Mercer Arena, formerly Civic Ice Arena and home to several Seattle hockey teams, has been torn down.
JEAN SHERRARD AND I had planned to make a “Now” photograph of the inside of Seattle Center’s Mercer Arena (originally the Civic Ice Arena), but that plan was interrupted by the recent decision to tear it down. The arena, which seated 5,000, was dedicated in 1928, and so by antiquarian standards did not qualify as “antique.” And yet in its mere 89 years, the arena did manage to live within two skins.
The birthday suit of concrete from 1927 showed some “minimal Romanesque” ornaments such as arched windows, decorative trim and four Gargoyles that faced Mercer Street above the arena’s entrance. These adornments were subdued by architect Paul Thiry’s 1961-62 wrapping (also minimal) with bricks. They were laid for a modern polish thought more fitting for the “forward-thrusting” World’s Fair, featuring arena performers including Lawrence Welk, the Century 21 Horse Show, the Mormon Pageant, the Ringling Bros. and Shrine circuses and the Ice Follies.
The immigrant history for the future Seattle Center began in the 1850s with pioneers David and Louisa Denny. By the 1870s, the young couple had nurtured a garden to feed their growing family, and much of Seattle. Beginning in the late 1920s, Seattle’s Civic Center grew atop this garden. Its three largest structures, a sports field with covered bleachers, the arena and the auditorium — all labeled as civic — were bunched south of Mercer Street in what were formerly the Dennys’ garden acres.
The center’s larger parts had been nurtured from a modest grant bequeathed in the early 1880s, when the Dennys were still tending their gardens. The gift to the city was made by a gregarious bar owner named James Osborne. Over nearly a half-century, this endowment gathered a cash pile high enough to raise a hall owned by the public. The arena was fitted with a floor for the center’s many “Ice Events.” These included amateur and professional hockey, gala ice shows and extended hours of public skating. Of course, there were skates to rent, lessons and organ music to accompany public gliding. At the start, the floor was frozen five months a year.
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The recent razing of the arena did not raise much commotion. In his KIRO Radio commentary, Feliks Banel quoted fellow historian David Rash’s characterization of the arena as something of an “orphan.” Rash points out what many others had sensed: that the mix of the arena’s uses — for the most part, pop concerts and Seattle Opera’s rehearsal space, plus storage — resulted in “no built-in constituency of regular users or devoted fans to speak up for it.” Banel notes, “It’s been offline for so many years.”