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Mellon Arena

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Civic Arena
1954–1961, Mitchell and Ritchey, architects, Ammann and Whitney, structural engineers, H. Rey Helvenston, superintending engineer. 66 Mario Lemieux Pl. (formerly 300 Auditorium Pl.), The Bluff
  • Mellon Arena (Civic Arena) (Richard W. Longstreth)
  • Mellon Arena (Civic Arena) (Richard W. Longstreth)

The Mellon Arena was, and still is, the subject of engineering admiration and urban regret. The project began when city council member Abe Wolk proposed an open-air tent to house summer performances of the Civic Light Opera. Edgar Kaufmann Sr. turned the concept into a glistening, retractable stainless steel dome. When its site was changed from Highland and then Schenley Park to the dense African American neighborhood of the Lower Hill, the result was controversy: engineering marvel or racial harmony. The marvel won out, and 1,600 African American families were dispersed throughout Pittsburgh's East End. The ninety-five-acre redevelopment of the Lower Hill constituted Pittsburgh's largest, costliest, and most fractious urban renewal project, with far more headache and far less to show for it than Gateway Center (AL7). After the leveling of nearly one thousand parcels of property, only Epiphany Catholic Church (1903, Edward Stotz) at 1018 Centre Avenue and the rebuilt Beth Hamedrash Hagodol Synagogue (1964, Liff/Justh) at 1230 Colwell Street remained as witnesses to the old neighborhood.

The Civic Arena was one of four building complexes to emerge from the devastation: the others were I. M. Pei's Washington Plaza Apartments (1964), Edward Durell Stone's Chatham Center (1966), and the Central Medical Pavilion (1972). Only a few seasons were required to show the arena's impracticality for opera, though it remains a good venue for popular music and sports, and since 1967 has been home to the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team. The arena has few betters in terms of clear-span roofs and retractable domes. The dome, approximately 417 feet in diameter and 109 feet high, is nearly circular in plan. The retractable shell is composed of six 220-ton steel leaves and two fixed leaves made of 7,800 stainless steel pieces, covering in all a total of 170,000 square feet. The leaves roll back on carriage wheels that ride on 3,000 feet of steel rails, coming to rest under the two stationary leaves that are supported by a 260-foot cantilevered space frame. Nonetheless, the dome has not been opened in years, and the hockey team is building a new arena across Centre Avenue (2007–2010, HOK Construction and Urban Design Associates; bounded by Centre and 5th avenues and Washington Place), for which Beth Hamedrash Hagodol Synagogue and the Central Medical Pavilion were demolished and replaced by a metal- and glassclad trapezoidal hockey stadium that seats 18,000.

Writing Credits

Lu Donnelly et al.



  • 1954


What's Nearby


Lu Donnelly et al., "Mellon Arena", [Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of PA vol 1

Buildings of Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania, Lu Donnelly, H. David Brumble IV, and Franklin Toker. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010, 121-122.

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