Demolition of Mercer Arena reveals hidden piece of Seattle history

SEATTLE — Seattle’s Mercer Arena is being torn down this week. After housing hundreds of concerts and sporting events over the past 55 years, the arena is being demolished to make room for a new office for the Seattle Opera. But the demolition has exposed a fascinating piece of Seattle history, which has been hidden behind Mercer Arena for 55 years: The entrance to the old Seattle Civic Arena, which was built in 1928.

“You can see part of Seattle that was rehabbed for the World’s Fair. Underneath that brick they put up in 1961, is the old Romanesque Civic Arena”, says local historian Feliks Banel, who joined me to watch the demolition.

By the late 1950’s, Civic Arena was about 30 years old, and showing it’s age. Seattle Center was about to host the 1962 World’s Fair -- The Century 21 Exposition -- which was all about the future. So, the decision was made to make the old arena disappear, behind a façade of more modern-looking brick.

“You can still see little bits of it”, Banel said. The original roof, a bricked-over window, and a sliver of ornate trim became a part of Mercer Arena.

“You can see how clever they were in 1961, to take a very old Romanesque building, and cover it with very modern, but very plain-looking brick”, Banel said.

And just then, the brick wall started to come down. And for the first time in 55 years, for a brief moment,  the old Civic Arena saw the light of day. The demolition crew clearly didn’t share our enthusiasm for this ornate piece of local history, ripping two gargoyles from their perches on the side of Civic Arena, tossing them aside into a pile of rubble.

Demolition of Mercer Arena continues this week. In a statement, the Seattle Opera says that efforts will be made to better document the state of Civic Arena as the brick façade comes down, and will try to save the two remaining gargoyles still perched on the side of the old building.