Growing up in Wilmington, Delaware, making that 30-45 minute trip up I-95 to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for anything was a treat. Separated by a few miles and a state border, Philly was (and still is) a different world from Wilmington based on sheer size and personality, although the latter isn’t as different as one would think.
One thing Philly had that my beloved hometown didn’t have was major sports and of course major sports facilities. In my childhood, the Spectrum was my sports castle – a place where I could go see the sports heroes I admired, ranging from Charles Barkley carrying less-than-talented Sixers teams to Jake The Snake Roberts dropping a foolhardy opponent with a DDT and pulling Damien out of the army-green bag to slither over the knocked out victim.
The Spectrum holds tons of memories for Delaware Valley natives like myself and the building that housed them comes crashing down for good this coming Tuesday in a wrecking-ball ceremony to make way for a new entertainment complex to complement the newer stadiums (Citizens Bank Park, Lincoln Financial Field and of course the Wells Fargo Center). The old has to give way to the new of course, but that doesn’t mean we can’t reminisce on Philadelphia’s first modern arena.
Completed in 1967, the Spectrum can (and should be) credited to the vision and drive of Ed Snider, the man who willed the NHL to put an expansion team in Philadelphia. The Flyers were the intended tenants and the Sixers followed suit, leaving behind aging Convention Hall for the new building. 18,000 seats strong, the Spectrum nearly doubled the size of Convention Hall but still had an intimate and close feel. The Spectrum got off to a “stormy” start as a late February storm tore chunks of roofing off of the building, forcing the Flyers and Sixers to finish their regular seasons as a road show.
After that, the building gained prominence as the intimidating structure that housed the Broad Street Bullies, who restored sports pride to Philly by winning two Stanley Cups in the mid 70s. A year later, the Sixers lucked out in acquiring “Dr. J,” Julius Erving and basketball fans were privileged to see the original Michael Jordan no less than 50 times a year for the next decade. Concerts, World Wrestling Federation house shows and other entertaining events also were the order of business at the Spectrum until the ChangeTheNameRegularly Center opened across the street in 1996.
The dimly light atmosphere gave it an air of nostalgia and mystery – after they punched your ticket and you walked past the gray cement hallway dividers that had section numbers and row letters on them, you hoped you were able to see everything clearly. And the higher up you went, the darker it would be. Even with the less than desirable lighting, the Spectrum was home and it was beautiful.
I attended a Sixers game in the last season of the Spectrum and another one eight years later at the Center and the ambiance did not compare favorably at all. The Spectrum was perfect for Philly fans – loud and boisterous, ready to wreak havoc on an opposing team or a player from the home team that wasn’t pulling his weight.
That feeling has been gone for 14 years now an now that it’s time to tear the building down, we have to toast the Spectrum properly, for it began the modern sports era in Philadelphia. It was Philly’s first real arena and the original house of horrors for visitors. To me, it’ll always be the castle that fueled my passion for sports. Thank you Spectrum, for making my childhood special.