A few years ago, when Villanova’s Lou Scheinfeld began thinking about writing a book on his time operating, promoting, closing and doing just about anything else at the dearly departed Spectrum, he had one condition: “I need some more people to die first.”
Well, it seems the necessary actors in the Spectrum’s wild 42-year ride have gone to their great rewards. This month sees the release of Blades, Bands and Ballers: How “Flash and Cash” Rescued the Flyers and Created Philadelphia’s Greatest Showplace (Camino Books, 259 pages), Scheinfeld’s ode to the arena he helped animate and turn into one of the nation’s most unique (if not comfortable) buildings. Scheinfeld was present at its creation, when Ed Snider and Jerry Wolman conjured a building at the outer reaches of South Philadelphia. The city’s NHL expansion team needed a home, and the 76ers were willing to leave their Convention Hall digs for the new building.
The son of parents who owned a candy store, Scheinfeld worked as a reporter for The Bulletin before going to work at the arena. It debuted in September 1967, and Scheinfeld quickly became as indispensable as a Swiss army knife. “I always enjoyed doing a lot of things—especially being young and not knowing any better,” he says. “Looking back, I don’t know if we realized what we were doing. Ed Snider always said that, if he knew what he was doing, he would never have opened an arena and started a hockey team.”
Blades, Bands and Ballers takes readers from the early days (including the infamous incident where the arena’s roof blew off) through the 1970s, when the Flyers won two Stanley Cups and the building became a stop on every top entertainer’s tour. It ends with Scheinfeld’s encore. Though he’d left the Spectrum back in 1980, Snider asked him to return in 2008 to shut it down. In essence, Scheinfeld was there from the arena’s birth until its death. In between, there are plenty of great stories. “I swear 100 percent of what you are going to read is true and accurate—at least as I remember it,” Scheinfeld notes at the beginning of the book.
Among the priceless nuggets: After the Rolling Stones came to town, the Philadelphia Police Department presented Snider with a $63,000 bill for overtime. The Spectrum boss was furious, but he was also wary of then-Mayor Frank Rizzo, who’d been the city’s police chief. Scheinfeld had a relationship with Rizzo dating back to his time covering the city for The Bulletin. He arranged for Snider to meet with Rizzo, who wasn’t all that enamored of Snider. Scheinfeld began the meeting by handing Rizzo a gold-plated lifetime pass to all Spectrum events. Rizzo laughed. Then he tore up the bill. Snider was incredulous. For Scheinfeld, it was just another thing to cross off his to-do list.
Scheinfeld “took a lot of notes” during his time at the Spectrum, and that guided him when writing the book. His process was pretty simple. He started at the beginning. “All this stuff just came back to me,” he says. “It’s fascinating how many details I’d forgotten. I had to Google dates and names, but I was able to recall so much. It was so vivid. It just flowed. I want people to understand the heart and the soul of the building. We were in the belly of the beast, in the trenches. We made it happen.”