Happy 50th Anniversary season, St. Louis Blues! It is hard to believe that the Blues have been around this long because many of us have not been alive to watch them play for all 50 years. I thought we could go back in time to when the Blues first entered the NHL. For Blues fans who were not around to witness the first half of the club’s 50 seasons, I want to describe what the St. Louis Arena was like. For Blues fans that got the chance to take in a game at the Arena, I hope to remind you of your fondest and worst memories at the Arena, the memorable first home of the Blues.
70 Years Full of History
When the St. Louis Blues began playing in the NHL in 1967, they played in the St. Louis Arena, which is known as ‘The Barn’ to many longtime Blues fans. The Arena was built in 1929 originally for the purpose of housing cattle for shows, hence the nickname. It hosted the St. Louis Flyers Minor League Hockey Club, the National Air Show, the circus, boxing matches, The Who’s concert, Spirits of St. Louis basketball games and the St. Louis Blues NHL Club. In 1977, it was renamed the Checkerdome, after Ralston Purina bought the building and the team.
The Checkerdome hosted the NCAA Semifinals in 1978, a visit from presidential candidate Ronald Reagan in 1980, an indoor soccer team called the St. Louis Steamers, a Mick Jagger concert in 1981, a Davis Cup tennis match, a Michael Jackson concert in 1988 and the Mizzou vs. Illinois Braggin’ Rights basketball game in 1993.
The very last time the Blues skated there was in 1995. It was torn down in 1999 after the Blues started playing at the Kiel Center so as not to compete with the Kiel Center.
The St. Louis Arena Hockey Experience
The St. Louis Arena was a very unique and interesting place. Since it was home to cattle, it smelt like manure all the time. Smoking was also allowed in the arena, so it smelt like smoke and got very smoky. It’s been said that at times there was haze above the ice. It has been described as a dump. Unlike the Scottrade Center, the seats in St. Louis Arena were closer together and so steep that it was close to impossible to climb the stairs without using the handrails. This made it seem like the fans were on top of the ice and one another. Building it this way allowed for more seats in the Arena. In total, the St. Louis Arena held almost 20,000 seats compared to the Scottrade Center’s 19,000+ seats. It is not much of a difference, but it is more money the team could be making if they had more room for seats like they did at the Arena.
Fans watched hundreds of Blues games at the “Barn,” each with their own unique memories. Fans will remember these moments for the rest of their lives. As a young Blues fan, you hear stories from older generations about the “good ole days” at the St. Louis Arena.
From what I have heard, you could feel the building shake from the loudness of the crowd. The crowd was a lot rowdier than it is now. The organ was so loud it was almost scary and pumped everyone up for the game. People dressed up to go to hockey games at the Arena and were entertained by hockey and the crowd. It was an amazing place to watch a hockey game and much better than the Scottrade Center.
The first Blues game ever was in October of 1967. Getting to see original Blues in uniform, like Bob Plager, was a great moment for fans. The Monday Night Miracle game is a favorite memory for some fans. Monday Night Miracle was when the Blues came back from a 4-1 deficit in Game 6 of the Campbell Conference Finals to extend the series to a Game 7. We give thanks to a game-winning goal from Doug Wickenheiser for that. Some say it was seeing the freak slap shot of Al MacInnis. Gary Unger’s Iron Man streak was another memorable time to be at the Arena. Witnessing a Brett Hull hat trick or four goal game was always the best for fans.
Not only did the fans love the Arena, but so did the players. Former Blue Al Arbor remembers that it was a great spot. Glenn Hall says,”When they’d start singing at the Arena, I’ve often said we’re at least half a goal ahead of them before they drop the puck.”
As much as the hometown team loved the Arena, the visiting teams hated it. They felt as if they had a disadvantage because of the loudness. The fans were also notorious for taunting the visitors and shouting tasteless things at them. They had to try to block it out and that was work for some players. Concentrating on where the puck was going to go was a major struggle and the Blues players took advantage of that and won more games at home than on the road.
Even though the Arena is gone, there is a giant display case at the Scottrade Center with memorabilia from the Arena and the Blues’ time playing there that visitors can visit if they attend a game. This includes bricks and chairs taken from the building before they demolished it. You can watch part of the demolition here:
Now, the Arena is home to apartment and hotel buildings. There is talk that fans are trying to get a sports bar and grill in this space to honor the Arena, but there’s no confirmation on that yet. The Arena is an important part of Blues history, especially during the 50th Anniversary Season, and it will never be forgotten.