December 14, 2015

Historic Hoops: KeyArena in Seattle

Welcome to our Historic Hoops series, where we offer a guide to historic places related (at least tangentially) to a televised men’s or women’s NCAA basketball matchup each week throughout the 2015-2016 season. Whether you’re a die-hard fan or simply stuck watching with your significant other, we’re here to assist your viewing experience with some historic context beyond the hardwood.

This week’s matchup(s): Tennessee vs. #20 Gonzaga

Time: Saturday, Dec. 19 at 11:00 p.m. Eastern

Channel: ESPNU

Venue: KeyArena in Seattle, Washington

Opening Tip: Gonzaga is actually in Spokane, and the University of Tennessee is definitely not in Seattle, but the game itself is indeed in the Emerald City (the one in Washington, not in the Wizard of Oz). Got that?

photo by: Cliff/Flickr/CC 2.0

KeyArena in Seattle was designed by American architect Paul Thiry.

Fast Break: KeyArena was built as the Washington State Pavilion in 1962 for the Seattle’s World Fair, also known as the Century 21 Exposition. After the fair, the Seattle SuperSonics NBA franchise (which wore some of the league’s greatest uniforms of all time but sadly moved to Oklahoma City in 2008) made the arena their home beginning in 1967.

Since its construction, the arena has also hosted epic concerts by the Beatles (1964) and Elvis (1970). It also hosted the 1974 NBA All-Star Game.

KeyArena also reflects Seattle’s strong sustainability ethic. When the structure was renovated in 1994, original materials like wood, steel, and concrete were recycled back into the building, while original acoustic panels from the ceiling were refurbished and reused.

The Seattle Skyline

photo by: accozzaglia (Astrid Idlewild)/Flickr/CC By NC ND 2.0

A view of Seattle's skyline with the Space Needle at left, Mt. Ranier in the background, and KeyArena in the foreground.

Three Points:

  • Architect Paul Thiry, credited with introducing European Modernism to the Pacific Northwest, was chief architect of the Century 21 Exposition. He also designed KeyArena itself.
  • Seattle’s world-famous Space Needle became the centerpiece of the 1962 World’s Fair. The 605-foot rotating restaurant tower cost only $6.5 million to construct.
  • By the end of the World’s Fair on October 21, 1962, more than 9.5 million people visited the Century 21 Exposition, including Elvis, then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson, and Prince Phillip of Great Britain.

Buzzer Beater: Though built some 40 years after, the Experience Music Project building on the former site of the fair was meant to fit in with the Century 21 Exposition buildings. Frank O. Gehry used the pieces of several electric guitars as building blocks for his early designs of the structure.

And-1: Virginia Commonwealth University visits Georgia Tech on Tuesday night at 9:00 on ESPN2. The game will be played in the 1956 Hank McCamish Pavilion, former home to the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and the site of the 1996 Olympic boxing tournament.

David Weible headshot

David Weible is a former content specialist at the National Trust, previously with Preservation and Outside magazines. His interest in historic preservation is inspired by the ‘20s-era architecture, streetcar neighborhoods, and bars of his hometown of Cleveland.

Announcing the 2024 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

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