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A look back at the birth of the SkyDome

Posted by Derek Flack / January 8, 2012

SkyDome Birth TorontoThe SkyDome — or Rogers Centre as it is now officially known — is a building toward which Toronto has by now become mostly ambivalent. Although it's a central figure on the city's skyline and its most identifiable object when photographed from space (see below), the excitement the stadium once engendered passed away less than a decade after it officially opened back in June of 1989.

There are many reasons for this. Toronto it seems just wasn't quite as interested in baseball after the 1994-95 MLB strike for one. But perhaps more than that, the philosophy behind baseball stadium building shifted right about the time the Dome opened. In the years that followed, the most adored stadiums to open were throwback designs like that of Camden Yards in Baltimore. The fact that the Jays haven't (seriously) competed for a championship since their last win may or may not also contribute to the SkyDome's lack of intrigue.

And yet it's still a rather remarkable building. One of the highlights of Ryan Emond's Toronto Tempo video that earned much praised last year was the sequence that showed the stadium's roof in motion, an action seemingly built for timelapse videos, and a reminder that the Rogers Centre (I'll never get used to calling it that) is more than just a monolothic sports facility with no character. Is it the best place to watch a baseball or football game (or even a concert for that matter)? Nope. But when the roof is open and the stands are full, there's something grand about the building.

With the news of SkyDome architect Rod Robbie's death last week, I thought that a photo collection of the birth of what was arguably his most famous building (he also designed the Canadian Pavilion at Expo '67) might prove a humble tribute to the man behind the coolest roof in the world.

PHOTOS

2011113-railway-lands-CN-tower-vert-1980s-s1465_fl0041_id0009.jpgThe Railway Lands pre-SkyDome

201217-skydome-evidence-88Under construction from the CN Tower. Photo by ~EvidencE~

201217-skydome-88-cn.jpgPhoto by cliffordstead

201217-skydome1-steelwork-88.jpgSkyDome steel work

201217-Skydome_construction_4.jpgImage via the Stadium Page

201217-sky-dome-ad.jpgAd for SkyDome in 1988

201217-skydome-1988-s1465_fl0033_id0001.jpgAlmost Done. Photo via the Toronto Archives

2011114-90s_dome.jpgDone! SkyDome postcard from 1990

Today

201217-skyDome-wide.jpgPhoto by Somewhere in Toronto

2011216-space-downtown-close.jpgPhoto via the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center

201217-skydome-blue-aerial.jpgPhoto by Dmao11

VIDEO

Check out this timelapse of the construction of the SkyDome, which also features some awesome sequences of the first tests on the moving roof.

Discussion

43 Comments

Jose Bautista's batboy / January 8, 2012 at 09:14 pm
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"But when the roof is open and the stands are full, there's something grand about the building."

That's key. When it's empty, it's cavernous and the lack of life sort of accentuates how drab the place is. When it's full it's a decent place to watch the game.

The Jays always sell out the home opener and people always come away saying things like "that wasn't so bad"...because it isn't! It's an ugly building, sure, but we wouldn't dwell on that so much if the Jays had made the playoffs in the last 17 years.
Retrontario / January 8, 2012 at 09:19 pm
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Here's a playlist of some retro SkyDome action...
http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=23E9D91818F6B947
Ratpick / January 8, 2012 at 09:29 pm
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Not a word about the $650-million (1989 dollars) price tag and the fact that the people of Ontario ended up footing the bill?

SkyDome was perhaps the richest scam in Ontario's history. Thank you, David Peterson.
Bob / January 8, 2012 at 09:58 pm
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Too small for a 400 m track, too small for Olympic opening ceremonies, too small for minimum NFL crowd size. Most ill-conceived and under thought out turd in provincial history.
CHRIS / January 8, 2012 at 10:04 pm
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what a bunch of whiners you two above are ^^
Bob replying to a comment from CHRIS / January 8, 2012 at 10:26 pm
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what a fan of doing things shittily and incompetently you are ^^
ed / January 8, 2012 at 10:28 pm
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the skydome was my very photography project check out this photo

http://www.flickr.com/photos/edmcaskill/6664268347/in/photostream
michael S / January 8, 2012 at 11:23 pm
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"Skydome"; no need to call it by any other bastardizing names.

