Dome and Domer

First the Kingdome was supposed to come down as the quasi-millennial new year came in. But that plan didn't account for the Seahawks still being in play. So the dismantling of the interior began last week, and the big bang—the implosion of the world's widest free-standing concrete roof—will come sometime after the Ides of March, just shy of the Dome's 24th birthday.

Is there a connection here? Britain celebrated the new millennium with a fabulous, flashy millennium party and, as the centerpiece, opened the "world's largest dome" in Greenwich. Seattle stuck a pin in its millennium party balloon and started demolishing its dome—though that dome, with its ingenious tension-ring frame, is an engineering (if not an aesthetic) marvel.

Our Kingdome gone

Sure enough, the Kingdome memorials and reminiscences have started trickling into the daily papers. Now that the big gray juice-squeezer is actually coming down, a minor wave of Kingdome nostalgia—marinated in crocodile tears—is inevitable. So is the hypocrisy: Some of the folks now waxing over the sturdy, homely Dome used to moan about how it had to come down because its roof was shot. Let the record note: Four years ago, we the people of King County spent nearly $70 million to repair a botched $5 million resurfacing of the Dome's roof. What we have now, for a few more weeks anyway, is a roof for the ages. But no sooner was the ceiling replaced and the roof recovered (at a costly overtime pace so the Seahawks could open) then the Mariners started agitating for a new stadium.

This paper has a more honest claim to Dome nostalgia. It's the paper that did not endorse spending $900 million for two snazzy new stadiums to replace the Kingdome (which cost $200 million in today's dollars). It certainly didn't give the Mariners' stadium campaign thousands of dollars' worth of free ad space, as the Times and P-I did.

Seattle Weekly also gave the previously nameless district south of the Dome its name: SoDo. It urged calling the new Mariners stadium "SoDo Field"—which might have done Safeco a favor. Since Safeco paid through the nose for naming rights to Safeco Field, it's fared as badly in the insurance field as the Mariners have on the grassy field.

And finally, The Weekly (as it was called in that loftier era) can claim a special connection to the Kingdome, though some here wince at the thought. It was born the same week, in March 1976, as the Dome; its first cover was a classic Mad-style tableau of the Dome's opening. No, I wasn't here then. But I still doubt that many imagined that a cheeky 23-page start-up would outlast the mighty Dome.

The view from Florence

The reason we're always given for hosting events like the WTO ministerial, building things like the new stadiums, and demolishing old things like the Kingdome is international prestige: We have to do them, and damn the cost, to be a "first-class city," show a bright and shining face to the world, and so on. And so I was especially impressed last summer when I chanced to meet the man who may be Italy's biggest baseball fan: Roberto Sieni of Florence, who, as he himself confesses, is "passionate about baseball to the point of pathology."

Signore Sieni explained that he was fulfilling a lifetime dream, traveling the States and watching all the games he could: "Seeing baseball played in an authentic American ballpark, I'm like a Muslim who's made it to Mecca." And Seattle's new ballpark is "an authentic jewel."

Then Sieni began talking about the Kingdome, with such passion that I asked him to send me his thoughts on the subject, which Clarissa Szabados has helped me translate. He noted that for all its splendid and zealously preserved buildings from past centuries, Europe has a meager architectural patrimony from the century that just ended. "The war destroyed so much," he notes. And what's left of the modern age gets no respect or protection. To appreciate that age, Europeans must come here and see wonders like . . . the Kingdome.

"Is [the Dome] old?" he asks. "Only old? In a rapid age like ours, 20 years is not a short time. And I believe we need to consider more factors than simply age. For starters, the Kingdome is a testament to the technique of reinforced-cement construction, of a sort you won't easily find in Europe. Why destroy it? Why withhold it from tomorrow's visitors, who will find it not merely old but 'antique,' and to those who study this type of construction?

"Forgive me, a guest in your house, for criticizing the way you run it, but I must stand up for those things that belong to history and to our common patrimony, which deserve to mature until they are 'antique.' (Personally, I can't stand the thought of Fenway Park being demolished.) We [in Europe] have done what we can to preserve our older traditions and will be judged on the results. It's up to you to take care of our more recent traditions. If either of us fails, we will both lose out."

 
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