary as the game was a sellout.

    Let the Games Begin

    The term “multi-use” is sometimes overstated, but not when it came to sporting events. No fewer than a dozen professional sports franchises called the arena home: roller derby in the 1960s, roller hockey in the ’90s, four different minor-league basketball franchises and not one—but two—professional lacrosse teams.

    But when it came to unique pro sports, nothing topped World Team Tennis (WTT), the brainchild of Pittsburgh native Chuck Reichblum.

    “We wanted to create something that took an individual sport and turned it into a team sport,” says Reichblum, whose local team was called the Pittsburgh Triangles.
    “It really caught on. Many times, our headlines were above the Pirates in the morning paper.”

    Legends such as Billie Jean King, Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert graced the hardcourt at the arena, often playing with the roof open underneath the stars. The Triangles’ top two players were Vitas Gerulaitis and Evonne Goolagong, who helped consistently draw crowds by the thousands.

    But unlike the normal tea-and-crumpet tennis scene, the paying audience at WTT matches was rowdy. Shouting during serves, jeering opponents and booing poor plays were not frowned upon. In fact, that behavior was encouraged.

    “We wanted it to be a sport where fans would pull for their team and root against the opponent,” Reichblum says. “People would yell and scream, even when players were serving.”

    The Triangles won the league championship in 1975, but the novelty of team tennis quickly wore off. By year three, crowds had diminished, and the franchise was hemorrhaging money.

    In the midst of the final season, team owner and legendary local businessman Frank Fuhrer provided some foreshadowing in a 1976 Sports Illustrated story. “If the league folds,” Fuhrer told S.I. writer Myron Cope, “I’ll take my whipping like a man. I’ll have my pretty green Triangle blazer and my championship ring to show for the million that I lost.”

    Fuhrer was a soothsayer. After the ’76 season, Pittsburghers could no longer heckle tennis players at the arena because the Triangles folded for good.

    Basketball has always seemed to play rhythm guitar to football’s lead around western Pennsylvania, but during the arena’s half-century in operation, hundreds of thousands of hoop fans went to see basketball of all sorts.

    The University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University played many intense games there during their Steel Bowl/City Game rivalry, once with an NCAA berth on the line in the 1981 Eastern 8 Tournament Championship, which Pitt won.

    The Harlem Globetrotters dribbled circles around the Washington Nationals there more than 40 times. And from 1963 to 1984, the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL) basketball championships were held at the Civic Arena, too.

    One Sport Reigns Supreme

    Throughout the course of five decades, arena-goers witnessed a myriad of different sports, including boxing and wrestling. But there was only one game played underneath the arena’s gleaming dome every single year: hockey.

    The AHL’s Pittsburgh Hornets were the building’s first regular puck-slapping tenants. They had modest success playing to smaller crowds until, unfortunately, their last season in existence. In the spring of 1966, the National Hockey League awarded Pittsburgh an expansion franchise, making the ’67 season the Hornets’ last. They went out with a bang. In the final game of the league championship series, sparsely toothed team captain Billy Harris scored in overtime, then skated around the arena proudly displaying The Calder Cup for everyone to see.

    During the 1970s and ’80s, empty orange seats were a common scene at Pittsburgh Penguins games, especially during the 1983-84 season, when the Pens won just 16 of 80 games. But their futility was rewarded with the first overall pick in the 1984 NHL draft and future Hall-of-Famer Mario Lemieux.

    It’s simply impossible to mention all of the “Mario Moments” witnessed inside The Igloo in just one article. From jaw-dropping feats like five goals five different ways in 1988 to one-upping Wayne Gretzky in the 1990 NHL All-Star Game, no individual performer lit up the arena’s crowds like Super Mario.

    In addition to resurrecting the franchise as a player in 1984, he eventually bought the team and fended off numerous outside investors, keeping the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

    Lemieux played his final season in 2005, coincidentally “passing the torch” to Sidney Crosby in his rookie year. One November night that season, a sellout crowd gleefully witnessed the two playing together before watching Crosby make history. The game against Montreal ended in a tie, which brought on the recently enacted “shootout.”

