Almost fifteen years ago exactly The Kingdome was imploded to make way for what is now Century Link Field. The author shares a few thoughts.
1) It was a castle. Not some Ludwigian Neuschwanstein sprung from a Disney movie but a real castle, slung together with the time's most readily available and impenetrable materials. It was situated with the same strategic advantages of an oft-defended fortress. When you parked in the parking lot you marched slowly across endless concrete, fully exposed. You half expected to dodge arrows and have boiling oil poured on you the second you crossed the thresh hold. It was built in an era of architectural Brutalism, and it showed. It was a gray slab trimmed in gray with touches of black.
Once you made it past the gate there were further layers of armament to navigate. The endless, gently sloped ramps were still outside and acted as a sort of moat, keeping only the strongest and fittest from actually penetrating its interior. If you successfully got through that you walked through double doors, colored comically bright and the same kind adorning gym access to public schools across the country. Still you had only made the outer ramparts. Now you were supposed to weave through endless lines in a dingy hall full of the musk of the common man; stale popcorn, urine, and low lights. Only when you finally aligned some black numbers on gray painted hastily above a hallway with the numbers on your ticket, in my case a number almost always starting with "3", were you able to actually "enter" the Kingdome.
2) It was an albatross. Only fifteen years after its spectacular demolition was King County able to pay off the bonds still tied to it. The Kingdome was only slightly older than Safeco Field is now before its two main tenants began grousing about its inadequacy as a modern sporting venue. The moment that Camden Yards opened in 1993 and began printing money for the Orioles the last 30+ years of ballpark construction was rendered obsolete.
3) It was permanent. Anything that pre-dates your memory is. Anything that large isn't designed to be so fungible. Part of the point of massive buildings is to impart upon you your own smallness. This massive thing laughs at your size, your fragility, your temporal nature. The Kingdome was 5 years old when I was born but it may as well have been 100. I still feel strange walking around Sodo in between Century Link and Safeco.
4) After you took your seat in it you were struck by two things. One was the sheer enormity of it. This was emphasized by the fact that typically the place was only 1/4 full at most. It felt like you could fit Rainier itself in there. Two was the way sound worked. This was apparent to us way before Seahawks games made it famous and 95 made it legendary. On a typical game day you could easily have a conversation with someone two section over as though they were sitting next to you. The Kingdome used sound to compress the space between us. The Kingdome gave us a power we've been using ever since.
5) The Kingdome was home to some truly bizarre and memorable things, many of which were only tangentially related to the events you were there to attend. For example:
6) Today we can measure every pitch and batted ball to the 1/10th of MPH and Hit Tracker gives us granular data on every home run. This is knowledge based on science. It is good and we are better off for having it. The era of the Kingdome was a time where data's fuzziness allowed for more ready mythology. That preamble allows me to make this statement:
On June 24th, 1997 Randy Johnson, the game's hardest thrower, threw a fastball to the Mark McGwire, the game's strongest hitter. McGwire hit that fastball farther than any ball has ever been hit.
7) To be emphatic let's just say it simply: The Kingdome was crap. It was ugly, it smelled, it had 3 bathrooms, too many of its hot dogs would grow you a third arm. It was a spectacular, expensive, municipal failure in many ways. However I still miss it. This is partially because nostalgia is an intoxicating illness but also, I think, something more.
I ask you to consider feats of great architecture. Notre Dame Cathedral, Christ the Redeemer, Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water House. All of these works impart on you a sense of awe and more so of presence. These feel like living entities. The agency we have as people is limited simply to observation. What can one say or do but simply try to not harm something already perfect?
At times Safeco Field can have a similar effect on me. If I sit on the 1st base side and watch Felix wind up as the sun sets over the water of Puget Sound my field of vision collects approximately 80% of the beautiful things in the world. What am I to do, to say, to add anything? Perfection needs no input from me.
The Kingdome, however, needed us. It was a hulking, inanimate, concrete testament to bad planning and government oversight. If Safeco is a cathedral then The Dome was a rowdy town square lined with mud, refuse and whatever foibles, joys, sounds and memories we could create in it. And we did create them. Infrequently we would cram so many people inside it that all its utilitarian ballast seemed necessary. Inside that old cavern we shouted into existence the identity and calling card of our sports community. The Kingdome allowed us to find out who we were. So the next time you're at a game and everything looks so damn great? Don't forget to shout.