That Was Then, This Is Pow!

Comcast Spectacor Chairman Ed Snider walks off stage during ceremonies yesterday before the wrecking ball struck the Spectrum.
Comcast Spectacor Chairman Ed Snider walks off stage during ceremonies yesterday before the wrecking ball struck the Spectrum.

THE 'SARDINE CAN' OF PHILLY DREAMS BITES THE DUST

Posted: November 24, 2010

JOHN ANDERSON, 22, of Williamstown, N.J., stood out from the Flyered-up thousands gathered in the Spectrum parking lot yesterday to watch the 43-year-old arena meet its maker - because below his Ron Hextall jersey, he was wearing a gray plaid kilt, and cradling bagpipes in his arms.

Anderson said that he had just come from playing at a funeral at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church, in South Philly, and didn't have time to change.

So he grabbed the Hextall jersey he had stashed in his car and hurried to the high-noon wrecking-ball demolition in his County Fermanagh kilt.

"I guess I'm the only guy here wearing a Flyers jersey and a skirt," Anderson said with a smile, before launching into a haunting rendition of "Amazing Grace" that brought tears to many in the appreciative crowd that quickly formed around him.

Lou Scheinfeld, Comcast-Spectacor's director of Spectrum closure, whose life has been intimately linked with the legendary sports and rock venue since its 1967 opening, was weepy long before Anderson's bagpipe dirge.

"I started to lose it when Lauren Hart sang 'God Bless America,' and felt a stab every time the wrecking ball hit the building," Scheinfeld said. "But when that 4-ton ball bounced off the first few times without doing damage, I said to myself, 'She's not going down without a fight.' "

As a recorded Bruce Springsteen wailed "Wrecking Ball" and the Flyers-orange ball hit the Spectrum again and again, producing only small puffs of dust, the demolition briefly seemed like one of Michael Scott's hysterically doomed ideas on "The Office."

But after a dozen blows, the bricks began to succumb, and glass windows soon followed. The wrecking ball and other equipment will take months to reduce the Spectrum to rubble. A gigantic sports bar - Phase One of the recession-delayed Philly Live! restaurant/retail complex - is supposed to break ground in the spring.

Meanwhile, Spectrum bricks are available for $39.95 each at rememberthespectrum.com - along with pieces of the basketball court and other memorabilia.

Asked if the demolition was a bittersweet moment for him, Scheinfeld said, "Bittersweet, hell! Way more bitter than sweet. Luckily, my wife, Vicky, was there to hand me some tissues.'"

Scheinfeld remembered being disappointed when he first saw the artist's rendering of the Spectrum. "I was expecting lots of flash - all stainless steel and glass - like the Oakland Coliseum, which looked like a spaceship," he said. "To me, the Spectrum looked like a schoolhouse.

"But when it opened for the Quaker City Jazz Festival in 1967, and the crowds came into the building for the first time, it was like pumping blood through the arteries of a body. Beautiful.

"I heard an usher tell a woman, 'Your seat will be ready in a moment, ma'am.' He meant it. They were still bolting the seats to the floor!"

Scheinfeld said that the city provided only 4 1/2 acres for the Spectrum, "which turned out to be a blessing, because it created such an intimate pit for sports and concerts. [Daily News sportswriter] Sandy Grady referred to it as a sardine can. Well, an awful lot of people wound up loving that sardine can."

Among them was Bill Wyche, 57, a South Philly native now living in Germantown, who brought his carefully preserved poster of a young Julius Erving launching himself toward a slam dunk while some helpless Portland Trailblazers watched him fly.

"Look at Bill Walton back there," Wyche said, pointing to an openmouthed Walton. "He's thinking, like, 'How in the world can a guy jump that high?' "

Dr. J delivered a funny and touching eulogy for the Spectrum, ranging from his being welcomed to Philadelphia by "this crazy-looking" Sixers die-hard running onto the court and giving him a doctor's bag to Game 2 of the 1977 NBA Finals, when Erving tried to break up a fight between the Trailblazers' Maurice Lucas and Sixers' enforcer Darryl Dawkins, caught a hard elbow, sat down at midcourt and thought, 'I'm sitting this out. This is not hockey.' "

Afterward, Wyche held up his poster and said, "Doc, we're struggling right now. We could use a guy like you."

Erving rewarded him with a laugh. Wyche rode the Broad Street Line home with his poster and a warm memory.

Phil Harmon, 43, of Newtown Square, stood watching the demolition with his English bulldog, Shelby, and fondly remembered seeing Rush, the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead at the Spectrum back in the day, taking his daughter Alexis, 10, to the circus, and sharing monster truck shows throughout the childhood of his son, Phil Jr., now 22.

Stephanie Bennett, of Collingdale, Delaware County, said that she had taken her sons David, 9, and Seth, 8, to Spectrum monster-truck shows "every year since they were born," but her fiance, Brian Feeney Jr., 25, said that, for him, the Spectrum was always about the Flyers.

As a kid, he remembered shouting 'Yo, Lindros!' as his Uncle Mark held him up, and Flyers' superstar Eric Lindros grabbed his hand and smiled at him.

The crowd and the memories outlasted the dollar dogs on the day the Spectrum began its final journey into Philadelphia history.

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