Dome's Final Roar

Just like that, it was gone.

After 24 years of anchoring the southern end of the Seattle skyline, the Kingdome came crashing down yesterday in a deafening roar of controlled explosions - eliciting cheers from thousands, blanketing downtown with a thick cloud of dust and ending an era of Seattle sports and civic life. It collapsed in 16.8 seconds.

"Wow, wow, wow," said Stuart Geldholt from his perch on Beacon Hill. "Quick, wasn't it?"

The Bellingham resident said he came to watch because he never liked the Dome and thought baseball should be played outside.

"This is a dream come true for me," he said, puffing a cigar. "I'm living out a fantasy watching this thing go."

Heavy clouds of yellow, white and gray dust billowed out seconds after the first explosions at 8:30 a.m., obscuring the final view of the carefully orchestrated implosion.

Dust choked downtown for nearly 20 minutes, blocking out the sun and leaving a layer of film on cars, streets and storefronts. The dust cloud reached nearly as high as the top of the Bank of America Tower and drifted northwest about 8 miles an hour.

"It was like Mount St. Helens going off, and then all these people just started running," said Jeff Chabot, a National Barricade employee whose company had cordoned off the streets around the Kingdome. "It was wild."

Like the ash from the volcano, which erupted nearly 20 years ago, the pulverized concrete resting on car tops was soon being collected by enterprising people.

"Hopefully, we can put enough powder on the Net and make us a couple of bucks," said Scotty Hodgins, 25, as he scooped dust into plastic bags on South Main Street. "You know how people are going to eat this stuff up."

In no time, flat

Built to last, the stadium opened in 1976 at a cost of $67 million. It housed four professional sports teams and countless rock concerts, rodeos and religious revivals.

It helped put Seattle on the map, hosting nearly every major sporting event except the Super Bowl. Yesterday came its Super Blow.

Carefully placed explosives - 4,461 pounds in all - collapsed the 25,000-ton roof like a cake taken out of the oven too soon. More than 21 miles of detonating cord exploded in a flash. The Dome's roof ribs and columns looked like they had been electrified with lightning.

Rapid puffs of smoke followed, and the massive roof ribs that formed the Dome's 20 arches buckled first in three pie-shaped wedges. Then came the remaining three roof wedges, followed instantly by explosions in the support columns and in the roof's tension ring, which had held the roof together by exerting 8 million pounds of force around its base.

While nearly all of the Dome, which once weighed about 130,000 tons, collapsed in on its own "footprint," chunks of concrete flew onto rooftops. The force of the blasts broke windows at the Salvation Army and Turner Construction buildings on Fourth Avenue South, and at F.X. McRory's steakhouse on South King Street. Residents of the nearby Florentine Condominiums had been taken to the restaurant earlier that morning, but no one was injured.

A small army of street sweepers went into action moments after the blast. Businesses around the Dome were quick to reopen, with little damage reported. Engineers will survey adjacent buildings and structures over the next few days to assess any damage.

The implosion registered a magnitude 2.3 on the Richter scale - a barely detectable ground motion that naturally visits the region once or twice a month. Scientists will use ground-vibration data from the implosion to learn more about the Seattle fault, which runs a few blocks south of the Kingdome.

By afternoon, the job of pulverizing and hauling away the Kingdome was under way, with hydraulic jackhammers breaking columns into chunks. A couple hundred people gathered close to the site, taking pictures and searching for bits of the building to take home.

The rubble is flatter than expected, only reaching about 30 feet high near the perimeter of the 9-acre Dome site. The Dome once stood 250 feet high.

Only the flagpole at the very top of the roof remained intact, although slightly bent.

"Not a perfect job, but close," said Mark Loizeaux, president of Controlled Demolition, the firm in charge of the implosion.

For a moment, the implosion faced a possible delay. Authorities spotted a man on the roof of the Florentine Condominiums and someone on the roof of a gas station near Safeco Field, where they shouldn't have been.

"We're on hold right now; we've got a security problem," said a voice over a Controlled Demolition radio. But it was only for a moment. The blast came off as scheduled.

When the dust began to settle, downtown Seattle had a new look. Its southern anchor was gone, and old buildings could be seen in a new light. From the south, the clock tower at King Street Station looked like London's Big Ben shrouded in fog.

`Our New Year's Eve'

Tens of thousands gathered to watch from hilltops, streets or parks. People stood on cars and perched in trees and surrounding roofs for a view. They cheered and hollered as the Dome fell.

The celebratory mood may seem like a strange way to observe the death of a public building. But Seattle hasn't had much to cheer about lately - not since the World Trade Organization protests gave the city a black eye and a possible terrorist plot prompted Mayor Paul Schell to cancel New Year's Eve celebrations at Seattle Center.

For George Shields and his friend Carolyn Conn, perched on a recreational vehicle on Beacon Hill, the implosion was finally something to shout about.

"This is our New Year's Eve," Shields said.

The Rev. Ken Brandom of Portland staked out a spot near South Jackson Street and Fourth Avenue South at 5:30 a.m. for his wife and another couple.

"We got front-row seats," he said. "We wanted to feel the implosion and get as much dust as possible. The VCR is queued up at home, so we'll get to see all the angles we missed."

The tens of thousands who gathered couldn't get too close; roughly 300 officers guarded a restricted zone around the Dome.

Hundreds of boats anchored in Elliott Bay carried implosion gawkers, while swank parties were held in office skyscrapers.

New stadium will rise

Many considered the unadorned gray mass of concrete a blight on the city. Others praised it for its symmetry and strength, a no-nonsense, multipurpose building that reflected the times.

But it's gone now, and its mass of rubble will take months to clear. Out of the destruction of the Dome will come something new: a $365 million outdoor football stadium that, officials say, will be something to be proud of.

"In many ways this is a real symbol of a city coming of age," said Mayor Schell, who watched from the Harbor Club downtown. "It's symbolic of change and new beginnings."

Schell, too, finally had something to cheer about. "Everything went as well as could be expected," he said, "which is nice for a change."

Paul Allen, the owner of the Seahawks and the man behind the drive to replace the Kingdome, was also at the Harbor Club. Allen wouldn't talk to reporters yesterday and moved quietly between the club and the implosion site.

King County Executive Ron Sims said he was with Allen near the Dome when the button was pressed to begin the blast sequence. The two had seven seconds, Sim said, to jump in their car and clear out before the dust cloud would have engulfed them.

"Obviously it is one of those sights you'll never forget," he said.

Loizeaux of Controlled Demolition had a theory on why so many people were fascinated with the implosion.

"There are people that think fondly of the Dome and came to say goodbye," he said. Others may have hoped to see something go wrong or couldn't believe the Dome could be taken down.

But most viewers, Loizeaux said, probably knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"If you miss it," he said, "there's no second chance. And this is a piece of Seattle history that people didn't want to miss."

Jeff Hodson's phone message number is 206-464-3779. His e-mail address is