Incredible Civic Arena photo exhibit opens downtown

by: Michael Machosky, TribLIVE Updated:

PITTSBURGH —

The destruction of the Civic Arena has left a giant dome-shape hole in the hearts of many Pittsburghers.

(This article was written by Michael Machosky, a staff writer for Channel 11’s news exchange partners at TribLIVE.)

There are plenty who hated the flying-saucer-looking arena, too — its unusable roof, smelly bathrooms and vast, lifeless acreage of asphalt parking — and are glad it's gone.

Both groups may find something to like in a new photo exhibit at the 707 Penn Gallery, Downtown, called “Arena: Remembering the Igloo” by David Aschkenas.

“Probably the most exciting stuff was when half of the shell was down, and being in there at twilight — seeing the Pittsburgh skyline through all this rubble,” Aschkenas says.

“It was like ‘Planet of the Apes,' like part of the world was destroyed. I probably took 10,000 photos. Printed about 700; 36 are in the show. Some are 6, 7, 8 feet long. The scale really gives a feel for the location, like you're actually in the building.”

The exhibit continues through March 2.

Aschkenas' images are startling, particularly if you have an image of the arena fixed in your head. From undisturbed trays of skate-laces left behind, to the intricate, kaleidoscopic patterns of the dome's skeletal superstructure, to alien-encounter-like shafts of light pouring through holes in the roof, he has an eye for the monumental and the mundane.

Aschkenas was, in some ways, an odd choice for the project. He admits to never having seen a hockey game or concert in the arena. He just saw an opportunity and thought this particularly large piece of history should be documented.

In other ways, though, Aschkenas was perfect for the job. He has done a lot of exploring in the nooks and crannies in long-unexamined, historic buildings. He has taken photos all over Allegheny Observatory, and is working on a project photographing the Allegheny County Courthouse, considered one of iconic architect H.H. Richardson's crowning achievements.

“I've always had an interest in architecture, and how people live in that architecture and change it to suit themselves,” Aschkenas says.

Some of the photos from the exhibit can be seen on Aschkenas' website, www.daschkenasphoto.com. He also has a book collecting more than 100 photos from the project, also titled “Arena: Remembering the Igloo,” a collaboration with author Abby Mendelson.

For the book, 50 people recalled their favorite memories of the arena — including musicians Billy Price and Joe Grushecky, attorney Kenny Steinberg and hockey player Pierre Larouche.

“Their memories are pretty amusing,” Aschkenas says. “Joe Grushecky's memory was from about 1965, when he and his brother saw the Rolling Stones and Bo Diddley. His father dropped them off and said, ‘Whatever you do, don't lose your brother.' When the Stones came on, he (Joe) lost his mind, ran up to the front of the stage — was sort of transported to another planet. Later, he realized he totally forgot his brother. He went back, the arena was empty, and his 10-year-old brother was still sitting there in the seats, waiting.”

The exhibit, which is free, is open through March 2. Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesdays through Thursdays; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays.

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mmachosky@tribweb.com or 412-320-7901.