The Kingdome, which would have been 42 years old tomorrow, was imploded exactly 18 years ago today—March 26. The multi-purpose stadium hosted the Seahawks, the Mariners, and even the Sonics when the team wasn’t playing at the Coliseum (now Key Arena).
The Kingdome was first approved in 1968 as part of an urban renewal package called “Forward Thrust”—which brought Seattle the stadium, the aquarium, some parks, and neighborhood improvements, but failed to bring us a rapid transit system. But the approval came after a long and fraught battle for a stadium (sound familiar?) that included, among other ideas, a pitch for a floating arena.
$40 million in funding was approved, the bond amount was based on a 4.65 percent interest rate—which muddied the budget considerably as rates rose to 6 percent. The stadium also found itself subject to the brand-new Environmental Protection Act, which made the project subject to the impact statements that are commonplace in big Seattle projects today.
Added work and cost aside, Seattle citizens weren’t sure where to put it. An ad-hoc committee decided that the Seattle Center was the best place for a stadium, but, after advocacy from a Seattle Center preservation group, voters rejected the location in another vote in 1970. King County launched a feasibility study and determined that the stadium could still be built for $40 million off King Street if parking wasn’t included in the budget.
Groundbreaking moved forward at that location, but that spot wasn’t without its impacts; residents of the International District, a neighborhood already torn through by Interstate 5 construction, protested that stadium events would be overwhelming to the neighborhood. A march from a neighborhood drop-in center disrupted the stadium’s groundbreaking, but construction still moved forward.
The stadium was dedicated November 2, 1972. Construction would last through 1975.
During the construction period, the project was plagued with even more controversy. In 1973, a steel tower fell on a construction worker. Ultimately, after falling 300 days behind schedule, contractor Donald M. Drake Company lost its contractor with the county.
A new set of contractors, Architects Naramore, Bain, Brady & Johanson and engineering form Skilling, Helle, Christiansen & Robertson, took over the project, and ended up finishing the project for a total final price tag $30 million—a little worrisome considering the budget woes the county had been bracing for. That included what the team called the “largest thin shell concrete dome in the world, 660 feet in diameter.”
When the stadium, officially named the King County Multipurpose Domed Stadium, opened its doors on March 27, 1976, more than 54,000 people attended to watch more than 6,000 performers. The event coincided with the United States’ bicentennial. In its first year, the Dome saw 2,425,000 visitors, including 62,532 football fans for a single game against Los Angeles.
Despite popularity, the stadium wasn’t without its problems. On July 19, 1994, when the stadium was not yet 20, the Mariners were preparing for a game against the Orioles when one of the stadium’s 26-pound ceiling tiles crashed onto the field. Eventually, a total of four tiles fell, forcing the Mariners on a 21-day away-game streak and pushing the Seahawks to Husky Stadium through November.
The failing roof became one of the arguments in favor of a new stadium for the Seahawks, now Centurylink Field: A “no” vote on Referendum 48, a ballot measure led by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen, would mean “a continued $70 million hangover coming right out of your pocket left from the Kingdome roof falling in,” wrote former Washington State governors Dan Evans and Booth Gardner in a June 1, 1997 op-ed for the Seattle Times.
“That adds up to over $5 million a year in King County sales and property taxes that could be used for essential services,” they continued. “And it doesn’t even count the more than $40 million needed for repairs and maintenance that will give us only a substandard stadium. An independent King County task force even concluded it would cost tens of millions more for a professional-quality facility.”
Building what was originally called Qwest Field was controversial in its own right. As Allen spent millions getting the stadium through—not to mention the $200 million he spent buying the Seahawks—Ralph Nader traveled to Washington State to support the opposition, claiming that the stadium measure is “putting the bulk of the burden on Joe Sixpack.”
In his own op-ed for the Times, Democratic state legislator Tim Sheldon argued that the campaign amounted to special tax breaks for Allen just for purchasing the Seahawks. “This deal is Robin Hood in reverse,” he wrote.
The new stadium ended up passing by a narrow margin, with 51.15 percent in favor—making the Kingdome’s days officially numbered.
Controlled Demolition Inc. designed the stadium’s implosion, which split the stadium’s ribs into six equal segments, split apart by explosives in two phases targeting the Kingdome’s structural system. The resulting visual outlined the stadium’s roof, like an ashy inside of an orange.
The explosions were detonated at 8:32 a.m. on March 26, 2000, and took 16.8 seconds to complete the job. It was a major news event, with local stations airing countdown clocks and multiple angles of the destruction. Those working in downtown high-rises with views of the stadium hosted viewing parties.
One popular video on Youtube shows a view from the Amazon headquarters at the time.
Coverage from KING 5 showed both the bleachers and the roof coming apart.
KIRO 7’s chopper gave a more big-picture view of the action.
A video by Controlled Demolition shows multiple angles of the exterior, including the ramps winding up the side.
The implosion came less than a decade after the discovery of the Seattle Fault, which runs by the area—prompting U.S. Geological Survey and University of Washington (UW) researchers to install seismometers throughout the city to research how a quake from the fault would impact the city. After the demolition caused the equivalent of a 2.3 quake on the Richter scale, a UW researcher told the Oregonian that the signal “was much better than we had hoped for”—it gave some idea as to how ground conditions can amplify shaking around the city.
Here’s one more video for good measure, this one filmed from the 77th floor of the Columbia Tower.
- King County voters on Forward Thrust bonds approve stadium and aquarium and nix transit on February 13, 1968 [HL]
- Kingdome Protest and HUD March, Nov., 1972 [UW]
- Kingdome: The Controversial Birth of a Seattle Icon (1959-1976) [HL]
- Kingdome in Seattle opens to a crowd of 54,000 on March 27, 1976 [HL]
- Kingdome implosion could give greater understanding of Seattle Fault [UW]