Metrodome: Three Final Thoughts (not Shots)
January 20, 2014 11:58 PM
Steve Maki, the Metrodome’s head of operations...said that long time staff from the MSFA and Mortenson went to the controls of the fans that hold up the building this morning, and one by one took turns shutting them off. "It wasn’t three-two-one, but still symbolic of taking down the building," Maki said.
The roof started to sag within minutes and dipped out of sight shortly after 7:30 a.m. ... About 9 a.m., crews shut the power off to the building, and the Metrodome went dark for the very last time. (MPR)
Symbolically, is there any more appropriate way to mark the official end of the Metrodome than with a deflation?
Elsewhere, such a big cement structure might be awaiting an appointment with explosives right about now. But that's just not how we do things around here (which may be because, when we try, it doesn't always work). So, like everything else about the Metrodome, its ultimate end will be via banality: a ho-hum wrecking ball instead of an exciting implosion.
Thus the significance of this weekend's Final Deflation. This really was the closest thing we'll ever get to a "goodbye moment."
Watching the various videos, I found myself with three closing thoughts for the structure which I want to share.
The building itself may have been underwhelming, but the people who made it function and maintained it for all these years did honorable work. It sounds like a tough task, done by a relatively stable team, at least some of whom were there for the whole lifespan.
I can understand how they might feel genuine sadness to see it go after learning its idiosyncrasies, seeing it through all the various seasons, and keeping that roof aloft for so long. It sounds like it was a difficult thing to manage, especially as the mechanical systems aged rather ungracefully.
Yet the place looked just as good -- and maybe better -- on closing day as it did on opening day. Not many sports facilities can make that claim. That is a credit to those people, and none of the slights directed toward the building should transfer to them.
Maybe others will disagree, but I think that baseball and its fans value the history of their facilities more than other sports. Far fewer emotions are involved when football or basketball facilities get replaced. These sports, I think, have much less sense of place associated with them. At least in the case of football, the march is ever forward, toward the next goal line. History, though valued, is always at your back rather than in your face.
For example, out at the Mall of America, you will not find any indication that the Vikings ever played on that land -- which they did for exactly as long as the Twins. I think that's because football is a game of conquest, of territory, and territories shift constantly, while baseball is a game of advancement and place, where both the origin and goal of the game is fixed in the ground (basketball then being a game of air, hockey a game of trajectory, and soccer being a game of, uh, redirection -- work with me here, this is just a theory).
My point is that, like it or not, when I remember the Metrodome, I'll think of it as a lost baseball place, but a replaced or superseded football stadium. It will likely live in different places in our memories for the different types of events it hosted. (I can't speak to how monster truck fans might remember it. Do we know yet whether monster truck rallies will be welcomed into the new Vikings stadium?)
Somewhere this week I saw a historic photo of the inside of the Dome right before it opened, when the last of the seats were being installed and the turf was not yet down. I was taken aback by the caption because I had mistaken it for a current image of the seats being removed.
Like all photos of abandoned stadiums, these recent photos have a sadness to them which cannot be denied, even when you feel as I do about the building. There is a sense of the ghosts, and an implicit wish that maybe, just maybe, the place could have been saved and renovated into modern relevance.
We know that isn't true, but photography is a medium which selectively eliminates context in the interest of generating in the audience a specific emotional reaction. It's a fundamentally manipulative medium, but that isn't necessarily bad. Because just as photography removes contextual elements, it sometimes also removes distractions, the effect of which can be equally stark and emotional.
One such photo has stayed with me through these past few days. Taken from the football press box with a wide angle lens, it shows the bowl devoid of seats, and the floor devoid (save for a few rolls) of turf. There is, as far as the eye can see in every direction, only cement and debris. The ghosts are palpable.
But it literally caused me to have a new thought about the old place. Somehow, even over all these years, I had failed to fully realize that there was a flat cement floor beneath the turf. (No wonder Torii's knees hurt, and he got out when the getting was good.)
