THERE IS NO statue cast in Charlie Abel's image, but the man whose bronzed likeness sits on the Spectrum steps knows who is the arena's true soul.

Julius Erving said so himself.

"If anybody here should be looked up to, it's you," he told Charlie Abel. "You're always here, doing your job."

"Press Box" Abel - so named because, as the press-box guard, that's how he answered the phone there; no comma, no pause - will be among the Sixers' esteemed guests at tonight's farewell to the Wachovia Spectrum. And rightly so.

"One of my favorite things about the Spectrum was talking to our wonderful staff," said Comcast-Spectacor chairman Ed Snider. "Charlie represents all of the many special people who gave so tirelessly of their time to make the Spectrum such a terrific place. It'll be great to see him and many of our other long-tenured staff back in the Spectrum on Friday."

Abel, 75, helped open the venue on Sept. 30, 1967, working among the masses as a general security guard for the Quaker City Jazz Festival. The Spectrum is scheduled for demolition after a concert on the same date this year to make way for a hotel, part of the planned Philly Live! complex.

Abel heard about the Spectrum's imminent demise on television in his Yeadon home.

"I thought I'd go stand in front of the wrecking ball," Abel said.

He never worked in the Wachovia Center. He retired from the Spectrum once it became second fiddle to that shiny new edifice in 1996. Luxury boxes and plush seating and a cavernous press box - that just wasn't him.

A cabinetmaker from South Philly, trained in his trade at Bok Vocational at 8th and Mifflin, Abel saw his time at the Spectrum as a privilege. His cabinet company moved south. He wouldn't. He became a firefighter - and remained a guard.

He had moved up in the Spectrum world.

Abel's steady hand and calm demeanor led tennis maven Marilyn Fernberger to request that he work the press box at the Philadelphia Indoor men's tennis tournament at the Spectrum.

"She liked the way I handled high-strung tennis players . . . and reporters," Abel said.

Everyone, he figured, deserved the same treatment. It was his policy.

"From Ed Snider on down, even to the cleaners, I knew 'em all," Abel said.

And he saw it all. And he marveled.

* The record 53 times the Grateful Dead played the arena: "Can't believe how loyal those fans are. No matter how many times [the band would] come, you'd see the same people down there watching them."

* The wondrous absurdity of professional wresting: "To see the wrestlers in the ring, and then to see them in the dressing room; they were all in the same dressing room."

* The gaudy crowds on fight nights: "They'd come dressed in their finery, and eat peanuts. It was a peanut crowd."

* The Flyers' Game 6 comeback win over the Oilers in 1987: "Never saw a hockey game live 'til I started working there. Great sport. Live."

* And, of course, the night a Lakers rookie named Magic Johnson moved from point guard to center in place of injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and scored 42 points, grabbed 15 rebounds, had seven assists and three steals in the clinching Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals: "It was great to see. The crowd was Sixers fans, but Magic took them over, believe me. What he did that day - I couldn't believe it."

He shared such unbelievable moments with the cynics: the press. He guffawed at Inquirer scribe Bob Ford's famous impression of Charles Barkley. Ford, then the Sixers beat writer and now a columnist for the paper, recalls that Abel was always willing to help.

One of Ford's first assignments at the Spectrum involved a Flyers alumni game against a celebrity team. Abel saw that Ford was pounding away on a tight deadline and asked if he could lend a hand. Anything. Really.

Ford replied, yes, he could use a quote from the celebrity team's coach.

"Five minutes later, Charles had the guy standing next to me," Ford said. The coach was a bit tipsy, and stalled when Ford asked him for a comment. "He turned and looked at Charles, and Charles just nodded seriously at him."

Press Box Abel, indeed.

Abel's position helped his family share some of the arena's greatest moments. His sons, Darren and Howard, saw the games, sure, but they saw the circus, ice shows and concerts, too. Darren even worked there in college, as a vendor, and afterward, a guard.

Darren died 8 years ago. So, yes, the Spectrum is extra special to Charlie Abel.

"It was home to me. I liked the closeness. You felt good about the place," Abel said. "If it comes across like I loved the place, well, I did."

Which is kind of what tonight is all about. *