The Full Spectrum

An oral history.

Photo | Matt Slocum, AP

Photo | Matt Slocum, AP

The last time I spoke with Ed Snider in person was the spring of 2009. After some begging on my part, he agreed to meet for an interview as part of an oral history on the Spectrum, a few months before it closed its doors for good. We sat in the owner’s box where Snider watched so many Flyers games — it was surreal, talking to the man who brought hockey to Philadelphia in the house he literally built for it (and for decades of concerts and events that followed). Snider likened the Spectrum to the home he grew up in. It was a cozy space; for years, there was no glass separating him from the fans, who’d look over for his reaction to every bad call and game-winning goal. Snider smiled at the highs — winning two Stanley Cups, the “explosion of happiness” for the parades that followed — and admitted his lowest moment was the death of his young, talented goalie Pelle Lindbergh. Then and now, Snider’s impact — on Philadelphia sports, on the city and the region, on the game of hockey — feels immeasurable.

As the interview wound down, Snider mentioned the Flyers game the night before, when Lauren Hart performed “God Bless America” along with a video of Kate Smith. “They brought the house down,” he said with pride. It’s fitting that, before Saturday night’s game across the parking lot from where the Spectrum once stood, Lauren and Kate sang for Mr. Snider one last time, via live video on the singer’s iPhone. Hours later, the chairman watched his Flyers clinch yet another playoff berth. — Richard Rys, April 11, 2016

IN 1967, ED Snider was toiling for the Eagles, Veterans Stadium was still just a blueprint, and Philadelphia was a three-sport town. Everything changed that year when Snider decided to bring ice hockey to Broad Street and build a $12 million home for his Flyers — the Spectrum. After surviving five decades, three major championships, thousands of concerts, one hole in the roof, wrestling matches (of Hulks, bears, and mud-covered ladies) and millions of vocal fans, the arena known as “America’s Showplace” will close for good this year. Here, we present the memories of those who helped turn a squat concrete bunker by the Navy Yard into one of this city’s greatest cultural treasures.

Ed Snider, Comcast-Spectacor chairman: I was a vice president of the Eagles in charge of operations, and we were working on building the Vet with the city. It was 1966, and I heard that Jack Kent Cooke [owner of the Los Angeles Lakers and Washington Redskins] wanted to get a National Hockey League franchise and build an arena in L.A. I had been to a hockey game at the old Boston Garden and thought it was a fabulous sport. The original six teams were extremely successful, and I said, “I think Philadelphia would be a great place for a hockey franchise.” So I met with the NHL expansion committee, and talked to the president of City Council, who was a South Philadelphia resident, about putting an arena on the parking lot where the Vet was going, and increasing revenues for the city. He was very enthusiastic. We went to Mayor Tate, and he said, “Let’s make this deal.”

Lou Scheinfeld, former Spectrum vice president: In April of ’66, I left the newspaper business to work for “the new sports arena,” which was the working name we had at that time. I don’t think there were any blueprints or funding.

Ed Snider: We got all the arena financing done, and I had to wire $2 million to Montreal, where the NHL was gathering the funds for the six new teams. The only blackout I remember in the history of Philadelphia happened at exactly that time, so we couldn’t wire the funds. They’re waiting in Montreal, saying, “What the hell is going on? We haven’t heard from Philadelphia.” After an hour or so of sweating the thing out, our bank figured out how to route the money through New York.

Lou Scheinfeld: We broke ground in June or July of ’66, and we were to open in September of 1967. The site [an empty, unpaved lot] was the dumps. It was used as an unofficial driving course during the day and for intercourse at night. We dug up a few thousand condoms, believe me!

Ed Snider: Only 11 months of construction. You can’t do that today. The new building took six years.

Lou Scheinfeld: The sentiment was to name it Keystone Arena. I thought that was not the way to go. So one day, the building was about halfway complete, and I walked through with our graphic designer, and we threw out names — spectacular stadium, splendid, supercalifragilistic. The name “spectrum” popped up. I looked it up in the dictionary: “Images that form displays, colors emanating from the prism; anything colorful under the sun.” I thought, “Wow, that’s us. We’re presenting everything colorful under the sun.”

