Who says large-scale blasts are not exciting? If they claim no victims, are controlled by professionals and have to do with already crumbling structures, they can be. Monday’s Greenfield Bridge implosion was a blast. It provided an excellent background for selfies, boom-ka-boom-smash comments, RIP/ “goodbye Greenfield Bridge” tweets and a reason for jokes like the one about the implosion being the perfect metaphor of the Steelers’ playoff hopes.
Thank you, Pittsburgh.
The last time an implosion gathered a Steel City crowd of comparable size and triggered that much of media frenzy happened more than 15 years ago, and it was not just one-day implosion. It was a two-year project to pave a way for a new ballpark, known to Pittsburghers today as PNC Park.
The first Big Implosion happened in 1999 — 12 explosions brought down a six-story Three Rivers Plaza apartment building on the North Side. There were no drones to speak of back then, so the Post-Gazette focused its story on two teenagers who on a March day at 7 a.m. embarked on an ambitious project that involved wielding real cameras and making a video of the event. The teens — living in the pre-YouTube era — were working on a documentary about Pittsburgh implosions and were hoping it would be shown on national television one day.
The second massive North Side implosion happened two years later. It brought down the doomed Three Rivers Stadium in February of 2001. The stadium that witnessed triumphs and defeats since 1970 drowned in a gray cloud of dust. A massive explosion was not enough — there were fireworks at 8 a.m. to accompany the ‘drop.’ Seismographs recorded a little ground vibration.
The man in charge of large Pittsburgh implosions of the late 90s, including the Three Rivers Plaza apartment complex and the stadium, was quoted extensively in Pittsburgh newspapers.
Douglas Loiseaux described implosions “as not just pure science, but probably an art form, you learn how to take a building apart.” He said that Three Rivers Plaza was especially challenging because of the structure of the building. “You learn your adversary. You learn where its weak points are and attack them. You use the weight of the building itself to bring it down.”
To bring it down with a wrecking ball would take two weeks, with dynamite — it took eight seconds.
The implosion of Three Rivers Stadium was an event that drew huge crowds. “A crowd estimated at 20,000 in Point State Park, 3,000 to 4,000 on Mount Washington and untold others in Downtown skyscrapers and elsewhere endured the 21-degree temperature to gape in awe and bid adieu to the concrete bowl that had witnessed so many highs and lows in Pittsburgh sports,” Tom Barnes wrote in the Post-Gazette.
Pittsburgh-born architect of the much-criticized structure Dahl Ritchey was alive then to witness the coming down of his own creation.
When Three Rivers Stadium was being designed and built, the newspapers predicted that it will be “one of the most beautiful in the nation.”
The design was a challenge. It was hard to reconcile the differences between football and baseball. “A baseball field, that’s shaped like an apple. A football field, it’s a rectangle,” Ritchey explained, “In baseball the best seats are between first base and home, and third base and home. In football, everyone wants the 50-yard line. In baseball, people want to sit right at the grade of the field. In football, you have to be up high so the people in the first row of seats can see over the bug guys standing on the sidelines.” At the end it was a compromise, maybe a misguided one. The stadium was the source of pride for Ritchey’s firm.
You’d think Ritchey would be saddened by its destruction.
But according to one of Ritchey’s colleagues that was not the case. “You can tear down the structure,” he said, “But you can never tear down how you feel about the memories. That’s what Dahl has and they’ll never be taken away.”
Albeit the implosion of Three Rivers Stadium happened four years B.Y.T (before YouTube), the video lives there still.