Implosion of high-rise draws crowd of gawkers


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Larry Fredette saw his first implosion Aug. 31, 1980, when the 16-story Carlton House Hotel on Grant Street came tumbling down.

"I was a convert after that. I try not to miss them," Mr. Fredette said yesterday morning in East Liberty, his vantage point for the latest implosion in the name of civic progress. Quaffing coffee, he joked, "It's a good way to wake up."

Mr. Fredette, 52, packed his kids into the car and headed from his Regent Square home to the Giant Eagle parking lot on Shakespeare Street for the 9 a.m. demolition of a 20-story high rise at 6231 Penn Ave., the future home of a Target store.

He was hardly alone. Dozens of bystanders flocked to the lot and set up shop with camcorders, tripods and cell phone cameras pointing toward the monolithic building that stood alone against a cloudy, blue-gray sky.

"I'm from the area, and there's some history," said Christopher Hickman, 45, who had a Nikon slung around his neck. "I never saw an implosion in person."

After a two-minute delay to clear gawkers who had slipped into the blast zone, nine rapid explosions broke the calm. Echoes rebounded for a few seconds, then another round of explosions ripped through the building before it quickly collapsed on itself to form a giant pile of rubble.

The first set of charges severed the building's bearing walls. Then more detonations knocked the walls in, destabilizing the structure. In all, there were 2,200 charges and about 400 pounds of dynamite used.

Three black bands around the building marked the locations of chain link and protective geotextile fabric to cut down on shrapnel.

"We're definitely pleased. It went picture perfect," said Frank Bodami, who with his brother, Anthony, is a co-managing partner of Titan Wrecking & Environmental LLC of Buffalo, which handled the implosion along with Controlled Demolition Inc.

The Bodamis enjoy a history in Pittsburgh, having imploded another high rise in the East End in 2006. Their love affair with demolition stretches back to childhood.

"We started off with garbage cans," Anthony said after the implosion.

"And toy soldiers," added Frank. "We were 6 years old."

After the building was reduced to rubble, a giant brownish dust cloud blossomed and rolled right over the Giant Eagle parking lot, lightly coating cars and enveloping sightseers both on the ground and on the roof of the state liquor store.

"Incredible," proclaimed filmmaker Chris Ivey, 36, of Squirrel Hill, as he cleaned the dust off his video camera. "I got some fantastic shots."

Residents were evacuated from about seven buildings in the blast zone around 7 a.m. and taken to the East Liberty Presbyterian Church.

Everything was in place an hour later, giving the demolition experts a cushion before the big bang.

Onlookers gave the implosion a thumbs-up for the spectacular sight it afforded as well as what it means for redevelopment in East Liberty.

"We watched it come up. We're going to watch it come down," said Tisa Wright, 45, of Shadyside, who is looking forward to a Target. "We don't have to go far to shop anymore, and it'll bring money to the community."

As for implosion critic Alyssa Fredette, 7, she could hardly contain herself.

"It was amazing!" she cried, jumping up and down.


Jonathan D. Silver can be reached at jsilver@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1962.


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