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Philadelphia’s Spectrum meets wrecking ball

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PHILADELPHIA | The Spectrum, the Philadelphia arena that hosted decades of professional sports and concerts, met its end Tuesday, not with a bang but with the brute force of a wrecking ball.

Hundreds of fans and former players, including Hall of Famers Julius "Dr. J" Erving of the 76ers and Bobby Clarke and Bernie Parent of the Flyers, watched the demise of the 43-year-old arena with its longtime owner, Ed Snider.

"Thanks very much to Mr. Snider for this great old building that was home to so many of us," Clarke said at a pre-demolition ceremony Tuesday. "On behalf of the old Flyers teams and the old Flyers players ... we will always remember the Spectrum."

The building didn't go quickly: It took more than a half-dozen swings for the 4-ton wrecking ball to make a noticeable dent in its brick facade. The first few whacks seemed only to send puffs of dust into the air. It's expected to take four to five months to fully come down.

The Spectrum, one-time home to the city's basketball and hockey teams, had been largely relegated to hosting entertainment events after the 76ers and Flyers moved in 1996 to the more modern Wells Fargo Center next door.

The last event was a Pearl Jam concert on Oct. 31, 2009, and it sat unused for the past year as developers planned to replace it with a retail, restaurant and entertainment development called Philly Live.

Snider spoke of his enthusiasm for the new project but said he was unsure if he could watch the demolition. He later left as the orange wrecking ball began to swing.

"I'm really very sad to see the Spectrum go," Snider told the crowd. "I don't know that I want to see it, but you all can see it and let me know what happened."

Fans were sad, too. Jeanette Levy, 44, of Marlton, N.J., said she missed the intimacy of the Spectrum compared with the Wells Fargo Center. The Spectrum's layout put fans closer to the action — and each other, said Levy, a die-hard Flyers fan.

"The Spectrum, it was a family," she said. "The move across the street, they became more corporate."

Still, the event tried to strike a festive tone, with live music, activities and souvenirs. Comcast-Spectacor, which owns the arena, has been selling T-shirts and pieces of the building, from seats and bricks to freezable drink coasters made from Spectrum ice.

Unlike many other stadium demolition projects, the Spectrum wasn't imploded. Officials cited the way the arena was constructed in their decision to use less spectacular methods.

Located at the foot of Broad Street in South Philadelphia, The Spectrum opened on Sept. 30, 1967, with a jazz festival; concession stand prices were 35 cents for a hot dog and 25 cents for a 12-ounce soda.

Snider worked to get the arena built and was the founding owner of the Flyers. The club — lovingly dubbed the Broad Street Bullies — soon made the city proud, winning back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1974-75.

In 1976, the Flyers hosted the Soviet Central Red Army team. The Soviets left the Spectrum ice mid-game to protest the officiating, but returned after Snider threatened to withhold their pay. The Flyers won, 4-1.

The Spectrum also served as home court for Erving and the 76ers, who won an NBA title in 1983.

Darien Gans, who co-owns a vintage sneaker store, brought a pair of Erving's game-worn size 16 Converse high-tops; his brother Byron Gans, brought a pair of size 15 Nikes worn by teammate Moses Malone. The brothers were hoping Erving would sign some memorabilia for their Camden, N.J., store, Shoe Kings.

Other Spectrum trivia: Michael Jordan scored 52 points there in 1988 with the visiting Chicago Bulls, the most by an opponent in the arena's history. It's also where Duke's Christian Laettner memorably hit a last-second shot against Kentucky in 1992 to send the Blue Devils to the NCAA finals.

Concerts included performances by Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Luciano Pavarotti, the Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones. Bruce Springsteen was booed off the stage in 1973 when he opened for the band Chicago but later played to dozens of sold-out crowds.

At his final show at the venue last year, Springsteen belted out to the audience: "The Spectrum will live forever!"

___

Online:

http://www.rememberthespectrum.com

 

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