It's a really big, and really, really flat surface of unremarkable cement. Exposing it is a little like seeing a pool which has been drained for cleaning. All functionality has been removed, and the skeleton laid bare. It's a sneak peak backstage. (In 1986 I visited Disney World while the Rivers of America were drained dry for maintenance. I'll never see the place the same way again.)
What I saw in that photo surprised me. That floor had been there all along, disguised for the most part by phony grass. It apparently bore no visible features to suggest how the place was to be used, and it bears no scars, not even proverbial belt notches for what has since happened. It was, in a very real sense, even after all these years, as blank a slate today as it was on opening day.
I had a similar thought while looking at pictures of people hauling away seats: They look basically just as fresh as the day they were installed. Talk about getting your money's worth! Whoever made those seats should be hailed for building something which truly could take a beating.
Compare that to, say, Tiger Stadium. That place took a beating for almost 100 years, and it showed. Yet the result was that you could almost hear the cheering and smell the stale beer and cigar stench just by looking at the photos. Somehow, Reggie Jackson's gigantic homer, along with a thousand other such feats, was present in every seatback, every cement crack, every clump of infield dirt.
But the Metrodome, perhaps to its credit, didn't absorb such things. It remained staid and aloof, separate from what happened there, and perpetually ready for what would happen next. I suppose you could cast this as either triumph or tragedy, depending on your viewpoint. But I think it's the only thing hard about seeing it come down.
Unlike Tiger Stadium, and so many other such facilities, on its final gameday the Metrodome was not decrepit. It was not run down. It was not threadbare, or even really worn around the edges. It could have hosted roller skating and monster truck rallies and even major league sporting events for years -- maybe decades -- to come. Its greatest sin may very well have been that it was so sturdy, so dependable and reliable. Oddly timeless, it refused to age.
It also refused to budge. It resisted renovation because it was already so whole and unto itself. To call it "sturdy" is really understating it substantially. For all of the roof's fragility, the building itself was truly bullet-proof.
Its design was clever and self-contained and efficient. That's what we asked for and that's what we got. The architects and engineers should be hailed as heroes. Surely it was not their fault that it became obsolete in exactly one way -- the only way which truly mattered: economically.
And so now, with that blank slate exposed, it's possible to see this building for what it was: a stage on which was played some memorable sports theater. And just like in theater, everything which ever happened there, even the most unique and riveting things, lived and died on top of that empty stage, without affecting it -- including every single baseball game.
Suddenly I can see a genuine honor in the building, while also understanding more fully just why it was so wrong. Its designers knew what it was to be, and they made it just so. Its operators maintained it lovingly, and always had it ready for whatever might come next. It accepted 60,000 people, gave them what they came for, and then moved on to whatever it was needed for next. In the final analysis, it must be considered a humble servant, and there is honor in that.
In that way, it's easy to see how it lived up to its namesake.
Despite what I think about its deep wrongness, and what it did to our teams, and what it drained from our local sports culture, and what it stole from us, I can honor the fact that it did exactly what it was designed to do, nothing more or less, did it well, and just plain kept on going.
I think there was a real risk that we might have hung on to it for much longer just because it had served so well. Had the new Vikings stadium been built anywhere else (which would have been my preference, as you know), I think it would have been very hard to tear down the Metrodome. Being all paid for, and perfectly suited to some very specific uses, we probably would have figured out a way to subsidize its continued use even as those uses failed to pay its operating costs. It would have been a mistake, but I can easily imagine us making such a mistake.
We value humility. We value quiet service. We value durability. We value flexibility. We might even value banality.
And that's why (among other reasons), I'm glad it's gone. The time had come to say, "Thanks for your service." The time had come to say, "Now let us aspire to something greater."
All three of the facilities which will replace it aspire to something greater, and at least two of them rather resoundingly reject the notion of humble service. As such, they are likely to age far less gracefully than the Dome. On their final day of service, I suspect these successor facilities will all look old. But I'm OK with that because, well, so will I.
