Thousands of fans packed the parking lot of the South Philadelphia sports arena Tuesday to watch the scene of their childhood memories turn to rubble. The demolition of the Spectrum had finally commenced.
In true Philadelphia style, fans of the Spectrum booed the wrecking ball when it didn’t immediately produce spectacular results. But after a few whacks, the brick building finally gave. Total demolition will take months.
Now there’s a childhood-sized hole in the building, according to many fans. “I remember coming here when I was 3 for the ice capades,” said Philly native Mark McLean. “I seen my first Flyers game here. I seen my first Sixers game here. I remember being a little kid — it was just … the place. Rocky beat Apollo here.”
Darcella Pedone used to spend her Thursday and Friday nights at the Spectrum. “For part of a losing season back in the ’80s, I had seats right behind the goalie,” she said. “It was fun to come with some girlfriends after work — race down to come to the games.”
Even Mayor Michael Nutter recalled spending some quality time with his father at the Spectrum watching boxing bouts.
“Benny Briscoe, Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts, Willy “The Worm” Monroe, watching Muhammad Ali return to the ring on the big screen after being away from the game for so long,” said the mayor.
At the demolition ceremony, Julius “Dr. J” Erving of ther 76ers delivered a long, rambling speech about what the Spectrum meant to him. He fondly remembered the high times — like the NBA championships — and the low times with who really knew how to throw a punch.
“We had all our security people dressed up like Santa Claus. The Santa Clauses were throwing haymakers at the unruly fans, and the unruly fans were returning the haymakers. So we had to stop the game to check that out,” said Erving.
Over the next three months, the Spectrum will be razed to prepare for what was planned as a 350,000-square-foot retail complex called Philly Live! That ambitious plan has recently been revised to less than a sixth of that size.
For fans such as Megan Rogers, it’s like paving paradise to put up a parking lot.
“The Vet’s gone, JFK’s is gone. Nothing is from your childhood anymore. It’s all new stuff,” she said. “It’s sad how they knock everything down and build bigger and better. Nothing’s good enough for anybody anymore.
For a year the owners of the Spectrum have been selling off its seats and fixtures. Soon it’ll be nothing but bricks — and they’ll sell you one of those, too.