The six-story-high, $12-million Spectrum in Philadelphia was practically brand new. It had opened September 30, 1967 to house the Philadelphia Flyers, one of the six NHL expansion teams. However, mother nature had her say on February 17 and March 1, 1968, when high winds literally raised the roof.
As explained to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Spectrum’s “metal roof is covered by layers of fiber board and tar paper.” When windows and doors are open while the air vents are closed, “interior pressure then rises” and the roof “balloons.” Winds of 40 mph (or more) “blowing under a ballooned section lifts off the covering.”
This first happened during an Ice Capades performance on February 17. With a crowd of 17,000 inside, a section (150 by 50 feet in size) of the roof was torn off. For the repairs, the Spectrum closed for three days, and four upcoming performances had to be canceled, costing the venue $150,000 in returned sales. At the time, City Managing Director Fred A. Corleto had called it a “freak accident,” saying, “This is a very unusual thing to happen.”
Just two weeks later, at about 9:45 am on March 1, 50-mph gusts ripped three more holes in the Spectrum’s roof covering six sections at the end near Broad Street. The largest hole (40 by 20 feet) was over Section 1, and the smaller holes spanned 8 by 8 feet and 2 by 6 feet. The damage was adjacent to the area under repair from two weeks earlier, and workmen were inside at the time. Spectrum superintendent Wayne Lalor said, “It was just like if a shingle from your roof blew off.” A Philadelphia Inquirer article began with a cheeky, “The Spectrum’s on again-off again roof came off again Friday morning”
At 2:45 that afternoon, Mayor James J.H. Tate met with twelve Spectrum and city officials at the Blue Line Restaurant, where the nervous bus boy dropped their coffee cups. All the press heard was Tate’s exclamation, “The only thing to do is get the hell up there and look at it. We have to make a decision!” He and a few others climbed up on the roof to inspect the damage. Upon their return, Tate announced, “I have concluded that the Spectrum will be required to shut down until such time as the Property Department is satisfied it is safe. It is possible that the wind would lift up other sections of the covering and blow them away also.” Although he first thought the arena might be ready by the Flyers’ game on Sunday afternoon, he later thought it may take more like three weeks. He left the closure indefinite saying, “We have great basketball and hockey teams and we are proud of the Spectrum. But the safety of the people is paramount.” The Philadelphia Daily News reported, “Commissioner [Frank L.] Rizzo ordered a cordon of police to guard the Spectrum against the curious, so they might be spared from injury by flying debris. With Rizzo in charge, the wind dared not kick up again.”
The NBA game scheduled for that evening, between the 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers, was postponed to be rescheduled for an upcoming Monday. The Lakers arrived at 3:30 and had to turn back around to fly home at 6 pm. The ticket sales were for about 10,000-12,000 attendees. Even more (14,000) planned to attend the Flyers’ match against the Oakland Seals in two days. It was the only Sunday afternoon game on their schedule, so CBS (which had already begun its setup when the winds hit) had no substitute programming. The Flyers played the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, so they just stayed there for the Sunday game.
Although the 76ers were able to remain local and play at the Convention Hall, the Flyers found themselves homeless for the rest of March. After playing the Toronto Maple Leafs at Maple Leaf Gardens on March 6, they remained there to play a “home” game against the Boston Bruins on March 7. For their remaining five “home” games, the Flyers played at Quebec Coliseum. Coach Keith Allen said, “It’s a tough situation, being forced on the road so much. But we can’t let that interfere with what we do on the ice. We’ve got to make sure we’re up for every game and we play our best, no matter where we’re playing. We’ve come too far to let first place slip through our hands now, and the guys would like nothing more than to reward our struggling owners with an NHL title.” That they did. The Flyers placed first in the West Division (for its first season), earning the newly-created Clarence S. Campbell Bowl.
Meanwhile, Corleto had “called for city engineers to come up with a new roof design” to make the Spectrum wind-proof. He said that “engineers have recommended a slag roof to cover the fiber board and tar paper which has been at the mercy of high winds” because it “probably would be sturdy enough to withstand the blustery gusts that blow across the black topped parking lot surrounding the Spectrum.” They estimated the cost at $30,000.
At the very end of March, the end of the reroofing and the reopening was in sight. Their hired Chicago testing firm concluded that the “strengthened roof should be able to withstand wind pressure.” Corleto announced, “We have evaluated the tests as submitted to us and we have issued a temporary statement of occupancy good for 90 days. Our decision has been cleared with Mayor Tate who is in Washington today.” Although there was no guarantee, he confirmed, “From the tests which have taken place, the Spectrum will be able to meet the types of winds normally expected in this area.” The teams would return the following week – after the 76ers played their already-scheduled game at Convention Hall and when playoffs began for the Flyers. The Flyers returned to the Spectrum for four games between April 4 and 18, when they lost the first playoff round to the St. Louis Blues.
The two teams remained at the Spectrum through the 1995-96 season. Both lost their final games there. They then moved across the lot to the CoreStates Center (now Wells Fargo Center). The AHL Philadelphia Phantoms used the arena until its closure at the end of the 2008-09 season, and the Flyers visited to play two pre-season games as afarewell. The Spectrum closed on Halloween 2009 and was demolished on November 8, 2010.
- Mike Commito, Hockey 365: Daily Stories from the Ice (Toronto: Dundurn, 2018), kindle version.
- Stephen Laroche, Changing the Game: A History of NHL Expansion (Toronto: ECW Press, 2014), 114-115.
- Brian McFarlane, Brian McFarlane’s History of Hockey (Champaign, Ill.: Sports Publishing Inc., c1997), 104.
- Jeremy Heymsfeld and George Ingram, “Spectrum Closed After New Damage,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 2 March 1968, pp. 1 and 23.
- Sandy Padwe, “The House That Blew Its Top,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 2 March 1968, pp. 19 and 22.
- Roger Keim, “76ers and Flyers Await Repairs At Spectrum,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 2 March 1968, p. 19.
- Nels Nelson, “All Games Are Called At ‘Big Sardine Can,’” Philadelphia Daily News, 2 March 1968, pp. 5 and 20.
- Joseph H. Trachtman, “Spectrum Cleared for Reopening,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 29 March 1968, pp. 1 and 50.