As a side, my uncle helped build the skydome. He said he helped weld together the roof. I always told my friends. I wonder if there were any pictures around. But he recently passed away.
The Other Neil / January 8, 2012 at 11:29 pm
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Film timelapse!!!!
tommy / January 9, 2012 at 12:05 am
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Thank you for not posting that god-awful SkyDome opening ceremonies video with Alan Thicke.
Adam replying to a comment from Bob / January 9, 2012 at 12:17 am
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Montrealer I take it? Maybe someone should mention the moneypit turd hanging around empty in your declining city. The Big Owe is probably the worst stadium I've ever been in. The interior is awful and it WASN'T EVEN FINISHED for the Olympics it was built for. Shitty and incompetent indeed.
Sean / January 9, 2012 at 03:15 am
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I still call it SKYDOME just to piss off rogers...
RobertB / January 9, 2012 at 07:37 am
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I owned a business supplying motion picture and television supplies. I received a call the day before the opening ceremonies to rush some lighting gels to the dome. I received a special pass to drive on the field to deliver. I brought my daughter with me. Later that evening on the news, we saw ourselves leaving the van and handing over the gels. It is still one of the memorable events in her life and every times she sees the dome, she asks if I still remember the day.
Ticky / January 9, 2012 at 08:16 am
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How long after it opened did people realize it's a terrible stadium to watch baseball in?
Jeremy replying to a comment from Ticky / January 9, 2012 at 08:55 am
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Might not be the best looking stadium in the world, but I would hardly call it terrible to watch a game in. Skydome critics laud the "old-school" stadiums like Fenway which granted is a nice looking stadium. But walk around the lower levels and you're dealing with about 20% of the stadium seats that have obstructed views and I'm not just talking slightly obstructed - I mean full blown pillars right in front of sections of seats. For what it's worth there aren't a lot of bad seats in the Skydome, which is a lot more than you can say for a number of other stadiums out there. Just my two cents.
iSkyscraper / January 9, 2012 at 09:44 am
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I'm a follower of stadium designs around the world, and I have mixed feelings about the SkyDome. Is it horribly flawed in terms of architecture? Yes. It was the last futuristic-syled stadium built for about 15 years and the very last multipurpose stadium built ever. No one today would think of building a combo football and baseball stadium - the compromises for each are simply too great. Had the 'Dome been styled like a retro Maple Leaf Stadium (maybe still with a roof, like Miller Park), overlooking the harbor... well, that would have been pretty snazzy.

But on the plus side, the SkyDome was one of the most influential modern stadia ever built. Pre-SkyDome, there were no new stadia built in downtown cores. The trend had been to construct monster facilities out in the burbs or, at best, at the fringe of the core -- think Pontiac Silverdome, the Meadowlands, all those round baseball/football stadiums in Cincinnati, DC, Pittsburgh and San Diego.... The SkyDome showed you could build a stadium as an active extension of the downtown core and then surround it not with acres of parking but with new offices and condos. There are few stadia in North America that are more urban in their location. When it opened, during the very nadir of many American cities (NYC was approaching 2000 murders a year at the time), it simply stunned the Americans because it was so opposite to what had been the predominant thinking in sports socio-economics.

So while the building may have dated quickly, the sight of all those patrons of sports and music and convention events taking transit downtown, eating downtown and shopping downtown was not lost on urban planners in other cities. Toronto has one of the healthiest downtowns in North America today - and the bland old SkyDome had something to do with that.


(PS - The interior photo above the postcard should be removed as it is from a couple years ago -- note the FieldTurf and the Jays logo).
Simon replying to a comment from Ticky / January 9, 2012 at 09:54 am
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I'm not sure why this article has inspired so much negativity towards the Jays and baseball experience but I'm pretty sure none of these people are baseball fans anyways. As a season ticket holder for the Jays I can definitely say that Skydome may not be the best stadium in the league but I still love it in there. Great sightlines, never an obstructed view and a fun atmosphere make watching the Jays (who are definitely becoming a very exciting team to watch) a lot of fun.

I've always been stunned that a team playing in the hardest division in the league gets trashed so much by its own city as much as the Jays do. Playing with New York, Boston and Tampa (ALL World Series contenders) makes getting into the playoffs pretty tough for the Jays. The Leafs can shit the bed year after year and still be confident they'll have a sellout crowd with the average ticket going for triple what the Jays charge.

