Finding a reuse for historic arenas

 

Photo Courtesy of Mark Waitkus - Click link to see larger version or purchase print

This article from Atlantic Cities about the fate of a number of the arenas for the “Original 6″ teams in the NHL caught my eye because I am a diehard Boston Bruins fan and one of my strongest childhood memories is being in a car, driving past the half-demolished Boston Garden. Some may have marveled at the sight of this monumental building ripped half open to the world, still able to see the remaining seats in the arena, was pretty cool, I was heartbroken. This may be another occurrence that should have clued me into my love of historic preservation, but like many things, I missed the signs.

Photo Courtesy of AceSmoke on Flickr

Truth, I may not have been the coolest kid in school, but I loved sports and I loved history and the Boston Garden had both. We are surrounded by discussions about this team wants a stadium, or that team wants a stadium, or as fans, don’t we wish this stadium was nicer. Many times I’ve discussed with friends the litany of potential sites for the Vikings Stadium, have said my fair share of bad things about the Metrodome and have raved about the success of Target Field. And yet, reading the article once again brought to mind what the city of Boston lost when the Garden was torn down. It wasn’t just the dead spots in the parquet floor that Larry Bird seemed to know blindfolded or the blood and sweat of the “Big, Bad Bruins” teams. It was the communal legacy of the space that is gone forever.

The Atlantic Cities piece brings up the two remaining “Original 6” arenas and what they are being used for. The Montreal Forum, former home of the Montreal Canadiens (boo!), and the Maple Leafs Gardens, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, are the last two standing. For informational purposes, I’ll mention that the Forum was converted into a mall and entertainment complex, though because I do not speak a lick of French I have nothing more to add. However, the Maple Leaf Gardens have gone a completely different and all together very interesting with their building. In 1999, the building was reopened hosting a local supermarket and soon to be added will be a local university’s athletic facility. A reuse like this retains the arena as a piece of Toronto’s citizens daily lives and to me that is really exciting.

The line outside Maple Leaf Gardens for its reopening.

Recently, there has been a push to demolish Williams Arena at the University of Minnesota and build a new arena (and practice facility). The Star Tribune featured two very different opinions on the issue – Patrick Reusse and Michael Rand. While I admit that Williams Arena will never be among the most posh of settings to watch a game, you are able to enjoy an incredibly unique experience, albeit not for the quality of play. I’m not hear to say whether the Gophers need a new arena or not. I do believe that this deserves a great deal of discussion and consideration and if the decision is made to vacate Williams Arena, we should be looking at ways to repurpose it rather than losing the history and character of this place.

Will O’Keefe, Communication & Programs Coordinator

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