Saying Goodbye To My Grandfather's Project, Mellon Arena
Make no mistake, the concourses and dressing rooms are a tight squeeze, the chairs are old, and the ice is bad, but this place will be missed by all who have been able to experience the Mellon.
I would like to share my personal and family history with the place the Pittsburgh faithful have affectionately dubbed the "Igloo".
Built in 1961, the Igloo contains 2,950 tons of stainless steel that came from the Steel City itself. Just one look at the Igloo and it's obvious that a good portion of the steel was concentrated on the roof.
My grandfather, Julius Falcon, touched every sheet of stainless steel on that roof.
After serving in the war, my grandparents made their home in Greensburg, PA., just southeast of Pittsburgh, and began their family.
With the booming of the steel industry, my grandfather found himself working as a steel shearer for Limbach Facility Services.
Limbach Facility Services, a mechanical & sheet metal contracting services company, became the HVAC contractor in the late 1950s for a building to be called the Pittsburgh Civic Arena.
This project would be unlike any other because the Civic Arena would boast the first-ever retractable steel roof facility.
My grandfather, considered one of the best steel shearers at Limbach, was handed the very daunting task of hand cutting and shaping the sheets of steel that are seen on the dome-shaped roof.
Now 88-years-old, he still makes side comments that he was the one to cut the metal for the roof of the Civic Arena, still not letting go of the original name of the facility.
While the majority of my family hails in the Western PA area, I cannot say the same. My older brother and I were born and raised outside of Washington DC, my dad's destination after his job sent him southeast.
We visited family every year since I could remember, but I never made a trip to watch the Penguins play at Mellon Arena until this season, a game against the Montreal Canadiens on November 25—the day before Thanksgiving.
Save the fact that it was Max Talbot's home debut of the season, there wasn't anything particularly special about the game. My dad, brother, and I arrived just minutes before the gates opened at 6:30. It gave me the opportunity to study the steel dome that reflected the glimmering lights of downtown Pittsburgh.
The recurring thought that went through my mind was that my grandfather had such a huge part in the making of a building that after 40 years, holds so much history.
Upon entering the front doors, I felt like a sardine. People were packed everywhere throughout the concourses.
It was only after walking into the arena itself that I could relax and take in the cooler air that came from the aged, but fresh, ice, the dusty reddish-orange seats, which never yielded enough leg room in the aisles, and the stained concrete below my shoes .
I vividly remember the smell of the ice and air ventilation system that was drowned out by the buzz of an anticipated fan base and the sounds of Phil Bourque and Mike Lange on the jumbotron for some pre-game interviews, weekly wrap-ups, and analyses of past games.
But then I looked at the roof and saw the ceiling where the history lay: the Atlantic/Northeast Division and Eastern Conference Championship banners, the 90-91, 91-92, and 08-09 Stanley Cup Champions banner, Michel Briere's retired 21 and Mario Lemieux's retired 66.
All under a roof that was hand-cut by my grandfather.
The game started and the entire arena became alive.
People around me were talking about how long it's been since they last visited the "Igloo", people were talking about how well the Pens have been playing, and were reminiscing about past teams.
The cotton candy guy's shrill voice echoed above everyone else's.
We watched the Penguins beat the Habs cleanly, 3-1.
Each Penguin goal scored was like magic, the sound of the goal horn, the red lights flashing, and the intense cheer that bounces in all parts of the arena.
As a fan, the whole experience gave me chills.
Even now, my description doesn't give the actual feeling justice.
Mellon Arena is a place you have to experience in order to appreciate and feel just how much this city loves the Penguins and how much the team has affected the city.
By the time I left, I could no longer stand the thought that the place could be torn down, even keeping in mind the outdated technology, the small space, and the bad ice.
All of the negatives aside, Mellon Arena is a place that does mean a lot to me and my family not only because of my grandfather's work on the arena, but because it has become such an integral part of Pittsburgh and its history.
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