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Spectrum memories

Published November 26. 2010 05:00PM

The wrecking ball hit the walls of The Spectrum in Philadelphia this week en route to its demolition.

The venerable arena at Broad and Pattiston Streets holds memories for those who attended events there over the years. It is easy to wax nostalgic when an old stadium is torn down; it is as if a part of our lives is being removed with it.

The Spectrum opened in the Fall of 1967. The name was meant to evoke a wide range of events to be held within its confines.

I never realized the monicker was meant to be an acronym. The "sp" stood for "sports" and "south Philadelphia" while the "e" represented "entertainment", c for "circuses," "t" for "theatricals" and "r" for "recreation."

The "um?" How about, "um, what a nice building!" (Nice try, folks).

The Spectrum's capacity eventually grew to 18,136 for basketball and 17,380 for hockey.

The Spectrum's major tenants were the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers and NHL Flyers, although professional teams of all nature played there over the years, with nicknames like Phantoms (AHL hockey), Soul (arena football), Freedoms (world team tennis), Fever and Kixx (indoor soccer) and Bulldogs (roller hockey).

The Flyers won their only two Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975 with The Spectrum as their home ice. The arena would host four more Cup finals. The Sixers won the NBA title in 1983, one of four NBA finals there.

College basketball was also a popular attraction at the arena. The city's Big Five played games there, and The Spectrum hosted the NCAA Final Four in 1976 and 1981, both won by Bobby Knight's Indiana Hoosiers.

Perhaps the most famous college hoops moment came in the NCAA East Regional final in 1992, when Duke's Christian Laettner hit the last second bucket to knock off Kentucky.

I must admit that I didn't attend as many sporting events at The Spectrum as I did in Veterans Stadium, which stood across the street and was demolished to make way for the Phillies' Citizens Bank Park and Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Eagles.

I recall a couple of Sixers basketball games. One was from the Steve Mix era, and the Sixers knocked off the Phoenix Suns. Another came when Julius "Dr. J." Erving and the Sixers outlasted Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's Los Angeles Lakers.

When I think of Sixer games, I always remember late announcer Dave Zinkoff's colorful delivery as well.

The Spectrum was more than sports, however. It hosted Ringing Brothers and Barnum and Bailey's circuses, World Wrestling Federation matches, rodeo events and much more. In the movies, it was the fictional home of Rocky Balboa-Apollo Creed fights.

For me, my main memories of The Spectrum are musical. It was Philadelphia's showplace venue for major concerts for many years, and I saw my share there.

The Grateful Dead holds the record for the most concert appearances there with 53. The last concert there was by Pearl Jam on October 31, 2009.

Sifting through some old ticket stubs, I was able to come up with a list of my own personal Spectrum concert favorities.

1. Peter Gabriel, July 1987. This was part of the former Genesis' frontman's tour for his "So" album. By sheer luck, I was driving near a Ticketmaster outlet when the show was announced and I landed seats in the second row.

2. KISS, December, 1978. This was at the height of the original wave of KISSmania. Every song was an explosion. The opening act, Piper, featured a singer by the name of Billy Squier.

3. Electric Light Orchestra, September, 1978. ELO's stage was an actual spaceship for this tour.

4. Aerosmith, August, 1988. In addition to Steven Tyler and company, Guns'n'Roses opened the show.

5. Robert Plant, May, 1988. This was during the ex-Led Zeppelin singer's "Now and Zen" tour, but was also notable for a fiery opening set by the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Other shows I remember were by Bruce Springsteen (without the E Street Band), Eric Clapton (joined onstage by Dire Straits' guitarist Mark Knopfler), Van Halen (Sammy Hagar era), Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Elton John and several REM shows. Once what is now the Wells Fargo Center was built, The Spectrum became almost quaint by comparison, obsolete and expendable.

The plans are for Philly Live!, a retail, dining and entertainment complex, to be built on the site of The Spectrum, but likeThe Vet and JFK Stadium, the memories of "America's Showplace" will live on.

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