Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. officials said the best place to watch the implosion of a gas tank Sunday morning would be on TV, but residents of the nearby Medfield community near Hampden strongly disagreed.
They gathered 100 strong at the Roland Ridge Apartments, in the 4400 block of Laplata Avenue, shortly after 6 a.m., to bid farewell — and watch a good show — as BGE brought down the 79-year-old relic at West Cold Spring Lane and the Jones Falls Expressway.
"I'm going to miss it because it's always been there," said Paul Smith, 62.
Yellow police tape blocked the entrance to the apartment complex, and the sidewalk was as close as the public could get. Explosives technicians from Phoenix-based Controlled Demoliton Inc., a BGE contractor, stood in the parking lot with hand-held walkie-talkie radios, communicating with CDI officials at a staging area near the JFX. CDI workers also handed out orange earplugs.
"Clark, are you in position and clear?" came a voice over Clark Jeunette's walkie-talkie.
"Yes," said Jeunette, of Bel Air, a former Hampden resident, who used to work for CDI and was called in as a consultant for Sunday's implosion.
Also on the job was CDI's Jamie Waring, 29, who had helped set the charges for the implosion.
"It's the ultimate man's job," said his brother, Allan Waring, 32, who was watching from the apartment complex with their mother, Donna Waring, and family friends from as far away as Charlottesville, Va.
Now, Jamie Waring was stationed on the 41st Street bridge, filming the implosion of the tank for CDI's website and posterity on You Tube, his mother said.
"It's going to be odd to come down 83 and not see it anymore," said Donna Waring's friend, Deb Proby, who came from Lutherville to watch and brought a folding chair, blankets and a comforter.
"It'll be completely different," agreed Paul Bowers, 66, of Medfield.
Tom Kerr, of Edgehill Avenue, packed five friends from the neighborhood into his Hyundai Sonata and drove several blocks to Roland Ridge Apartments to see the tank.
"It's been here all my life," said Kerr, 69, former longtime organizer of the Hampden Mayor's Christmas Parade, who is sometimes referred to as the unofficial mayor of Hampden.
Heather Piercy, 23, who is studying Counseling at Loyola University Maryland, has only lived at the apartment complex since August, but had already gotten used to have the tank as a local landmark.
"It's like a sign that I'm close to home," she said.
In 1997, BGE retired the steel-sheathed "Melvale gas holder," which stood 258 feet tall, with a circumference of 218 feet. Located on a 26-acre site that BGE purchased in 1932 in an area called Melvale, the gas tank was constructed to meet customer demand for natural gas, adding gas to the area network of pipelines when demand increased and storing it when demand was lower.
The internal roof rose or lowered, depending on the gas volume, according to background information provided by BGE.
Such gas holders were rendered obsolete over the years, as BGE upgraded to a regional gas system that included higher-pressure pipelines and modern storage facilities at other locations. BGE decided to implode it rather than spend several million dollars to repaint and maintain it, a spokesman said earlier this month.
A half hour later than planned, Jeunette's walkie-talkie crackled with a countdown from 10, followed by the order, "Fire!"
Then came a big boom. Before the crowd's eyes, the tank crumbled to the ground.
"Holy ..." someone in the crowd shouted.
"That was a lot faster than I thought," Jeunette said.
Kerr took a last look and went home.
"That's a wrap," he said.