Stan Hochman, Philadelphia Daily News writer [from a 1960s column]: It sounds like they’ve reached too far in groping for something unique. There are no Orangutan Dry Cleaners in the phone book, either, and orangutans are big and bold and colorful.

Allen Spivak, co-founder, Electric Factory Concerts: The first event was the Quaker City Jazz Festival, which my brother Herbie booked. It was in the round, and it sold out. Ed Snider and my brother had a big argument because there were people who didn’t have seats. Ed accused my brother of overselling. When we looked around, we found a section where the seats weren’t installed yet.

J. Russell Peltz, boxing promoter: Boxing was the first sporting event — Joe Frazier and Tony Doyle [October 17, 1967]. I went to that fight as a fan. No one in their right mind expected Doyle to win.

Joe Frazier, former heavyweight champion: I opened up the Spectrum. The fans supported me, but when you face an opponent, there ain’t nobody there but you, him and the referee.

J. Russell Peltz: Frazier knocked him out in the second round.

Lou Scheinfeld: [In 1975, Sylvester] Stallone or one of his people approached the Spectrum [about filming Rocky there], but we were skeptical that it was really going to happen. Whoever it was they came to brushed them off. Right after that, we started PRISM [the local sports cable network], and one of our movie partners was United Artists. They said, “We think we have a huge hit on our hands, and nobody’s heard of this guy [Stallone].” Later on, we said, “We kind of blew it.”

Pat Williams, Orlando Magic senior vice president/former Sixers GM: The first time I set foot in the Spectrum was Christmas week of 1967. I was the general manager of the Phillies farm club in South Carolina, and I went to a Sixers game. I had grown up in the Palestra. The Sixers had a hard time filling Convention Hall, and now they were talking about moving to this building with more seats and higher rent. The owners [Irv Kosloff and Ike Richman] had definite reservations. But the Spectrum was breathtaking. It was the crown jewel of the country.

Sonny Hill, broadcaster/Philadelphia basketball guru: I started my broadcast career there. When the great players came in — Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell — it was a great atmosphere. The games were just pure basketball. Mano-a-mano.

Ed Snider: I had a great relationship with the Sixers players, but I was a landlord. It’s totally different when you own a team. Prior to the Flyers’ start, the Hockey News rated the six new NHL teams, and we were considered the least likely to succeed. The building was half empty, but slowly, we started getting more people. And then the roof came off during the Ice Capades [on February 17, 1968].

Howard Eskin, 610 WIP radio host: The roof blew off before my high-school graduation there, which was June 12, 1968. We had a graduation practice earlier that day, and I walked out with a chair. There was no security, so I just picked up a chair and took it. I think my sisters have it somewhere.

Ed Snider: Some tarpaulin came off, and there was a hole in the roof. We could have fixed it overnight, but it became a political football. There was no structural defect. We had to play our last eight games on the road and refund all the money.

Howard Eskin: The night of my graduation, there was a torrential downpour. The people sitting up there had a foot of water. Obviously, the roof wasn’t completely fixed. I have a piece of the roof somewhere. When it blew off, I went down there and got it.

Ed Snider: We were really beaten up in our first playoff series against St. Louis [in 1969]. I developed a philosophy in hockey — we may not be able to skate with them, but goddamn it, we’ll find people who can fight with them. So we made the decision that no team was ever going to intimidate the Philadelphia Flyers.

Bob Clarke, Flyers senior vice president/former Flyers player and general manager: I came in ’69, and we’d been physically abused for a while. All of a sudden, we’ve got [Bob] Kelly, we’ve got [Andre] Dupont, and we’re abusing other teams. It was quite enjoyable.

Dave “Sign Man” Leonardi, Flyers season-ticket holder: I started going to games in 1970, and like all good Philly fans, I’d yell, but it would bounce off the glass and nobody could hear me. So I brought paper and magic markers and made signs, and as the Broad Street Bullies prevailed, it just took off from there. Someone suggested an eye chart, and I thought about how to make it for a year and a half. At the bottom, it read “Bad call” and “You’re hopeless.”

