On March 21, 2004, one of the most iconic structures in the Philadelphia landscape was brought down to concrete rubble. Veterans Stadium, opened in 1971 and located on famed Broad Street, housed the Philadelphia Phillies and Philadelphia Eagles until 2003 when they moved across the street to the brand new Citizens Bank Park and Lincoln Financial Field.
Most Phillies and Eagles fans remember that day when Mayor John Street, Phillies legend, Greg Luzinski, and the Phillies Phanatic, pushed the detonator button to implode the structure but did they really push “the” button? Behind the scenes, one of our local Greek-Americans was there, and as the fifteenth-anniversary approaches, he is here to tell Cosmos Philly the real story.
Nick Peetros, a native of Broomall, Pennsylvania, and a graduate of Marple Newtown High School and Drexel University, where he received his B.S. in Civil Engineering, was working for L.F. Driscoll Company when it was awarded the contract to build the new Citizens Bank Park. Included in the scope of work, Driscoll would also oversee the demolition of the Vet and the construction of the new parking lot for the new stadium. At that time, it had not been decided whether to implode the structure or take it down conventionally. After two years of planning and meetings with the City, it was agreed that the Vet would be imploded.
Peetros, who still lives in Delaware County with his wife, Leslie, and his children Alex, Emily, and Nico, remembers the events leading up to the implosion of the Vet and the day that he brought the famed house down.
CP: Tell us about the “buzz” around the company being awarded the contract to implode Veterans Stadium?
Peetros: The buzz around the implosion was huge, but nothing compared to the frenzy of fans who all wanted something from the Vet while we prepared it for its demise. It got so bad that we finally started dumping piles of crushed concrete against the iron fencing so fans would stop climbing over the fence. People would risk their lives for a urine-soaked chunk of concrete! We received phone calls from all over the country from fans who wanted something from the Vet. Astroturf, seats, lockers, pitcher’s mound dirt, or the Willie Mays “star.” You name it… someone wanted it. You can still go into restaurants in this area and see items salvaged from the Vet hanging on the walls, such as Chickie & Pete’s for example. As the date for implosion got closer, we were contacted by all of the major news outlets, including The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Magazine, and the local NBC, CBS, and ABC news affiliates. The Phillies had a full-time press agent assigned just for the implosion. The History Channel even filmed an hour-long episode of “Guts and Bolts” dedicated to the implosion. They were on site five times over a period of six months and were filming us on the day of the implosion as we did our thing. Never before had so many eyes been watching, failure was not an option. If this didn’t go down smoothly, not only would I lose my job, but I’d have to move to another country to avoid the ridicule and shame.
CP: How were you chosen to push the detonation button?
Peetros: I was the Project Manager responsible for the demolition and implosion of Veterans Stadium. This meant that I was also responsible to lead the process of obtaining a blasting permit from the City of Philadelphia. I was invited to press the real button on the morning of the implosion as a result of my assistance to the blaster during that process. I had previously pressed the button for the test shot but didn’t expect what happened that morning. I received a call over the radio about thirty minutes prior requesting my presence at the blasting station, which was located on Broad Street about 200 yards from the stadium. When I arrived, I was told that I would be the one to press the button. It was a great surprise.
CP: How were you feeling up to the time of the implosion?
Peetros: I was nervous but confident that everything would go as planned. We spent thousands of hours planning the implosion. We ran computer simulations and even hired experts to perform wind studies so that we would know which way the dust would go. Even with all of that planning, there was no guarantee that it was going to work as planned, but I trusted my team would pull through.
CP: Who was around you at the time you pushed the button?
Peetros: My brother Mark, Steve Pettigrew (blaster of record), Frank Bardonaro (President of AmQuip Crane Rental Company), Tim Beggy (Host of “Guts and Bolts”), a History Channel cameraman, and a boom mic operator. There may have been one or two more people there, but it was a small group in either case. There was no one closer than this group of people to the Vet when it came down.
CP: Explain how you were feeling and what was going on around you at the time you pushed the button?
Peetros: It was eerily silent that morning. The only sound was a single police helicopter overhead. There were no pedestrians, no traffic, no police: just the ten of us and a little yellow box. As we got closer, I could feel my heart beating faster and faster. Everyone was extremely focused and followed protocol to the letter. Once the building was on the ground, I felt a profound sense of relief and pride and could finally stop worrying.
