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Wachovia Spectrum to be demolished

In the end, the Wachovia Spectrum suffered the same fate as many of the teams that inhabited the oval-shaped South Philadelphia arena during its raucous 41-year history - aging and tattered, it fell victim to a rebuilding project.

In the end, the Wachovia Spectrum suffered the same fate as many of the teams that inhabited the oval-shaped South Philadelphia arena during its raucous 41-year history - aging and tattered, it fell victim to a rebuilding project.

Comcast-Spectacor officials revealed yesterday that the city's oldest major professional-sports venue will be demolished to make way for a proposed hotel, retail and entertainment complex at the Broad Street and Pattison Avenue site.

Ed Snider, who along with Jerry Wolman got the arena built in 1967, said the demolition likely would take place next spring, after the seasons of its pro sports tenants, the Phantoms and Kixx, who are not sure where they will play in the future.

"This has been one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make," Snider said. "The Spectrum is my baby."

Plans for the start of the ambitious project, known as Philly Live!, remain vague. A spokesman for the proposed developer, Cordish Co. of Baltimore, said the company was "still going through the permitting process and cost-estimating."

"Philly Live! is progressing very nicely," said David Cordish, the company's president.

Some have speculated that, given resident opposition to the proposed riverfront locations of two planned Philadelphia casinos, the Spectrum's footprint, in the midst of the sports complex, might be a better fit. That possibility was not addressed yesterday.

Council President Anna C. Verna, who represents the Second District, which includes the Spectrum, has backed the project. She urged the developers, whatever their plans, to keep her constituents in the loop.

Peter Luukko, the president of Comcast-Spectacor, said one of the building's current tenants, the American Hockey League Phantoms, might play some home games at the Wachovia Center. Because there aren't enough open dates to accommodate their entire home schedule - there will be conflicts with the 76ers and Flyers - they might be forced to play occasionally in another city, perhaps Atlantic City or Allentown.

Broad Street Bullies

It was hockey, more than any sport, that lent the Spectrum its identity, particularly the Flyers' Broad Street Bullies teams of the mid-1970s. Their reputation for toughness culminated in their controversial Cold War victory over the Soviet Central Red Army team that took place in the arena in January 1976.

"I hate to see it go. I have 10 years of memories there," said Bob "Hound" Kelly, who played with the Flyers from 1970 to 1980 and now works in the club's community-relations department. "But in the long run, it'll be better for the area because of what it'll generate. It'll make Philly a destination."

The building's last hockey hurrah came in 1998 courtesy of the Phantoms, whose fan base included many who supported the old Flyers but couldn't afford seats in the new building. Their playoff run woke up the Spectrum's echos.

"The fact that we were able to play in the Spectrum was pretty intimidating for teams to come in," said Flyers coach John Stevens, who played on those Phantoms. "We were able to piggyback on the tradition that had been established for years."

The Kixx' future remains fuzzier. Its Major Indoor Soccer League recently announced it was folding and attempting to reorganize. If the Kixx survive, they could be looking at an abbreviated schedule, Luukko said.

"The Kixx is a strong franchise, and we will be playing next year in a newly founded league," said team president Jeffrey Rotwitt. "We are in the midst of advanced discussions and will make an announcement in the coming month that will continue professional indoor soccer in Philadelphia."

Farewell events

Comcast-Spectacor, which also manages arenas around the country, was planning farewell events for the building, according to Luukko. He hinted that a concert by Bruce Springsteen, who has performed at the arena on numerous occasions since the early 1970s, might bring down the curtain.

"We are looking at the possibility of bringing a preseason Philadelphia Flyers game and a regular-season 76ers game to the Spectrum this year, along with many other special surprises," he said.

However and whenever its demise occurs, the Spectrum will long be recalled for its decades of events and the roster of local athletic stars who performed there - Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, Bobby Clarke, Bernie Parent, Charles Barkley, Billy Cunningham, Moses Malone, Ron Hextall and Joe Frazier.

Most memorably, the Flyers, founded just seven years earlier by Snider, won their first of two straight Stanley Cups there on May 19, 1974. The 1-0 shutout of Boston in Game 6 triggered an emotional explosion and touched off the city's greatest sports era.