And nobody calls it the Rogers Centre, even employees of Rogers and The Jays. Pointing out that you refuse to call it anything but SkyDome doesn't give you any cred, it just shows that you're looking for attention. Lame.
AdamTO / January 9, 2012 at 10:13 am
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I've always enjoyed watching sporting events at the dome. When sold out, it's easily the best atmosphere of any of Toronto's stadiums. I can't wait to go watch TFC play there in March!
Derek replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / January 9, 2012 at 10:24 am
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That photo was out of order, but intended to be included despite its contemporary origins. The ideas was to flank the construction photos with before and after shots. I've moved it down one spot and added a label that should make this clearer. Thanks.
Kevo / January 9, 2012 at 11:52 am
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It's only a bad atmosphere because it gets 15,000 people in a 45,000 seat stadium. Go to the 80 year old concrete & steel girder Ivor Wynne for the Ticats and you'll see a great atmosphere in what is a very basic stadium in the middle of a neighbourhood. BMO Field is another great example of a simple stadium that has a great atmosphere. Fill the seats with crazy fans and you've got a great stadium.
Bob replying to a comment from Adam / January 9, 2012 at 12:20 pm
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Adam replying to a comment from Bob / JANUARY 9, 2012 AT 12:17 AM
Montrealer I take it? Maybe someone should mention the moneypit turd hanging around empty in your declining city. The Big Owe is probably the worst stadium I've ever been in. The interior is awful and it WASN'T EVEN FINISHED for the Olympics it was built for. Shitty and incompetent indeed.
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Hilarious strawman indeed. I live in Toronto. The Olympic Stadium blows. Taillibert should never have been paid for the Big O, in fact, he should have been sued for his bullsh*t roof design that didn't work. Thanks for listening, Mr. Strawman. Oh wait - I forgot: Montreal on the decline? Ha ha ha. Hilarious!
Argo / January 9, 2012 at 12:35 pm
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It's amazing to see how dirty the railway lands once were. Where did all of the contaminated (creosote?) soil go when the property was slated for residential use?
wright / January 9, 2012 at 12:38 pm
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Douglas Wright worked as a civil engineering consultant on this project. His structurural design was also used in the Ontario Place dome and other spherical structures around the world.

He was among the first group to be sitting in the seats while the dome opened.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_Tyndall_Wright
CHRIS replying to a comment from Bob / January 9, 2012 at 01:57 pm
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Nice fail Bob. Is that the only rebuttal you could come up with? LOL!
CHRIS replying to a comment from Bob / January 9, 2012 at 01:58 pm
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Didn't know the word "shittily" was part of the English language either, troll.
EC / January 9, 2012 at 02:31 pm
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I simply love this. Thanks again for the cool historical feature. Some of my fondest memories have occurred at the SkyDome. People need to stop complaining - there are FAR worse venues than this. I also think they did a great job sprucing the place up when Rogers took it over...not to mention when they tore up the neon green flat turf and replaced it with the field turf.
Bob replying to a comment from CHRIS / January 9, 2012 at 02:33 pm
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Chris - it would appear you haven't taken a hard look at the specs of the Skydome and its many failings. It cost us the '96 Olympics, when the IOC said "wow look at that moronic city - they've known for years that they want to bid on the Olympics and they go and build this piece of shite too small anyways, and know that they would have to build an entire new stadium for track and field and the opening/closing ceremonies after having just built one? F that bush league city." Maybe in the early 90's when we lost the bid you were in elementary school or something while the rest of us were paying attention to 600+ million getting flushed down the toilet.
zemaj / January 9, 2012 at 04:19 pm
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I remember changing the first base between innings during a Blue Jay game in the mid 90s. Good times. Haven't been to a game in over 10 years :/
fawnbc / January 9, 2012 at 04:28 pm
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dad was one of the iron workers that built the Dome.
i have an old Domer the Turtle doll and a bunch of old Skydome tee's.

thanks Dad.
Jim / January 9, 2012 at 04:48 pm
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The dome is nice, but I can't say it's spectacular. compared to some of the other sports complexes in other countries around the world. I can't say it's a technical marvel due to a retracting roof. I think the only real bad thing I have to say about it is the fact that Rogers put their name on it.. It's because of that I've lost interest in it..
Ticky replying to a comment from Jeremy / January 9, 2012 at 05:41 pm
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Fenway is over 100 years old, so pillars blocking views could somewhat be expected.
One of the major problems I have with the Skydome is that the majority of seats don't face home plate, and unless you've visited any other ballpark in the US, you won't even realize how bad it is in comparison here.
Angus / January 10, 2012 at 02:34 pm
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After reading these comments I have mixed feelings. On the one hand I think it is wonderful that my father's building still generates such strong emotions in people - love it or hate it - on the other, I find it sad that those who choose to vilify either the building or the men and women responsible for it are so uninformed on the subject.