CP: We know you’re a Philadelphia Eagles and Phillies fan, how did you feel imploding the house where Mike Schmidt and Ron Jaworski played?
Peetros: Personally, I didn’t have a problem imploding the Vet. Besides the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity it presented, I was thrilled that Philadelphia fans were finally going to get the stadiums they deserve. I think everyone would agree that Lincoln Financial Field and Citizens Bank Park are much better homes for our beloved Eagles and Phillies.
CP: The 15th anniversary is coming up on March 21, 2019, now that you look back almost fifteen years, how do you feel about your part in Philadelphia history?
Peetros: It’s hard to believe that it’s been fifteen years since we imploded the Vet and opened Citizens Bank Park. It feels fresh in my mind, and I think about that project often. I still love going to games at Citizens Bank Park with my kids and was thrilled to be there when the Phillies won the World Series in 2008. I’m very proud of being a small part of Philadelphia sports history.
CP: We know that Mayor John Street, Greg Luzinski, and the Phillies Phanatic were there to push the dummy detonator, can we find your name anywhere – The man who actually pushed the real button?
Peetros: Yes, in addition to appearing in the episode of “Guts and Bolts,” you can read about me on the Vet Stadium Wikipedia page. Although we had set a world record for the longest implosion of a single structure, which was sixty-two seconds, Guinness sadly had no interest in creating a new category just for me. There was also an article that I was interviewed for which appeared in Philadelphia Magazine around October 2003. I was invited to appear on ESPN’s “Cold Pizza” the Monday after the implosion. However, they could not wait and booked my spot while I waited for the Phillies’ lawyers to give me the “OK” to appear.
CP: Are there any other building or physical landmarks you have imploded that were memorable?
Peetros: Yes, I imploded the Queen Lane Apartments in the Germantown section of Philadelphia on September 13, 2014. This was the first building to be imploded in Philadelphia under the new demolition regulations which were issued as a result of the Salvation Army store collapse which killed six people in 2013. Obviously, everyone was very nervous, but we brought in Controlled Demolition, Inc., who have imploded the most buildings of any company on the planet. The Queen Lane Apartments was built on the site of a Potter’s field and resulted in a twenty-seven-month delay to the project. After many meetings and numerous agreements, we successfully brought the structure down in eight seconds without breaking a single window.
CP: Give us an idea about your Greek American background, what aspects of the culture and/or faith do you practice?
Peetros: I am extremely proud of my Greek heritage and treasure the bond with other Greek-Americans. I was baptized Greek Orthodox but observe both American and Greek holidays of Easter and Christmas. We also celebrate name days. My father taught us Greek since it was his first language, and made sure we knew every English word with a Greek root! Our family was in the restaurant business, so food was also a big part of my Greek heritage. We never miss an opportunity to support our local Greek Orthodox churches by attending the various fairs and festivals held throughout the year. I am a supporter of the Greek American Heritage Society of Philadelphia, and dream of traveling to Greece someday.
CP: Family ancestry. Tell us about your Greek roots?
Peetros: Both of my grandparents on my dad’s side came to the United States from Greece in the early Twentieth Century. My grandfather lived in Colorado for a short time before moving back east to marry my grandmother, who he had never met. My grandparents settled in West Philadelphia and raised five children.
CP: After you blow up or implode a building, what do you – celebrate, kick back with a beer, have a cigarette?
Peetros: Yes, typically there is a celebration or party after an implosion, but not until after the cleanup is complete. It took about six hours to clean up the dust from the Vet and about four hours for Queen Lane. The party for the Vet implosion was very large and included the VIPs, David Montgomery, the Mayor, coaches, players, and the Phillies Phanatic among others.
CP: Summarize yourself. Who is Nick Peetros and what do you see yourself doing in ten, twenty years from now?
Peetros: I’m a serious guy who’s trying to have fun along the way. I like engineering, science, film, music, and art. I’m also a guy who loves to blow stuff up and tear things apart. I could watch an opera with my wife and tractor pull with my kids on the same day. My philosophy is that life is too short to not live out your dreams. I have been very fortunate to have had success working in the construction industry but I’m ready to move on. Outside of my regular work, I am currently producing an independent horror film called “Room 9” and working on several other film productions in various capacities (acting/producing). I’ll also be appearing in the pilot for a new animated series called “A Fowl American.” I plan to continue managing the consulting engineering company I founded in 2008 (Acropolis Consulting, LLC), but intend to be producing and acting full-time fifteen years from now.