Judy McGlone was giddy before watching the Wellington Hotel Annex come down Saturday morning.
“Would you like to know why?” asked McGlone, who arrived an hour early at the Empire State Plaza with her daughter Lauren, 25, to watch the implosion planned for 9:30 a.m. “I lived there.”
She laughed, but she wasn’t kidding.
The 57-year-old Albany woman said she lived in the building as a junior at SUNY Albany in 1977 “because there was no room in the dorms and this is where they would send us.”
She said her neighbors were mostly transfer students and “students that decided that the dorm life was too wild.”
McGlone and her daughter were among thousands of people downtown to watch the 11-story building, built in the 1920s, fall. Many congregated on the plaza and others watched from the roof of the Madison Avenue parking garage. The building at Howard and State streets was imploded to clear the way for a $66.5 million convention center.
“I’m not too distraught,” McGlone said as the implosion loomed. “My one girlfriend said she left her favorite pen there and could I go and get it for her.”
Brian Barton, 49, of Wilton, was on the plaza with his father and three kids. His youngest daughter, Eliza, 9, borrowed her grandpa’s binoculars to scope out a view.
“That’s a perfect spot,” she said, removing the binoculars from her eyes.
“We’re looking forward to the building dropping to the ground,” her father said of eyesore. “It seems like an improvement if they’re going to take that one out.”
The implosion went off a few minutes after 9:30 a.m. and brought the building down within seconds. Harold Grimm of Lansingburgh peered out from under The Egg, bright-eyed.
“Cool,” the 52-year-old Navy veteran said. “That’s one of the best I’ve seen since I was in the military.”
“Usually there’s flying tank parts,” he added.
Joseph Nicolla, president of Columbia Development Cos., said it went “better than planned.”
“I think it was just as expected,” said Nicolla, whose company sold the site to the Albany Convention Center Authority in July and agreed to clean it up as part of that deal.
What most people didn’t expect, however, was to see fireworks, too.
The building’s loud collapse was prefaced with a 40-second display put on by Fireworks by Grucci of Long Island, which set the Guinness world record for largest fireworks display on New Year’s Eve in Dubai.
Before the 75 pounds of dynamite brought the building down, red and blue fireworks — and flames — shot out. Colorful smoke hung in the air and spelled “I Love (shown with a heart) NY.”
Nicolla said it was a “last-minute” decision to enlist the fireworks company to add some bang to the already explosive — er, implosive — event, which lasted just over a minute.
“I decided if we were going to do it, we might as well make it an event,” he said.
Jackson Demolition of Schenectady was charged with imploding the building and worked with Maryland-based Control Demolition Inc., the company that imploded the Seattle Kingdome in 2000. By Nicolla’s estimation, the entire implosion, without the fireworks, took 15 seconds: a half-second for each of the first eight blasts, a 4-second delay, eight more half-second blasts and the 3 seconds it took for the building to fall in on itself.
A plume of brown dust briefly covered the Times Union Center garage — including a white car still parked on the roof — engulfed nearby buildings and flooded surrounding streets, which were closed to traffic. There was no reported damage to buildings, however, and no injuries were reported.
Nicolla said the pile of rubble will take about two weeks to clean up. The site will then be turned over to the Albany Convention Center Authority.
Columbia Development Cos. is also transforming the former DeWitt Clinton hotel at Eagle and State streets into a nearly $50 million Renaissance by Marriott with a parking garage. The garage will be connected to the new convention center by a pedestrian bridge.
“We’re taking the old, and we’re going with the new,” Albany County Executive Dan McCoy said during a brief ceremony before the blasts went off.
McGlone reminisced about her old room at Wellington, describing it as “an old-fashioned hotel room” complete with its own bathroom. She recalled having to enter the building, now a pile of concrete and bricks, underground from State Street.
“In the front building of the Wellington, there were residents there,” she said. “There was an old barbershop, a diner, people who had lived there forever. It was like entering the ’30s.”
She took a lot of pictures Saturday, which she planned to share with her Wellington friends. She’s not on Facebook, but she didn’t need a social media site to find them.
“I’ve stayed friends with them,” she said. “I made permanent friends at the Wellington.”