    In his first game against a Canadian team, Crosby made a Lemieux-like move and roofed a backhand goal, winning the game and sending the crowd into delirium.

    “We’ve been very blessed in this city … to have the best player in the game every year,” says former Penguins head coach Eddie Johnston. “We had Mario, then Jags and now Sid. Some franchises go through a lifetime and never get one player like that.”

    Moving the Stanley Cup champions into a sparkling new facility to match their spectacular play makes perfect sense; in fact, it is long overdue. The Consol Energy Center will markedly improve the fan experience, but it faces stiff competition to match its predecessor’s character. And characters.

    “Many people still remember a guy named Tiger Paul,” says local hockey historian Jim Kubus. “He used to run through the stands at hockey games, sweating through his shirt and tie. At basketball games, he would run up and down the court, upstaging the cheerleaders. I doubt people like that will be running around at the new arena.”

    Over the years, you never knew what you would run into at The Igloo. You could be an extra in The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh one day, then go see Harry the Whale the next.

    “Harry the Whale was this heavy-set guy who always sat in the balcony at Penguins games,” says FSN’s Paul Steigerwald. “At a certain point in every game, organist Vince Lascheid would play 'The Gong Show’ theme, and he would get up and do this wild dance. The whole place would go nuts.”

    In 10 years, if you ask a thousand people in this region what they remember most about the arena, you’ll get a thousand different responses. That’s the true legacy of the building. Whether it’s the dome, the Pens or that Grateful Dead show in ’73, people will speak fondly of the arena for years to come.

    “I think people will remember it as the place where some of the most exciting times of their lives happened,” says Steigerwald.

    “There was no other building in the United States like the Civic Arena, and I think that’s what it will be remembered as—a unique facility where a lot of great memories were made.”

    In time, the old dome may be demolished. It may remain standing as a historic landmark. But no matter what its future holds, its rich, storied past will always remain in our hearts.



    Largest attendance figure at a Mellon Arena event, recorded at a WWF house show in 1999, just surpassing attendance at the Jimmy Page and Robert Plant concert on July 1, 1998, which came in at 17,764.

    Light bulbs make up the outdoor marquee sign.

    Feet—the diameter of the stainless-steel dome.

    General-admission cost to Pittsburgh Penguins playoff game during 2009-10 season.

    Degrees Fahrenheit—the ideal temperature of ice for an NHL game. Figure skating is 23 degrees.

    Number of Neil Diamond performances at the arena, the most return performances from any artist.

    Minutes to sell out Miley Cyrus, the fastest sellout for a concert, which took place Jan. 4, 2008.

    Cost of a ticket to a Penguins game during the 1967-68 season.

    Approximate number of minutes to retract six sections of the roof.

    Inches—the maximum depth of an ideal sheet of ice for an NHL game. Figure skating is 1.5 inches.

    General admission cost to 1962 Civic Light Opera events at the arena.
    (Kaitlyn Johnston)

    THE ARENA'S TIMELINE: A sample of some of the Igloo's acts



    9/19 Ice Capades
    10/19 Judy Garland
    11/7 Harlem Globetrotters vs. Pittsburgh Rens
    12/2 Pittsburgh Hornets vs. Springfield Indians (AHL)
    12/6 Duquesne vs. Carnegie Tech, Pitt vs. Ohio State

    2/5 Pro Wrestling
    3/12 Shipstads & Johnson Ice Follies
    5/11 WAMO’s Porky Chedwick Groove Spectacular
    7/2 Civic Light Opera (Carol Burnett/First CLO Show at Arena)
    11/22 Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus

