- The Washington Times - Monday, December 16, 2002

The demolition by dynamite of US Airways Arena yesterday morning drew hundreds of spectators, many of whom felt an intimate connection to the nearly 30-year-old sports and music venue.
"Some of the best times of my life were spent in that building," said Jennifer Dorris, 36. "The concerts. The games. A lot of good times with friends and family."
Some came simply to witness the implosion. Others brought young children to see the spectacle. But most came because the arena with the saddle-shaped dome held memories of rock 'n' roll concerts.
For an hour or so before the arena was erased from the Landover landscape, people milled about reminiscing about Aerosmith, Billy Joel, the Grateful Dead, Kiss, Rush, ZZ Top, that REM concert in October 1995, those four days of shows that Bruce Springsteen played and the seven days of Led Zeppelin.
The arena also was host to three NBA championships, several NBA and NHL All-Star games, Frank Sinatra's performance at Ronald Reagan's 1981 inaugural gala and numerous high school graduations.
"I'm here for the funeral of a friend: the Capital Centre," said a man setting up a video camera to record the implosion.
Like many in the crowd, he never got used to calling it US Airways Arena. The venue was named Capital Centre when built in 1973, then renamed US Airways Arena in 1993.
Mark Thibudeau, 36, a Cheverly native, said he practically grew up in the center. He was there when construction started and he spent his formative years watching rock shows in the arena.
"My dad walked me through there when it was just a hole in the ground," he said. "It's one of my earliest memories."
It took just seven seconds to reduce the once-stately edifice to a pile of rubble.
The first in a series of small, triggered explosives popped at 8:03 a.m., then the larger charges about 355 pounds of gelatin dynamite and other explosives blew out the base of the concrete pillars supporting the iconic dome.
As the crowd watched from the streets, the massive pillars toppled sideways. The dome collapsed. The entire 18,000-seat arena folded on itself and kicked up a thick cloud of dust that drifted southwest and briefly eclipsed the sun.
The one-time home of the Bullets, the Capitals and the Hoyas was gone.
"It shook my shoulders a little bit," 8-year-old Jake Taylor said of the building's rumbling demise.
Soon the 50-acre site will be home to a shopping magnet called the Boulevard at Capital Centre.
Matt Williams of Washington Sports & Entertainment, Abe Pollin's company that owned US Airways Arena and now owns the MCI Center that replaced it, said he didn't expect the large crowd yesterday.
After all, there were no souvenir hunters like those who stripped stadiums slated for destruction in other cities.
"I was a little surprised, but people have a lot of good memories about it," Mr. Williams said.
Even some of the arena's early critics had grown fond of the building.
In the early 1970s, Benjamin DeLozer opposed putting the arena on parkland near his Upper Marlboro home. Now he was sad to see it go.
"It's a crying shame that it couldn't be used," said Mr. DeLozer, 77.
In its day, the arena was the cutting edge of stadium design. It had the first skyboxes and the first four-sided scoreboard hung at center court so fans could see instant replays while at a game.
The arena also had no obstructed-view seats. The dome was supported by steel cables strung from the roof's edges, eliminating the need for obtrusive columns.
However, those cables posed a challenge to Controlled Demolition Inc., the Baltimore-based firm that brought down the arena. The cables were stretched with 7.2 million pounds of tensile strength enough power that a snapped one could pierce a 20-foot-thick slab of concrete.
"Imagine a big rubber band stretched as far as it can go between your hands," said Mark Loizeaux, president of Controlled Demolition Inc. "That's about 15 pounds of tensile strength."
To avoid snapping the taut cables, crews positioned the first explosive charges at the edges of the building to let the cables contract toward the dome's center. As the cables relaxed, larger charges blew out the supports and then gravity took over, he said.
They began preparing the building for demolition a little more than two weeks ago. The explosives were placed in 500 holes drilled into concrete walls and support pillars.
"It came down quite nicely," said Mr. Loizeaux, whose company has leveled skyscrapers and stadiums throughout the world, including the King Dome in Seattle, Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, the Omni Arena in Atlanta and the Checker Dome in St. Louis.
Despite his experience, Mr. Loizeaux was not immune to the nostalgia surrounding US Airways Arena.
"This is the only one where my family attended events," he said. "The other ones, it was a job. Coming here, it becomes personal."

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