PHILADELPHIA – Ed Snider sits on a ledge in front of the owner’s box, a stage set up for a Pearl Jam concert in front of him. He surveys the scene of an arena stripped of banners celebrating championships and retired numbers, folding chairs placed where Dr. J once soared and Flyers roamed the ice bullying the NHL.
Snider sees more than empty concourses and sections waiting to be filled one final, rocking time.
He sees the Spectrum alive.
Snider can hear Kate Smith belting “God Bless America” before the Flyers won their first Stanley Cup on May 19, 1974.
He remembers dashing from his seat to the locker-room to persuade Central Red Army back on the ice against the Flyers.
He owned the Flyers, served as landlord to the 76ers and sounding board to the parade of fans who stopped by his owner’s box seat to say hello or complain about a broken seat.
Snider, chairman of Comcast-Spectacor, which owns the 76ers and Flyers, is nostalgic talking about losing his old friend, Philadelphia’s gritty Spectrum.
“How are we going to tear this place down?” Snider said. “Look how good it looks.”
The Spectrum is coming down after it goes out with a bang. Saturday night’s Pearl Jam concert is the final event in the 42-year history of the oldest arena left in South Philadelphia’s sports complex. A year-long celebration – in which The Boss and the Bullies all stopped by to say farewell – ends not with a basket or a goal, but with Pearl Jam’s Last Kiss.
“You think about ripping the thing down, it’s starting to get to me,” Snider said.
The Grateful Dead kept on truckin’ a record 57 times. Joe Frazier won the first fight in 1967. Duke’s Christian Laettner made “The Shot” in 1992 in the greatest college game.
That’s just the tip of an unforgettable list of memories from the circus to the squared circle at the Spectrum.
After Pearl Jam jams one last time, the Spectrum will die a slow death. Framed photos, banners, seats will be auctioned off or tucked away for safekeeping. Comcast-Spectacor is formalizing plans to sell the seats and some of the commemorative items from the Spectrum through their website, www.RememberTheSpectrum.com.
Perhaps next spring the Spectrum will be knocked down, not imploded.
“The Spectrum will live forever!” Bruce Springsteen bellowed to the crowd at his final show.
The 76-year-old Snider had the idea of the Spectrum to entice the NHL to Philadelphia. It also gave the Philadelphia 76ers a permanent home. The Sixers were Snider’s tenant until Comcast-Spectacor purchased the team in 1996.
“I wanted to do it for the Flyers, but as I got into it and went deeper and deeper, I realized everything could come here,” Snider said.
The Spectrum was completed 16 months from the time of inception and opened for the Quaker City Jazz Festival, a two-day concert from Sept. 30-Oct. 1, 1967.
Springsteen, Elvis, Neil Young would all blow the lid off the place – fitting that it had already happened courtesy of Mother Nature, not Earth, Wind and Fire.
High winds once ripped off a portion of the roof, mostly tar paper, in 1968 during an Ice Capades performance. Temporary repairs were made, but a winter storm three weeks later worsened the damage and forced the Flyers to finish the regular season on the road. They returned to the ice for their first playoff series.
Snider said his insurance company nearly wouldn’t pay up for the business interruption.
“We were hanging on by a thread financially,” Snider said. “This was done with very little money. We had to make it work and if the insurance company didn’t pay, we were dead meat.”
The sparkling arena survived and thrived, adding a third level to stuff even more fans in what would become one of the more intimidating places to play in the NHL.
“When the officials made a bad call in my mind, everybody would look back and I’d be standing up screaming, so they’d all be standing up and screaming,” Snider said. “I had a great connection with the fans and I miss that tremendously.”
JFK Stadium went down, Veterans Stadium was built, then demolished.
The Spectrum, used mostly for concerts and minor league hockey, survived even as those creaky, leaky stadiums were torn down and replaced by the Phillies’ Citizens Bank Park and the Eagles’ Lincoln Financial Field.
The Wachovia Center opened in 1996 with spiffy suites, corporate boxes and food served right at your seat.
The demolition of the Spectrum is part of a larger plan for a retail, restaurant, and entertainment district at the stadium complex. The project, called Philly Live!, would include unique shops, bars and restaurants. Preliminary plans show a hotel where the Spectrum is currently located.
The target date is fall 2011.
Snider will head over to the concert Saturday after a stop at the World Series and take his usual seat for the Spectrum’s curtain call.
“I’m just going to sit and enjoy and watch it,” Snider said, “and just realize that’s it.”