    4/23 Pittsburgh Home Show
    4/30 Syria Temple Shrine Circus (9 shows)
    5/18 Barbershop Quartet
    6/14 KQV’s Dave Scott Record Show
    9/1 Civic Light Opera (Nat King Cole Review)
    9/15 New York Philharmonic (Leonard Bernstein Conducting)
    10/3 Perry Como NBC TV Spectacular
    10/23 Moscow State Circus (10 Shows over 8 Days)
    12/1 Pittsburgh Automobile Show

    2/21 Golden Glove Finals
    9/14 The Beatles
    9/18 Pro Wrestling

    4/11 James Brown
    4/23 Bob Hope Benefit Show
    6/5 Robert Morris Commencement
    6/14 South Hills High School Graduation
    6/15 Peabody High School Graduation
    6/16 Allderdice High School Graduation

    2/3 The Supremes
    2/14 Bill Cosby
    4/22 Righteous Brothers
    7/2 Frank Sinatra
    8/28 Civic Light Opera (Liberace)
    10/11 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens (First NHL Game in Arena)
    10/15 The Four Tops

    4/21 Grand Ole Opry
    4/26 Motorama Foreign Car Show
    5/12 Tony Bennett
    5/17 World Championship Tennis
    6/22 CYO Jazz Festival, Dionne Warwick and Ray Charles
    8/31 Civic Light Opera (Sid Caesar & Imogene Coca Show)
    9/1 Smothers Brothers
    10/12 Igloo Club Debuted
    10/20 Pearl Bailey

    5/31 James Brown
    8/1 Lawrence Welk
    8/2 Buck Owens
    8/30 King Family
    11/2 Janis Joplin
    12/11 Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young


    3/30 Led Zeppelin
    4/24 Engelbert Humperdinck
    4/25 The Temptations
    5/2 The Doors
    7/18 Tom Jones
    8/14 Chicago (with James Taylor)
    9/1 Grand Funk Railroad
    10/15 Pittsburgh Condors vs. New York Nets (ABA)
    10/16 Peter, Paul & Mary
    11/28 Sly & The Family Stone

    1/5 Disney on Parade
    2/26 James Taylor (with Carole King)
    4/12 Grateful Dead
    4/29 Johnny Cash
    7/30 Jackson Five
    8/10 The Who
    9/18 Black Sabbath
    12/27 Alice Cooper

    7/22 Rolling Stones
    8/15 Sonny & Cher
    8/25 Deep Purple
    8/29 Jesus Christ Superstar
    10/17 Jethro Tull
    11/7 Yes

    9/10 Muhammad Ali vs. Ken Norton, Closed Circuit Boxing
    10/9 Elton John

    4/17 The Beach Boys
    5/7 Pittsburgh Triangles vs. Philadelphia Freedoms (First Professional World Team Tennis Match at Arena)
    7/5 Duke Ellington
    7/13 Gladys Knight & The Pips
    8/12 Marvin Gaye
    9/8 Evel Knievel Snake River Canyon Jump (Closed Circuit TV)
    10/24 Earth, Wind & Fire
    11/19 David Bowie
    11/20 Spinners

    5/28 Bad Company
    6/28 Bee Gees
    6/30 Eric Clapton & Santana
    10/24 Ohio Players

    2/13 The Commodores
    2/14 Joni Mitchell
    7/10 Jefferson Starship
    7/15 Neil Young
    9/4 KISS
    9/10 Isley Bros.
    11/10 Aerosmith
    12/27 Lynyrd Skynyrd

    4/27 Boston
    5/15 Natalie Cole
    6/30 Ted Nugent
    7/27 Eagles
    8/31 Linda Ronstadt
    11/10 Kansas
    12/9 Hall and Oates

    7/22 Genesis
    7/26 Crosby, Stills & Nash
    10/4 Steve Martin
    12/11 Billy Joel
    12/14 Styx

    4/19 Village People
    7/27 Teddy Pendergrass


    4/30 Van Halen
    5/10 Journey & The Babys
    6/19 John Denver
    11/13 Barry Manilow
    11/30 Bruce Springsteen & E Street Band