Lauren Hart, singer: My mom and dad [Hall of Fame Flyers broadcaster Gene Hart] brought me to games as an infant. I was his daughter, but I was just as star-struck by him, because everybody loved him.

Ed Snider: Hearing Kate Smith sing “God Bless America” still sends tingles through you. Her statue is out there — we’re going to move it [when the Spectrum is demolished next year]. I was a pallbearer at her funeral. Kate Smith and Gene Hart were both emblematic of what this building was.

Bill Barber, Flyers scouting consultant/former Flyers player and coach: Us winning in ’74 — it had been a long time since the city had a winner, and I think we stole the show as a sports team here. That team has never been forgotten.

Bob Clarke:
Fred Shero wrote it on the blackboard [before Game Six of the 1974 Stanley Cup finals]: “Win together today and we will walk together forever.” The significance of it became important after we won. [The locker-room celebration] was out of control, almost. Our families were there, a lot of fathers. Then the wives got in. It was just huge. The fans really became part of our whole success story. And here we are, 30 years later, and all the players are still friends, you know? Freddie was right.

Larry Magid, co-founder, Electric Factory Concerts: What happened with the concerts was that we started looking at the Spectrum as really just a big club. What if we didn’t have seats on the floor? We said, We’ll call them dance concerts. We’ll keep the ticket prices low and try to build exciting shows, rather than waiting for the headliners or the Johnny Cashes or the Ray Charleses of the world, which was the standard. Let’s break out of this mold, and let’s go into the Spectrum with rock shows.

Allen Spivak: We were the first to go into an arena with general admission. But some of the shows got so rowdy, because everyone would try to get on the floor.

Larry Magid: Frank Rizzo did not want the Doors in Philadelphia, because Jim Morrison had just exposed himself, allegedly. All of a sudden, we had the fire marshal looking at the show, and there were too many people on the floor. The manager of the Doors got up there and said, “You’ve gotta move back.” And nothing. I was young and my hair was long, so everybody said I should talk to these people. So I go up and make this speech that turns into a diatribe.

“Announcer ‘Sit Down,’” track one from The Doors Live in Philadelphia ’70: Last week, we had 25,000 hippies out in the park, man. It was beautiful. Now, we want everything to be cool here. We want to do more concerts, but man, there’s a couple of small rules. You’re just gonna have to move back. Sit down, man, and make aisles. We’re not tryin’ to bullshit you, man, we’re trying to lay it right on the fucking line, man.

Larry Magid: They recorded it, and somebody thought it was funny to let my voice stay on it. So we did the show, and it was great. A lot of it becomes a blur, because there were so many. Dylan coming back and playing with the Band, that was a big deal. The Rolling Stones in ’69. Elvis in ’71. We did a show with Led Zeppelin, and they said, “Jimmy Page is sick. If we don’t get him on now, we’re not going to be able to do the show.” Unbeknownst to me, all they wanted to do was go to New York and go to some club and party. We had to convince Jethro Tull, “You’ve got to go on after them.” So Led Zeppelin opened the show and left. Springsteen’s first show there — he opened for Chicago and got booed. I remember standing there as he was walking offstage with his head down, and I said, “This wasn’t your night. Nah, this wasn’t the show you should have played on.” And he just looked at me. He didn’t know me. I said, “You’ll get ’em.” I was just trying to make the guy feel good. I didn’t know he was going to be what he’s become.

Jon Bon Jovi, musician/Philadelphia Soul co-owner: Philly was more accessible than New York from suburban New Jersey. I saw Van Halen there. I saw Bruce at the Spectrum before I saw him at the Garden. It was the spring of 1978. The house lights went down, and I started sweating. I was 15, stage right, lower bowl. I remember it like it was yesterday. They didn’t sell it out, not even close. He went up to the top tier, and the seats were empty. He sang “Spirit in the Night” from up there, and I just said, “That’s it. That’s what I want to do in life.”

Pierre Robert, deejay, WMMR: I remember Bono saying, “We’re used to playing smaller venues. This is our first tour of the bigger places. It’s so weird to be playing in these airplane hangars.” When the Dead played their 50th show there, I raised a tie-dye banner and did a little speech. The banner was promptly stolen. Some little stoner out there has the Dead 50th anniversary banner in his room somewhere.

