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Archive for June, 2011

Construction begins

Building the scaffolding in preparation for pouring the Arena barrel roof shell, 1936

Building the scaffolding in preparation for pouring the Arena barrel roof shell, 1936


Tedesko realized that the Hershey project would be a unique challenge.   He referred to it as a “home-made structure, constructed by Hershey men.” Tedesko became the planner/architect/engineer/construction manager. Milton Hershey wanted to save money and refused to formally hire a construction manager. The result was a rather chaotic beginning.   Eventually, Tedesko secured the help of Oscar Spancake, a carpenter-foreman, who mobilized a crew of 250 men, 4 concrete mixers and 2 elevators. The workers had no previous experience in concrete construction, leaving Tedesko no choice but to supervise all aspects of the concrete pours. Remarkably, by July 2, 1936 pouring for the first roof section began.


Pouring the lower tier of seats in the Hershey Arena, 1936

Pouring the lower tier of seats in the Hershey Arena, 1936

Formwork for the sections was made up of a patchwork of standard lumber sizes, since Milton Hershey had stipulated that all the lumber associated with the project later be used in the construction of barns and homes in Hershey. The scaffolding structure was composed of over 300,000 board feet of yellow pine lumber and the entire scaffolding and formwork structure was placed on a series of 250jacks .  The pours were simultaneously started on both sides from the ground level, and didn’t stop until the two sides came together at the top of the arena. These pours took anywhere from 14 to 20 days, working 24 hours a day.


Workers hauled concrete in handcarts up to the roof.  1936

Workers hauled concrete in handcarts up to the roof. 1936

George Booth had vivid memories of the construction:

Yes, I remember when that was going up.  And that windowless office building, too.  But that arena job was unbelievable, the number of men.  How it was a continuous concrete pour with that kind of equipment, you had to push a truck, probably 800, 900 pounds of concrete in it, wet concrete, push it up ramps, somebody helping to pull you, pouring 24 hours right around the clock. 


After a minimal time  of curing, the plan was to lower the support jacks and  the forms would drop away from the concrete shell.  The first time this step was taken, Witmer feared that the structure was about to collapse.  As they lowered the support jacks the concrete continued to stay attached to the forms for the first 2 inches.  Much to his relief, the concrete shell stopped settling and separated from the scaffolding as the forms were lowered further.


As the work progressed, the workers gained skill and subsequent sections were completed more efficiently.  Pours were still being made when the temperature dropped significantly. If the concrete froze the structure would be ruined:

Again from George Booth:
It got cold, and Paul [Witmer] made a deal with the city of Philadelphia to have carloads, rail cars, brought up here with manure to cover that concrete, to help it cure, you know.  Today you couldn’t do a thing like that.  As a matter of fact, it would take longer to get a permit to build a building like that than it took to build it under today’s regulations. 

When it opened on December 19, 1936, the Hershey Arena was the first large scale barrel shell roof structure in the United States.  Its construction established Anton Tedesko as the preeminent engineer for such structures.


More construction photos available at

Hershey Sports Arena. . .a home for hockey and more.


Hershey Sports Arena, main entrance. 1936



Hersheypark Arena will celebrate its 75th anniversary in December 2011.  When it was constructed it was an engineering marvel, the first large-scale thin-shell concrete structure in the United States.  The Hershey Arena established a new type of roof structure that was used throughout the United States from 1936 onwards.  The building is even more impressive when you realize that total time of construction, from breaking ground on March 11, 1936 to opening night on December 19, 1936 was a little more than nine months.


Anton Tedesko was a German engineer who had developed the concept of thin shelled concrete structures.  In 1931 he had been sent to the Chicago design-construction firm Roberts and Schaefer  to drum up new business for this newly patented construction method.  In the beginning Tedesko worked tirelessly with many unrealized proposals. He ran into resistance from conservative steel designers, and the harsh economic climate of a deep recession.


By 1935, Tedesko had professional friends and contacts in many U.S. cities including Philadelphia.  The Portland Cement Association representative, James Gibson, acted as an intermediary to Hershey Estates who wanted to build a new ice arena. The 32 year old Tedesko leapt at the chance to design the largest monolithic concrete roof structure in North America. There was no precedent for such a structure, no design codes, no established construction practices for a project of this scale requiring such careful tolerances.


On January 21, 1936, Tedesko, helped by Gibson, presented his idea for a huge arena to Hershey Lumber Company manager, D. Paul Witmer, who in turn presented it to Mr. Hershey. “I was somewhat startled when Witmer showed me the plans, for I hadn’t figured building such a large structure, and I had to think twice before I let him go ahead with its construction”, said Milton Hershey. Tedesko hired staff in Chicago and design work started immediately, and on February 7 he began to write out in detail the full calculations for the roof structure.

to be continued. . .