"We had great times going down to the games and then going crazy when they won the Cup," said Temple basketball coach Fran Dunphy. "But what I'll miss most is what the building represents, the good times we had there with food friends and family."

The 76ers' Erving helped revolutionize basketball with the signature slam dunks that ignited Spectrum fans. Bobby Knight's Indiana teams won both NCAA men's Final Fours contested in the facility, in 1976 and 1981. And it was at the Spectrum in 1992 where Duke's Christian Laettner beat Kentucky, 104-103, in overtime with a last-second shot in a memorable 1992 NCAA East Regional Final.

"The Spectrum was different from arenas now," said Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks, who starred for the team there. "It was packed in, smaller, tighter. There were none of those boxes, people were all up on you, and that's what we got used to. You could familiarize yourself with the people. I remember one guy, Stevie, he sat right across from the bench. He still comes to the games at the Wachovia Center."

The building, especially in its first decade, also was the site for many top-flight boxing bouts. Frazier, Roberto Duran, Matthew Saad Muhammad and Marvelous Marvin Hagler fought there. By the 1980s, however, the local fight scene had shifted to Atlantic City, after gambling was approved there.

Curiously, the Spectrum's most famous bout took place 3,000 miles away. The arena was the setting for the Rocky Balboa-Apollo Creed heavyweight title bout in the 1976 Academy Award-winning film Rocky. That fight, however, actually was filmed at the Los Angeles Sports Coliseum.

Nonetheless, a statue of the fictional Rocky stood outside the Spectrum for many years before finding a permanent home near the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The Spectrum also hosted wrestling, circuses, ice shows and concerts. Entertainers from Frank Sinatra to Elvis Presley to Billy Joel to Springsteen performed there. The Grateful Dead alone played the Spectrum 53 times.

Built for $12 million as a home for the NHL-expansion Flyers and the 76ers, who had been playing at Depression-era Convention Hall, the Spectrum hosted a jazz festival and an ice show to benefit the Rotary Club in the days before its official opening.

But it was a heavyweight fight between the undefeated Frazier, a Philadelphian, and Tony Doyle that christened the arena on Oct. 17, 1967. (Frazier won in two rounds.)

The 76ers, then the defending NBA champions, played their first Spectrum date a night later, Oct. 18. The brand-new Flyers made their debut Oct. 19.

On his first visit, legendary sports columnist Red Smith characterized the new arena as an "elliptical hat box" and "a $12 million center of the perspiring arts." Others said it resembled a "sardine can."

Still, the modern facility, well-lit and with broad corridors and concession stands that were plentiful and accessible, moved the city into the modern-sports era, became the foundation for Snider's sports empire, and was beloved by Philadelphians.

Its predecessors, Convention Hall and the Arena at 46th and Market Streets, were dark and dour symbols of the black-and-white age when they were built.

Until its opening, there hadn't been a major professional sports facility constructed in the city since 1931, when Convention Hall was finished.

Its demolition, just five years after its contemporary, Veterans Stadium, was imploded, will leave the Wachovia Center, opened in 1996, as the city's oldest professional sports venue.

Franklin Field and the Palestra, on the University of Pennsylvania's campus, are both considerably older.

Perhaps the Spectrum's most infamous moment occurred in 1968, just six months into its long run, when gusty winds tore large holes in its roof. Without a home for a month, the Flyers played home games in New York, Toronto and Quebec City.

The Spectrum's future has been in doubt since January, when Snider revealed plans for Philly Live!

Verna, whose support will be critical for getting the project's zoning changes through City Council, suggested the project could be an economic boon to her district.

"This has the potential to bring a world-class retail and entertainment complex to South Philadelphia," she said, "and keep vital economic activity here, which means additional jobs and revenue that we certainly could use."

"It's a sad day," Jon Bon Jovi, co-owner of the Arena Football League's Soul, told the Associated Press. His band, Bon Jovi, played 14 concerts at the Spectrum. "It's a dark day in Philadelphia. It's a great piece of history."

During a Wachovia Center concert Monday night, rocker Glenn Frey paid tribute to the arena across the parking lot.

"Just like the sporting teams, we've moved next door," he said. "But we'll never forget the Spectrum - dressing in Bobby Clarke's locker."

Luukko indicated the decision was particularly hard on Snider: "Ed built this house," he said. "[Now] he's tearing his house down."

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