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Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Philly fans bid Spectrum farewell

ESPN.com news services

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 Philadelphia 76ers and Bernie Parent of the Philadelphia Flyers, watched the 43-year-old arena's demise with the building's developer, 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 orange 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 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 actually watch the wrecking ball hit.

"I'm really very sad to see the Spectrum go," he said.

So were fans. Jeanette Levy, 44, of Marlton, N.J., said she missed the intimacy of the Spectrum compared with the larger arena that replaced it, 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."

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 built the arena to bring an NHL team to Philadelphia and became 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 -- stamped "Dr. J" -- to share with fans; 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.

It was also where the character of down-on-his luck boxer Rocky Balboa went toe-to-toe with fictional heavywight champion Apollo Creed in "Rocky," which won the Academy Award for best picture in 1976.

"The Spectrum will live forever!" Springsteen bellowed to the audience at his final show at the venue last year.

In 1996, Snider merged his company Spectacor, which owned the Flyers and Spectrum, with local cable giant Comcast Corp. Comcast-Spectacor became the owner of the Flyers, 76ers and minor-league Philadelphia Phantoms hockey team, as well as the Spectrum and Wells Fargo Center.

The same year, the Flyers and 76ers moved to the new facility. The Spectrum continued to be used for entertainment events while serving as home ice for the Phantoms, who won a Calder Cup there in 1998.

Its last event was a Pearl Jam concert on Oct. 31, 2009.

Comcast-Spectacor has been selling off pieces of the arena, from seats and bricks to freezable drink coasters made from Spectrum ice.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.