Larry Magid: It didn’t matter if it was music or anything else in the building — it was the times, it was political. You wanted to have something sweep you up. We had an unpopular war, an unpopular president. We had rallying points, and people wanted change. It was the birth of popular culture. An event is only so much — the rest is social.

Bill Barber: That Soviet Union game [the Flyers played the USSR team on January 11, 1976] was a classic. North America was on the shoulders of the Flyers for that game. It wasn’t a series. It was one game.

Bob Clarke: They were the enemy. The big, bad Russians, and we were going to show them. We weren’t into politics, but I just hated them. It was narrow-minded and prejudiced on my part, but they didn’t like us, either.

Ed Snider:
This was the Cold War. There was hatred. The Russians left the ice, and I immediately ran down to the locker room. Their interpreter said, “They’re not coming back. You’re too rough.” I asked the NHL president if they’d been paid. They hadn’t been paid for any of the [North American] games. I said to the interpreter, “Tell them they’re not going to get paid.” They wanted Yankee dollars in those days, let me tell you.

Bob Clarke: In fairness, the players didn’t pull themselves off the ice. It was their coaches or whoever who did that. But when that happens, you think the other guys are scared, just a bunch of chickenshits. [The Flyers won, 4-1].

Olga Korbut, Russian Olympic gold medalist [responding to our recent interview request regarding her 1974 gymnastics exhibition at the Spectrum]: I do not give interview for free.

Anthony Gargano, 610 WIP host/­former Spectrum usher: The Spectrum was just a different time. I wore that blue polyester suit that would go up in flames if you got near a Deadhead with a cigarette or a joint. They used to smoke up and down the concourse. It was one big fog. I was an usher at the Game Six Stanley Cup finals in ’87 when J.J. Daigneault scored the goal. That was probably the loudest I’d ever heard any building.

Bobby Jones, former Sixers forward: Denver traded me to Philadelphia [in 1978], and it was a little different — the fans, the freedom of speech. I remember Darryl Dawkins telling a ref, “I hope your momma die.” The ref looked at him and didn’t say anything. The very next play, the ref comes down again and Darryl says, “I hope your dog die.”

Julius Erving, former Sixers forward [as told to Comcast SportsNet]: The first time I walked in, I was walking in to play. I had never practiced there. I became the new addition. I remember that game, the crowd showing their appreciation. Steve Solms came out with the doctor’s bag. I didn’t know who he was or what he was bringing me.

Steve Solms, Sixers season-ticket holder: There were no guards. I just ran out there. I said, “Don’t worry, there’s nothing in the bag. I’m not crazy. I’m just so happy you’re here. Just raise the bag up and the crowd will go wild.” He looked at me, raised the bag up, and the place went absolutely nuts.

Julius Erving:
There was great intimacy, and the noise people would make — it kind of reminded me of Rucker League, where people would sit courtside and actually have their feet on the court.

Pat Williams:
The acoustics in that building were just ear-shattering. In those days, they hadn’t expanded it. They put in that upper deck and 3,000 more seats [in 1972], and got it up to about 18,000. It had a low ceiling, and the sound just reverberated. Then you had the immortal Dave Zinkoff behind the mike.

Howard Eskin: “Julius Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrving!” Zink was an actor. He would announce, “License plate number EC 765. Your lights are on, your car is ruuuunning, and your doors are locked!” Sometimes it was bogus; nobody’s car was running. It was shtick.

Pat Williams: Philadelphia is known as a great basketball town, but it has always been the fourth sport in the pecking order. Selling tickets for the 76ers was never easy, so I rolled out all my minor-league-baseball promotional tricks. Vince Papale still has a scar from wrestling a bear.

Vince Papale, former Eagles wide receiver: The bear’s name was Victor. The first stupid thing I did was I said sure, I’ll do it. The second stupid thing was I thought I could take the bear down. I wasn’t even on my toes springing to get this thing before it slapped me with its paw across my cheek. All of a sudden there’s blood all over the place, and the bear’s on top of me. He caught me in the lower jaw, and my tooth came up through my lip and out the other side. I ended up getting five stitches in the Sixers’ locker room. But I felt so cool. I felt like a hockey player!

