May 27, 1971 -- When the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association awarded franchises to Buffalo starting with the 1970-71 season, the city had a building waiting for it: Memorial Auditorium.|
But there was a catch. It was too small. The Aud only held about 11,000 people for events, depending on the configuration. To be truly a "big league" facility, the capacity had to go up. If that happened today, there would have been demand for a brand new arena to replace a building that was 30 years old at the time. But this was 1970, and everyone had a different idea.
The city merely raised the roof. The Aud's top, which weighed 2,200 tons, went up 24 feet on this day. To the non-engineering population of Western New York, this was rather remarkable. But everything went perfectly. The scoreboard didn't end up on, as opposed to above, center ice.
While 24 feet wasn't much, the figure was enough to fit a balcony -- complete with orange seats -- near the top of the building. Construction crews spent the rest of the summer and early fall building seats, stairs and escalators around the building.
When the hockey and basketball seasons arrived, the Aud was ready. The seating capacity went up to 15,858 for hockey, and about 1,000 more than that for basketball. That number would slowly increase over the years, as the Sabres squeezed in seats wherever they could in the years to come.
The crews must have done something right. The Aud's roof stayed up through the building's occupancy in 1996, and didn't come down until it was knocked down in 2009.
--- Budd Bailey