Home Sweet Dome

For a half-century, Pittsburgh’s iconic Mellon 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. Join us for a last look back at life under the dome we called home.



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

(page 1 of 2)

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.

Hot Reads

Top 10

Top 10

Your 10 best bets for October.
Made in Pittsburgh

Made in Pittsburgh

The city of steel always has been known for its industry – what we make. Today, that defining characteristic expands beyond manufacturing into every aspect of modern life.
Ed Piskor is Pittsburgh's Hip-Hop Historian

Ed Piskor is Pittsburgh's Hip-Hop Historian

Comic-book artist Ed Piskor continues to win critical acclaim and international fame with his “Hip Hop Family Tree” series of graphic novels.
Review: Istanbul Sofra

Review: Istanbul Sofra

Head to Istanbul Sofra, one of Regent Square’s new additions, for assorted lamb dishes, vegetarian starters and well-executed desserts.

The 412

Pittsburgher Ali Spagnola Releases an App Version of Her 'Power Hour' Album

Pittsburgher Ali Spagnola Releases an App Version of Her 'Power Hour' Album

The creator of the app — which takes any playlist on your smartphone or tablet and plays it in one-minute pieces — reminds users to please drink responsibly.
NPR Blog Team Tries, Critiques Primanti Bros. Sandwich

NPR Blog Team Tries, Critiques Primanti Bros. Sandwich

The group behind the station's Sandwich Monday blog series orders the iconic sandwich and writes a review.
Pittsburgh Has 'America's Ugliest Accent'

Pittsburgh Has 'America's Ugliest Accent'

The results of the Gawker poll are in: We’re No. 1.
'Yinzer Goosebumps' Series Parodies the Horrors of 'Burgh Life

'Yinzer Goosebumps' Series Parodies the Horrors of 'Burgh Life

The great Benstonium is at again with this set of faux book covers.

Hot Reads

Top 10

Top 10

Your 10 best bets for October.
Made in Pittsburgh

Made in Pittsburgh

The city of steel always has been known for its industry – what we make. Today, that defining characteristic expands beyond manufacturing into every aspect of modern life.
Ed Piskor is Pittsburgh's Hip-Hop Historian

Ed Piskor is Pittsburgh's Hip-Hop Historian

Comic-book artist Ed Piskor continues to win critical acclaim and international fame with his “Hip Hop Family Tree” series of graphic novels.
Review: Istanbul Sofra

Review: Istanbul Sofra

Head to Istanbul Sofra, one of Regent Square’s new additions, for assorted lamb dishes, vegetarian starters and well-executed desserts.
Review: Sienna Mercato

Review: Sienna Mercato

Matthew Porco, one of our Chefs of the Year, designs the menus at Sienna Mercato's downtown establishments.
Film Noir Fall Fashion

Film Noir Fall Fashion

Fall into autumn with a fashion landscape awash in black, white and nifty shades of gray.