Howard Eskin: Pat says, “What can I do to get you to mud-wrestle after a game?” There were a lot of beautiful cheerleaders, and I said, “If I can wrestle this one, I’d be happy to do it.” There’s promotions during the game, and I’m pumping up the crowd, and the cheerleader’s out there. Now it’s after the game, and all of a sudden, no cheerleader — just two professional mud-wrestlers. I mean, these women had to be 300 pounds apiece. Gigantic. I had to go through with it.

Pat Williams:
One of the finest moments in sports history. Howard would tell you that he dominated, but I think the two women ganged up on him.

Howard Eskin: I pinned both of them. I was also the ring announcer for a WWF event — Hulk Hogan and the Million Dollar Man. The match was over, so I walk back in to announce the winner, and Hulk Hogan says in his voice, “Brother, you better get the fuck out of here!” After the match was over, it wasn’t over! I jumped back out of the ring, and they went at it again.

Hulk Hogan, professional wrestler: I’ve spent some serious time there, brother. There’s metal chairs in all these buildings that we used to swing and hit each other with. At the Spectrum, the chairs have padding, and it makes them probably 20 pounds heavier. Mr. Wonderful, Paul Orndorff, hit me with a chair and just knocked me out. I came to in the middle of the ring, and I asked the referee, “Where am I?” And he said, “You’re in the Spectrum.” I got through the match, went back to the dressing room, and was so dazed and confused that I didn’t even get a shower. I don’t remember walking to my car. I always used to stop at this Burger King a few blocks away. I found myself in this Burger King parking lot, sitting with my wrestling boots and my tights on, and I couldn’t think of how I got there.

Larry Magid: It was built very steep, and that created an intimacy for the audience. The acoustics were such that the sound would ring towards the stage. I don’t think it was intended; it was a lucky stroke. The artists wanted to come back. You never heard, “That was a dead audience tonight.”

Peter Buck, guitarist, R.E.M.: We were playing three nights at the Spectrum in ’95, and I remember going around and checking the acoustic properties in the various showers and dressing rooms. One of the showers [in the Sixers’ locker room] sounded best. We recorded an instrumental in two days on the spot [“Zither,” on R.E.M.’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi album]. No matter how many great people treaded through that room, nobody else has made a record in it.

Charles Barkley, NBA analyst/former Sixers forward: The crowd was so close to you. That’s what made it a home court. But the amenities in the building were rough. Our locker room was so small that if you turned your head either way, you might kiss Doc or Moses in the ass.

Bobby Jones:
When I got traded [to the Sixers], I was amazed by how small the locker room was. But they weren’t paying me to sit in a nice locker room. They were paying me to go out there and bust my rear end.

Charles Barkley: I made a mistake and went into the Flyers’ locker room one day, and it was really nice. Then I realized: We were second-class citizens. It was really the Flyers’ building.

Bob Clarke: Tough luck.

Ed Snider: In the late ’80s and early ’90s, buildings were built with suites and club seats. To compete with other teams, we had to have those revenues. We looked at how we could expand the Spectrum, but came to the conclusion that remodeling this building didn’t make any sense. We had to have a new building. That’s when I decided to start the minor-league Phantoms. We kept the circus here, we had the Kixx. It worked out well.

Bill Barber: As a player, I was on the ice on the goal we scored to win the Cup. Then when I was coaching the Phantoms in the championship, we had a comfortable lead, and I sat back and enjoyed the fans. It was sold-out, and I said, “Take a look at this building. Do you believe this?” It just rocked.

Jon Bon Jovi:
I came back there under the guise of the owner of a football team [the Philadelphia Soul]. Whatever team got in the playoffs, the Flyers or Sixers, bumped our arena team. They had to put our game in the Spectrum, and when our rivals came to Philadelphia, they were in the seedy, sweaty, loud Spectrum. That was a huge advantage. Huge.

Mark Oliver Gebel, son of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey star Gunther Gebel-Williams: I was always with my father, performing. We knew from the past that if it was raining outside, we’d have to put our shoes up for the night, because water would come into our dressing room. I remember our farewell tour there in 1989. The applause was incredible. How much the people of Philadelphia loved my father — it was very special. On one of the columns, there’s a picture of my wife riding a very special elephant of my father’s. I’ll be sad to see it go.

