In the year A routine inspection 90 minutes before the gates opened at JFK Stadium in July 1989 revealed fire code violations and safety hazards, confirming a report that warned the city about the condition of the 63-year-old stadium a year earlier. South Philadelphia.
But there were already 20,000 Grateful Dead fans waiting outside. So the authorities — fearing the kind of riots they faced at a Rolling Stones concert a few years ago — let the show go on.
The Dead jammed for three hours, played 19 songs, and the gates of JFK Stadium never reopened. Mayor Wilson Goode closed the stadium after six days, eventually announcing that it would be demolished because maintenance was too expensive.
» Read more: James Harden officially signs two-year, $68.6 million contract to return to Sixers
The Goliath, Horseshoe Stadium can hold over 100,000 fans and has hosted everything from Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney’s 1926 heavyweight title fight to 1985’s live support. And soon a breaking ball is met.
Flyers owner Ed Snyder was early in planning the new home for his team, which he shares with the 76ers, so it didn’t take long to figure out what could be built on the 55-acre site. More than seven years passed between Jerry Garcia walking off the stage and the opening of the CoreStates Center — originally called Spectrum II and now the Wells Fargo Center — at the site of JFK Stadium.
The planning, negotiation, and building moved at the pace of a Grateful Dead concert because the process never seemed to end. There were disputes between the Rays and the Sixers, the construction of an arena in New Jersey and plans to lure the teams from South Philly and years of stop and go. It was finally opened in August 1996.
And that night’s road began with a Grateful Dead concert at the crumbling historic stadium. It’s a path worth revisiting as the Sixers announced plans earlier this month to vacate that arena for a new home on Market Street in 2031.
The sesquicentennial – America’s 150th birthday – is remembered as a flop, with the celebration losing millions of dollars due to low turnout for the World’s Fair-like spectacle at Fairmont Park.
But the event gave birth to JFK Stadium — originally called Sesquicentennial Stadium — and the largest attended sporting event in city history, when 120,000 people watched Tunney beat Dempsey for the heavyweight title in September 1926.
The stadium resembles the LA Coliseum and was designed by the same architect behind the Strawbridge Building at Eighth and Market streets. JFK has hosted Army-Navy games for decades, the Eagles for a few seasons and mega-rock concerts every summer.
JFK Stadium was a key part of the city but began to fall into disrepair due to lack of maintenance. In the year A 1988 report by the city called for $4.5 million in repairs. But when the Grateful Dead came to town, none of it was finished.
“It was terrifying. It was hard to manage that place,” said Jay Snyder, whose company Spectaguard provided security for JFK concerts in the 1980s. “We had wars there. I remember at the Rolling Stones, it was sold out, and tickets just kept selling. There were thousands of people outside trying to get in and luckily we had a good relationship with the Philadelphia Police and they were doing what they could and they could.
“But they rushed those doors, and the old doors were these iron bars. They threw bottles at them and exploded. We had a man who lost his sight because of a glass in his eye. It was bad. They break down the doors and tear them down quickly and we try to get them closed again. That place was ready to go down. It was not renewed,” he said.
The Spectrum opened in 1967, and “America’s Showcase” began to show its age in the late 1980s. New buildings in Detroit and Orlando that could become stadiums and rising player salaries created demand for additional sources of revenue, such as luxury boxes.
So Snyder knew — even before the city closed JFK Stadium — that it needed a new building.
When the NBA and NHL expanded in the 1960s and early 1970s, more buildings like the Spectrum were built, said Snyder’s son, Jay, who was the Flyers’ president at the time. “But after 25, 30 years, everything changed dramatically. The revenue, the corporate boxes, the food service, all the improved services they can offer to the fans. It became a necessity, not just a luxury, to stay afloat.
The Flyers wanted to keep the Sixers as tenants in the new arena, but owner Harold Katz — who he said had “the worst lease in the NBA” — was already in talks with New Jersey about building an arena on the Camden waterfront. And soon, Jersey started talking to the Flyers as well. Maybe the two teams will go from South Philly to South Jersey together.
Jersey’s offer was good — it was much better financially than building in South Philly, Jay Snyder said — but ultimately the Flyers decided to stay home. The 76ers appealed to Katz, knowing they needed it as a tenant and didn’t want to compete with a rival building.
“Maybe not better, they were better,” Jay Snyder said. “The platform was built almost 100 percent with private funds. As I recall it was about $12-15 million in infrastructure and maybe one low interest loan from the government. But basically, we didn’t stop the city or the state for anything.
“It was a sweet deal, but my father was loyal. While we had a lot of Flyers fans and Spectrum fans coming from New Jersey and Delaware to other events, he was loyal to Philadelphia as the home of the Flyers.
Plans for the 21,000-seat arena to open in 1994 were announced at a City Hall news conference in June 1991. He said the new arena will also include a parking garage that will connect Spectrum and the mall. New neighbor. Those plans were eventually scrapped, but Jay Snyder and other executives wanted to build beyond the arena, so they traveled to Disney World and Disneyland for inspiration.
“We had a lot of ideas,” Snyder said. “We had all that space. Think of a major entertainment center, a la Universal Studios.
JFK Stadium was demolished in February 1992. But that day passed without the shovel touching the soil. The deal, announced at City Hall, collapsed in October 1993. Katz believed he was getting shortchanged, so he began talking to New Jersey.
With the plans stalled, Ed Rendell – who became mayor in 1992 – told Eagles owner Norman Braman that if Snyder couldn’t build the new arena, he could build a football-only stadium on the JFK site. The Eagles began a feasibility study in December 1993, and Braman said he wanted to build a stadium like the one used by the Buffalo Bills.
The pressure was on for the Flyers and Sixers to come together as their home ground in South Philly seemed to slide.
Snyder and Katz reached a settlement in February 1994, four months after their deal collapsed. A month ago, the Sixers’ move to Camden was stymied by Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, who didn’t believe the stadium could handle enough of it. – Basketball events even consulted with Philadelphia and Jon Bon Jovi. For the Sixers, he was back in Philly.
The building, which was originally supposed to open in eight months, will open three years later. At the time, Katz no longer owned the Sixers when he sold the team to Comcast, and Snyder was the managing partner before the team left the Spectrum.
» Read more: Meet the billionaires behind the Sixers’ new arena plans — and who else the team would prefer to stay
The arena has not hosted heavyweight title fights like JFK Stadium, but it has hosted two political conventions, WrestleMania, and the NBA and NHL championships. Still, the building’s owner, Comcast, is nearing completion of a years-long renovation that it says will make the arena a “fundamentally new facility.” The company this week called the 26-year-old platform “the new Wells Fargo Center.”
But those renovations don’t appear to be enough to keep the Sixers, who plan to head north to Market Street instead of east to Camden. To do that, they’ll have to demolish the old Galleria Mall, a slightly less historic site than JFK Stadium. The new platform is still nine years away, and if their latest new platform is any example, getting there could be a long and strange journey.