From legend to luxury FleetCenter's amenities give it an ambience far different from Garden

November 03, 1995|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

BOSTON -- Tonight, thousands of Boston Celtics fans will walk into the new FleetCenter on Causeway Street and look up. What they'll see is the past. Glorious banners -- in Celtics green for 16 NBA championships, in Bruins gold for five Stanley Cups.

L All accomplishments achieved at the legendary Boston Garden.

Beginning tonight, The Garden is truly history. The NHL's Boston Bruins left the place behind Oct. 7, with their first home game here in The Fleet. Tonight, the NBA does the same, when the Celtics open the season against the Milwaukee Bucks.

"Tradition is hard to quantify," said Celtics executive vice president and general manager Jon Volk. "It's not something you plan or you design. It happens. It isn't the building that generated the success. It was the success that was generated in the building."

Part of sustaining the success is going forward, and part of that is a new building. The original Garden opened Nov. 20, 1928. It was a building judged obsolete 30 years ago, but it is only now that officials have managed to get rid of it.

The Garden had a million stories. But the very things that gave The Garden its life were the same things that made it expendable.

"It was a smelly old sweat box," said Victoria Fuller, a Boston Garden fan. "I'm sure there were smells in there that went back years -- how many years no one knows. But it had a 'je ne sais quoi,' an ambience, that new buildings generally don't have.

"Seeing Bobby Orr play there was a privilege. And I know Red Auerbach did terrible things to opposing teams there, like turning up the heat. Yes, a wonderful old sweat box. I guess we'll live with the FleetCenter, but if they ever got rid of Fenway, we'd have another Boston Tea Party."

The Garden had no air conditioning, no escalators, no padded seats like the new FleetCenter. The Garden had no luxury boxes.

It had no luxury.

"I have to tell you, for many, many, many years it was a dump," said Volk. "In the last couple years it has become a shrine. We recognize it had subtle benefits for us. The building had idiosyncrasies that were perceived to be a benefit to us like the lack of air conditioning -- but as Red Auerbach would say, 'What'd they think, that their side of the court wasn't air conditioned and ours was?' "

All sorts of things could and did happen at the Garden.

Bob Cousy once recalled the night Auerbach listened to a female fan yelling. When he had heard enough, he took the red-hot cigar he had been smoking and put it out on the woman's dress.

Celtics guard Tony Lavelli, who stopped by long enough for a cup of coffee in the 1949-50 season, would come out at halftime and entertain the crowd by playing his accordion.

Tonight, fans will hear the Boston Pops.

It is the Celtics' opening night and there are jitters.

Last week, the Celtics played their one and only home preseason game here and Volk was left speechless following a series of surprises and miscues. At the Garden, the conversion from NHL ice to NBA parquet took 2 1/2 hours. In the FleetCenter the transition takes 6 1/2 hours.

The transition from ice to hardwood, however, will not be an issue today. The floor was put down directly after last night's Boston Bruins' game and was to be available from 5 a.m. today.

"Any new building, it takes a period of time to become accustomed and familiar with the systems," said Larry Moulter, president of FleetCenter, who bought in a masseur for six days and made him available to everyone on the Celtics, Bruins and building staffs to relieve the tension. "This is a process that I call settling in. It's like becoming comfortable with the house you bought."

The entire first year will be like "a shakedown cruise," Moulter said. Everything staged in the building this year will be for the first time. Everyone knows they will be running into surprises.

But no one associated with the FleetCenter wants to go back. Moulter says the FleetCenter is the "greatest addition to the city of Boston in 67 years when it comes to sports and entertainment. How's that for hyperbole?"

He says it captured the hearts and minds of the community from the moment Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough spoke at the Fleet's grand opening, Sept. 29.

"The FleetCenter was not built 25 miles outside the city, at the junction of some interstate highway," McCullough said. "It went up in the middle of Boston, and that's important. . . . A great city should be a place where young men and women -- our children -- can get a notion of the choices that are possible in life. Where they can see, feel, smell and be moved by examples of excellence in every field, whether it be athletics or politics or the performing arts. Not in virtual reality, either, but live and real."

And then McCullough pointed out something that might turn out to be the most important aspect of the FleetCenter.

"What we remember as historic events of the past," he said. "are the things that were new at the time."

In time, the FleetCenter will grow as old as The Garden.

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