Joe Frazier: I can’t understand why they’re closing it down. They must have some better ideas.

Peter Luukko, president and COO, Comcast-Spectacor: The Spectrum has been a very viable arena. But Ed had negotiated development rights into the deal when he was building the Wachovia Center, and eventually, these rights would expire. We were looking for something to do with the development, and that’s when we were approached by the Cordish company, and they came up with this really neat plan [for the Philly Live! entertainment complex that’s set to go on the site]. Knowing us, if we hadn’t met the Cordishes, we could justify keeping that building open forever. It’s Ed’s baby, and we all love it.

Bruce Springsteen, musician [during his two farewell Spectrum shows in April 2009]: This is the house of rock. This is the first arena we ever played. They don’t make arenas like this anymore. There is a democratic-ness to these old buildings. It’s a treat to really be here again and playing in this lovely lady of a building.

Mickey Hart, drummer, the Grateful Dead [prior to the Dead’s farewell shows in May 2009, as told to Comcast SportsNet]: The first thing is, the Spectrum sounds great. Arenas are not really made for sound. This one, by chance, turned out to be really unique and vibrant. It’s kind of a home away from home for us. We’ve played 57 shows here — sold-out — so it’s kind of our place, in a way. It’s sad to see it go.

Lauren Hart:
You can feel the voices in there. The building has its own music; it has its own sound. I sang at the last game there [the Phantoms, April 10, 2009], and as I was getting ready, I just saw all these moments flashing before me. Then I saw the banner unfurl: “GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD HOCKEY.” There was no better way to close the building.

Charles Barkley: It was a dump when I got there in ’84. I’m glad they’re tearing it down. I’d do it for free. I’ll push the damn button.

Jon Bon Jovi: I love sitting up in my box at the Wachovia. It’s a beautiful place, and it sounds great, but would you rather have a muscle car or some new Lexus? I think most guys would rather have the good old Chevy Malibu convertible. It’s a little bit beat-up, but it’s a driver. She kind of spits and fires, and that’s what the Spectrum was.

Pierre Robert: There are no luxury boxes there. No matter your economic background, you’re all in it together. There’s no place for the elite to escape from the masses.

Ed Snider: People would come by [the owner’s box]. I’d shake hands, and somebody would say, “My seat’s broken.” I’d write it down. I had a phone here. I’d call and say, “Such-and-such seat is broken.” People would look to see my reaction to a penalty. The interaction with the fans was great.

Anthony Gargano: The Spectrum was organic in its devotion and loudness and fandom. Philadelphia does not need thundersticks. With all the bells and whistles now, the game gets lost. There’s all the advertising — that’s just the cost of doing business today, I get that. The Spectrum outlived its usefulness, like anything else. It needs to go.

Pierre Robert: That’s a bunch of bullshit. Looking out at the last shows with the Dead and Bruce, I said to my 29-year-old producer, “Try to freeze this in your mind, because it’s not something you’ll see at many other arenas.” It’s not a beautiful building, but it has value as architecture and as our heritage. How long before the Wachovia Center is ripped down because it’s antiquated? The Spectrum is a small symptom of the disease that faces this country — everyone is relentlessly impatient and ripping things down because the new thing is better. If I could talk to the powers that be, I would say, “Rethink this proposition.” But most corporate entities don’t come to Pierre Robert for opinions.

Howard Eskin:
I refuse to call it the Wachovia Spectrum. It’s the Spectrum. End of story.

Larry Magid: We made it to almost five decades here. It’s time to move on. The Vet was a horrible stadium. The Spectrum is a lot better, but the time has come.

Ed Snider: People say, “How are you going to feel when the building comes down?” I don’t know. I don’t get there hardly ever, up until this year’s celebrations. But it’s been a revelation. I never focused on how much this building is a part of people’s lives, for all different reasons. You hear from people, and the stories they tell. It makes you feel like you really accomplished something. Whether the physical building is here or not, I’m always going to have those memories.