The reality is that the building was designed according to a very specific set of program requirements set out by the client, the Stadium Corporation - 51% owned by the government of Ontario at the time building was built. Those program requirements mandated that the building be situated where it was on a 10.5 acre site and accommodate both major league baseball and Canadian Football. Nothing else.

In fact my father tried unsuccessfully before construction started to get the Stadium Corp, the Provincial Government and CN Rail (who owed the land) to make the site bigger, specifically so that events like the Olympics and NFL football could be accommodated. However...that was not to be and he was always disappointed that critics said that his design was foolish becasue it did not accommodate what should have been obvious - well it certainly was not becasue he did not want it to.
raymes / January 10, 2012 at 03:45 pm
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Who cares how many people are or aren't in it, "When it's empty, it's cavernous and the lack of life sort of accentuates how drab the place is..." IT'S A GREAT AND BEAUTIFUL BALLPARK Dome whatever thing, why so many complainers? Build your own fucking Field asshole nerd.
TimFr / January 10, 2012 at 07:13 pm
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Such short memories of everyone. Does anyone remember attending a ball game at Exhibition Stadium? The SkyDome experience was heavenly comparatively speaking. It's not the perfect baseball park, but it never could be because of its intended design as a multipurpose stadium.

And no SkyDome did not cost us the 96 Olympics. As we would later find out, the members of the IOC were very open to being bribed at the time. It would have been nuts to build an 75,000+ capacity stadium on the chance that we would obtain the Olympics or maybe an NFL team. That would have been even more of an elephant than Olympic stadium in Montreal.
Andy Mc / January 10, 2012 at 09:46 pm
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I don't think it is ugly. It is my place of Zen. Unless the Jays lose. It is a magical place even when at two thirds capacity. The chants of "MVP" for Jose just months ago still reverberate in my soul. I also hate rain delays and love inexpensive seats. I wish I could go catch a game tomorrow.
Christopher Jones / January 10, 2012 at 10:56 pm
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SkyDome is a great place to watch a ball game, when it's full and the crowd is rocking. A few years ago the Canada / USA game at the World Baseball Classic was electric.

Is it as nice as the "retro" parks? Maybe not, but a warm Friday night, roof open, the smell of beer and hot dogs. It's still baseball and it's still magic.

George replying to a comment from Bob / May 12, 2012 at 07:57 am
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So SkyDome cost us the Olympics in '96? First time I heard that.....and I certainly was out of grade school at the time. Really thought that it had more to do with Atlanta buying votes and IOC members accepting bribes. Seems that Atlanta needed a knew stadium even though they had just opened the Georgia Dome did not hurt their bid. SkyDome was just as capable of hosting rhythmic gymnastics and basketball as the GD.
Dov Eles / May 12, 2012 at 09:33 am
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As a kid I hated being in the car, but from '86-'89, I could not wait for the drives downtown on the Gardiner. I could check on the progress of the first the "Dome" and then "SkyDome" practically counting down the days till I could see a game with my grandmother's season tickets.

The process still fascinates me today and the memories of those first sold out 6 years or so are amazing

There is a large dedication wall on the 100 level that describes the history of the site, building process, and displays some pictures and artifacts found on site (or maybe just all pictures - we only sit in the 500 now). If my memory is correct I think two people died during the building and there is a memorial to them.

When the Dome is full it is great, when it is closed and 3/5 empty it is a mausoleum, especially if the Jays are losing, and the crowd is sitting on their hands.
McG / April 6, 2014 at 12:29 pm
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Apparently the echo in the building during concerts is horrendous. Hence concert placement at every other venue in the city but the Dome. What a waste of money that unipurpose building is. And ugly as sin. Yeesh.
Bob / June 3, 2014 at 09:37 am
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SkyDome is ugly and its a funeral home for watching baseball but one thing is for sure - we never have to cancel or postpone games due to bad weather. That we can be proud of, at least.
Candice / June 3, 2014 at 11:03 am
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my dad and nonno worked on SkyDome! I love them for it!
Smitty replying to a comment from Bob / June 3, 2014 at 12:38 pm
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Can we not all agree that Bob is a tool? Cool, easy enough.
Smitty / June 3, 2014 at 12:40 pm
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You don't want to pay for it? Move the fuck away. You won't be missed.

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