    2/16 Cheap Trick
    4/18 REO Speedwagon
    6/26 Santana
    7/23 Invitational Cup Team Rodeo Classic
    8/4 Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

    1/14 Sesame Street Live
    2/2 Ozzy Osbourne
    4/9 The Police
    10/21 Diana Ross
    11/29 Pat Benatar

    2/1 U.S. Figure Skating Championships
    2/28 Prince
    6/5 Def Leppard

    9/5 Neil Young & Waylon Jennings
    12/4 Cyndi Lauper

    4/9 U2
    5/28 Madonna
    7/26 Huey Lewis & The News
    8/4 George Benson
    8/7 Motley Crue
    8/23 Tina Turner
    9/10 AC/DC

    6/11 Stevie Nicks

    7/11 Duran Duran


    3/10 Paul Simon
    9/28 American Gladiators
    11/7 Paula Abdul

    1/11 John Mellencamp

    9/15 Billy Ray Cyrus
    9/20 Luther Vandross

    5/29 Meatloaf
    10/11 Luciano Pavarotti
    10/25 Sudden Death Movie Filming
    11/19 Michael Bolton
    11/28 Nine Inch Nails

    2/15 Boyz II Men

    3/14 Red Hot Chili Peppers
    8/30 Gloria Estefan
    9/9 Smashing Pumpkins

    4/4 Celine Dion
    10/18 Garth Brooks

    7/17 Andrea Bocelli

    11/4 Bette Midler
    12/20 Civic Arena renamed Mellon Arena


    4/14 Creed
    6/27 Ricky Martin
    7/26 Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog & Eminem
    9/2 Tim McGraw & Faith Hill
    9/30 Tina Turner
    10/20 Stone Temple Pilots
    11/26 Barenaked Ladies
    11/28 Mannheim Steamroller
    12/9 Marilyn Manson
    12/12 The Offspring

    2/9 Backstreet Boys
    3/9 Matchbox 20
    9/28 Tool
    10/19 Jane's Addiction
    10/20 Janet Jackson
    11/2 Britney Spears

    2/18 Weezer
    4/22 N’ Sync
    6/13 Incubus
    6/26 Korn

    3/7 Elton John & Billy Joel
    4/28 50 Cent, Clipse & Ludacris
    5/10 Fleetwood Mac
    6/14 Dixie Chicks
    7/28 Justin Timberlake & Christina Aguilera
    11/30 Martina McBride

    4/14 Prince
    6/16 Simon & Garfunkel
    9/22 Metallica
    10/6 Usher

    4/23 Green Day
    5/13 Andre Rieu
    7/20 Destiny's Child
    7/31 Bass Masters
    8/26 Neil Diamond
    8/27 The Wiggles
    9/3 American Idols Live

    6/15 Pittsburgh Public Schools Graduation
    6/23 Pearl Jam
    6/29 Cirque du Soleil
    7/22 Dixie Chicks

    1/6 High School Musical
    3/19 Justin Timberlake (with Pink)
    4/14 Christina Aguilera (with Dainty Kane & *****cat Dolls)
    7/17 Tim McGraw & Faith Hill
    8/4 Josh Groban
    9/9 Genesis
    11/9 Stevie Wonder
    11/18 Trans-Siberian Orchestra

    1/7 AC/DC
    5/7 Dane Cook
    5/12 Yanni
    6/9 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Detroit Red Wings (NHL Stanley Cup Finals)
    7/25 Jonas Brothers
    8/13 Keith Urban (with Jason Aldean)

    3/16 Jay-Z (with Trey Songz and Young Jeezy)
    4/4 Black Eyed Peas
    Craig McConnell is a coordinating producer for FSN Pittsburgh. He recently produced “Spotlight: The Igloo,” a half-hour documentary about the history of the Civic Arena.

    View Full Size Image of the Arena Plan ...
    Last edited by Kipper; Aug-24-2010 at 05:33 PM.
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    Default Re: Excellent Write up On Civic (Mellon) Arena

    Cool! Thanks for posting this Kipper!!!

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