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|| News Item: Posted 2000-04-27

The Big Bang
By Greg Cava

Photo by Greg Cava

Photo by Greg Cava
When you shoot architectural photography for a living, you can't help but get excited when the phone rings and Stacey Loizeaux is on the other end of the line. Stacey is the latest generation of Loizeauxs who are Controlled Demolition, Inc. (CDI). Along with her grandfather Jack, dad Mark and uncle Doug, Stacy and CDI specialize in the demolition of structures both great and small. The family owned and operated company is second to none to work with.

This time, the object of Stacey's call is the Seattle Kingdome, a massive domed complex located in downtown Seattle, WA.

A month later, Peter Read Miller, a Sports Illustrated photographer and good friend, is in Vegas for PMA. Our dinner conversation turns to the Kingdome and we find out that we are both planning to be there. Why not pool our resources and get the best possible shot?

Friday, March 24th - 2 days before the scheduled implosion. We arrive in Seattle to incredible sunny weather and spend most of the day scouting for locations/views. At 2:00 CDI has a team meeting to review what details remain to prepare the dome for its grand finale. Included in the agenda is discussion on the positioning of still and video cameras.

Photo by Greg Cava

Photo by Greg Cava
Doug Loizeau is in charge of camera locations, among other things. There are several locations that seem to be what they are looking for. The closest to the Kingdome, a railroad clock tower, is high enough to see the actual collapsing of the roof structure, which is something they are very concerned about. The only drawback to this location is that access to the tower is not available until 5:30 am the morning of the implosion. Not being able to fully scout this location would come back to haunt me later.

Another great location is the building on a hill overlooking the entire downtown area. It had a great background, but getting access was still being negotiated. A seven story parking garage located directly across the street from the dome and an eight story apartment building approximately two blocks away, seemed our best choices at the time.

Saturday, March 25th - 1 day before implosion. At 9:00 am, I meet with CDI at the dome to review the proposed locations. The building is still a good choice with elevators to the top floor and a short stairway to the roof which has a spectacular view. The apartment building was located just outside the "blast zone" and also had great access with an elevator and a short stairway to the roof. It had a straight-on unobstructed view and from an architectural point of view, it was perfect. The clock tower would be in the right of the frame and the newly constructed baseball field was in the background. This was my first choice for a shooting position. Access to the railroad clock tower was still restricted to Sunday AM, so this was not included in this walkthrough.

Photo by Greg Cava

Photo by Greg Cava
While I was reviewing positions with CDI, Peter and Tracy Frankel, another sports shooter and friend of Peter, were making final arrangements for helicopter service and setting up local assistants. They were also finalizing access to another location we found on Friday. This was another apartment building that overlooked the entire scene with a sweeping view of the city in the background.

Peter and I meet with the assistants at 1:00 pm to divide up cameras, clamps, film and make final decisions on locations and who would be shooting from where.

At 3:00 pm I have my last team meeting with CDI. Schedules are handed out and any last minute procedures or changes are reviewed and discussed. After the meeting, I got an unexpected invitation. Would I like to climb to the top of the Kingdome for one last look? No hesitation on my part!! On the way up, looking inside the dome where the playing field once was, I could see the rows of dirt piles that were placed there to cushion the impact of the roof as it collapsed onto the ground. We weaved our way through 26 miles of prime-a-cord and finally reached the top section. The rush was unbelievable as was the view and to be one of the last to actually be there was a thrill. I couldn't help but remember the last time I was here to shoot a Raider/Seahawk game. Now the deafening roar of the Seattle home crowd was to be replaced with the deafening roar of this magnificent structure being reduced to rubble. I made a few quick cell phone calls to loved ones to brag of my daring feat and it was back down to solid ground.

After a great dinner in downtown Seattle and a restless nights sleep, Sunday morning was suddenly upon us.

Photo by Peter Read Miller

Photo by Peter Read Miller
Sunday, March 26th - implosion day. I was meeting with assistants in the hotel lobby at 4:00 am when the Loizeaux family walked by heading out to work their special brand of magic. Looking up in the morning sky, they happily noted the lack of clouds and fog, serious deterrents to imploding a building.

Finally, it was time to disperse. Some of our group headed to the building, Peter, Tracy and the other assistants set off for their spots and I and my assistant started walking to the railroad clock tower with four haliburtons and cart in tow. When we arrived at the door, the chuckling of the railroad employees was quite noticeable. I was quick to learn the source of their amusement. There was an eight-story clock tower awaiting me with no elevator and a limited time frame to reach the top and set up. No sooner had we reached the top, than the call comes that any persons not planning to be there must leave so the doors can be secured. Setup was quick with details explained later to the assistant via cell phone.

I quickly went to my position at the nearby apartment building. I was extremely grateful for Elisha Otis and his elevator refinements by that point. After reaching the roof, setting up my cameras and checking in one last time with the assistants, all that was left was the final countdown. By now the crowds had really begun to gather on the perimeter of the zone, in the nearby hills and on building tops.

Photo by Greg Cava

Photo by Greg Cava
At last the countdown began. No matter how many of these I shoot, I am always in awe of the shear power of the implosions. Several loud booms and the Kingdome began falling into a pile of rubble. When the cloud of dust began to clear, you could see what the months of planning and seconds of detonating well-placed explosives accomplished. A near perfect implosion with minimal damage to nearby structures that looked like abstract art laying there on the ground for all the world to see.

As we gathered later that day, it was interesting to hear how Peter and the people who had never been involved with an implosion were so in awe of what they just saw and heard. Even though I had been through several of these events including the implosions of The Dunes, Sands, Aladdin, Landmark and Hacienda hotels in Las Vegas, I still had a lot of the same feelings the first timers were expressing.

Of course, the most gratifying moment for any photographer is recognition of his or her work. I received that validation in a two-page, four-picture spread in Sports Illustrated. It was a great way to end a great adventure.

(Greg Cava is a freelance photographer based in Las Vegas.)

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