And let me admit here that I'm now sort of surprisingly glad that there is no date with TNT waiting out there for the Metrodome. A gentle deflation seems appropriate both symbolically and emotionally.
The place has served with dignity, let it go out with the same.
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This page was last modified on January 21, 2014.
"You talk about the magic, the aura, but what really makes a stadium is the fans. Concrete doesn't talk back to you. Chairs don't talk back to you. It's the people who are there, day in, day out, that makes the place magic."
– Bernie Williams
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Here are 50 images chosen randomly from the 3046 found on this site. Click the image to be taken to the original post. A new list is created every 10 minutes.
The pink thing is a mascot. (Actually, with a damn fine mascot actor underneath.)
A little ground's crew action in the first inning the other night.
I still counted 11 flag poles...
The Metrodome has sure been tarted up.
The big glove will go on that circle. Note the gap between the plaza and the ramp. That's 394 you can see through there.
The main concourse is a very busy place at all times.
Click to enlarge
One thing that the design disguises nicely is that the Pro Shop (and other key components) are actually built over lanes of freeway. That can clearly be seen here.
Steps going up at Gate 29/Carew
New Downtown Minneapolis Public Library (Source: RP)
Seventh Street windows
Rod Carew will greet you, but he's sorely in need of a home plate for reference. (Killebrew is too.)
Two signs visible from beyond the confines of the ballpark.
An overview of the model display.
Look familiar? Unfortunately, just adding little balconies with cool angles will not offset the pervading ugliness.
This view clearly shows the curve in the left field stands and the relationship of the first row with the playing field (no overhang to speak of in left).
Bike parking available along Second Avenue
Nicely-cushioned seats, lots of room, great sightlines
Work in progress to improve the streetscape on Second Avenue
Perhaps these very bold, Hitchcockian birds picking at left-over popcorn and peanuts were portents of what was to come.
The scoreboard terminates the view on Fifth Street as seen from Hennepin
Roll-up metal doors visible at right.
The Fifth Street side is pretty busy. There's a small street entrance to the B ramp, then ticket booths and an entrance gate, a rare exterior section not covered in limestone, the wooden screen covering the circulation ramps, the administration building, and finally (just out of view) the interface with Northstar. All of that sits behind the LRT action. How pedestrians will interact with this side of the park is a great mystery to me. You know that Metro Transit won't be letting them cross the tracks anywhere but at either end of the block...
No griping here.
A cross section of the field construction. (Click to enlarge.)
This maze of scaffolding is something you'll probably never see again.
Condiments! (complete with faux limestone on the cart -- nice touch)
From the ground beneath the troubled skyway.
The ballpark development area expanded by 1000 feet in each direction
Yep, that's real grass down there, son.
From the TV camera platform -- the view you'll see on TV
Did you notice the flowers?
BPM - Ballpark Magic
BRT - Bus Rapid Transit
DSP - Dave St. Peter
FSE - Full Season Equivalent
FYS - Fake Yankee Stadium (see also: NYS)
HERC - Hennepin Energy Resource Company (aka the Garbage Burner)
HPB - Home Plate Box
HRP - Home Run Porch
LC - Legends Club
LRT - Light Rail Transit
MBA - Minnesota Ballpark Authority (will own Target Field)
MOA - Mall of America
MSFC - Minnesota Sports Facilities Commission (owns the Metrodome)
NYS - New Yankee Stadium
SRO - Standing Room Only
STH - Season Ticket Holder
TCFBS - TCF Bank Stadium
TF - Target Field
Selected Bibliography - Analysis
First Edition (1992)
Second Edition (2006)
Selected Bibliography - Surveys
Second Edition (1987)
Not a "Third Edition" exactly,
but it replaced the above title
(2000, large coffee table)
Original edition (2000, round)
Revised edition (2006, round)
(2001, medium coffee table)
(2002, small coffee table)
(2003, medium coffee table)
(2004, very large coffee table)
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Combines the previous two titles
(2007, medium coffee table)
Selected Bibliography - Nostalgia
Book and six ballpark miniatures