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BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE

7/9/2008
Nowhere in the rubble would you find a Griffey jersey. Getty Images

When Controlled Demolition Inc. brought down the Kingdome, Stacey Loizeaux was there. She pushed the button for her first demolition (a bridge in Ohio) at age 3, and supervised her first demolition (a condemned building in earthquake-ravaged Mexico City) at age 15. So she knows the biz. She also understands sentiment.

"It doesn't matter what the building is," says Loizeaux. "It holds intense value for someone, whether it's your favorite stadium or it's the Holiday Inn in downtown Hartford. Hey, some people got married there."

But she can assure you, when her company assessed the wreckage of the Kingdome—wreckage created by an extremely precise blast that involved drilling 5,905 holes for CDI's explosive, 21.6 miles of detonating cord and over 4,700 lb. of explosives—nowhere in the wreckage would you find Jay Buhner's hat, Ken Griffey Jr's old jersey, Brian Bosworth's busted helmet or Ken Phelps' mustache trimmer.

"We have a reverence for the structure, but by the time we get there, it's a shell," said Loizeaux.

The demolition process is, at its heart, a brilliant feat of engineering. For the Kingdome, the free-fall of the 25,000-ton concrete dome alone would have created over 9 billion foot-pounds of energy, sufficient to do widespread damage to the water table below. So to minimize damage, CDI designed a program that would detonate small explosives charges to soften the roof structure so it would crush on impact (consuming energy) rather than letting it fall to the ground intact. Bottom line to the collector: it's less romantic (think of the falling resorts in Casino), and more about just getting it done.

When demolition experts show up to finally take on a massive structure, it's been gutted. "We're a hired gun at that point," said Loizeaux.

Schneider Industries is a company that oversees the sale of the innards of stadiums set to crumble at the hands of profesionals. Tiger Stadium, a structure abandoned in 1999 but through civic neglect or general apathy still stands, rotting away, waiting for demolition, is one. Schneider ran an online auction of more than 700 artifacts from the historic ballpark, which put $192,729 back in the city's coffers.

The top item? A piece of the fence from around the rooftop transformer hit by Reggie Jackson's home run in the 1971 All-Star Game. With a photo of the stadium and a Reggie Jackson baseball card, the package fetched $4,025.

Pieces like this are all that's left of structures like the old Polo Ground or Chicago Stadium. They eventually filter to places like this, where a structural piece of history becomes readily attainable, assuming your room can handle some wooden or plastic accents. A seat in the Polo Grounds, still available? Hey—there were a lot of seats.

It's long been known in New York that Yankee Stadium will evenutally come down. Many think of The Stadium as a baseball cathedral, holy ground, an untouchable relic. It's beautiful, it's sacred — and it has to come down. (The new stadium rising next door is set to be ready for opening day 2009.) Some will call it a crime, just as they would regarding Texas Stadium, Tiger Stadium or Busch Stadium. The same was said of Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds or Forbes Field. Every stadium has its fate.The artifacts, at least, live on.

To demolition experts like the Loizeaux family, those artifacts are all as distant as they are to the common fan. If she wanted a truly valuable slice of the Kingdome, Stacey Loizeaux would have to bid for it with the rest of us. By the time a company like CDI arrives to make the land flat once more—a suitable place to add restaurants for fans to congregate, or park their cars before the game at the new stadium across the street—the monetary value wrapped in stadium artifacts has all been distributed back into the community of fans and collectors.

At that point, something remains, but mostly a memory. Like a first dance in the dimly lit ballroom of a Hartford Holiday Inn.