By Rebecca Parr
Staff Writer, Bay Area News Group
HAYWARD -- A landmark that dominated the city's skyline for more than four decades collapsed in seconds Saturday in a cloud of dust as a demolition crew imploded 13-story Warren Hall.
Crews detonated the building at 9 a.m. After a series of loud cracks from the explosives, puffs of dust and smoke shot out from between the floors, the building leaned slightly and fell in a heap.
A crowd of more than 1,000 gathered in the Kmart parking lot below the Cal State East Bay campus grew quiet at the two-minute warning announced over loudspeakers. Cameras readied. Once the loud reports starting the explosions began, people started yelling and applauding.
"Wow, unbelievable," said Eva Heitmann, of Vallejo, after the implosion. "All I can say is, wow."
Seven-year-old Lachlan Riley-Wilson, of Hayward, said that "besides sunsets that was the most amazing thing I've seen. My mouth was open."
About 150 invited guests, including university and Hayward area officials, had gathered at Lot N on the Cal State East Bay campus, across a track field from the hall. They were encouraged to wear earplugs and dust masks for the implosion.
During brief comments, Rob Warren, grandson of the university booster for whom the building was named, said, "It's odd to stand here and talk about my grandfather while you are all fervently waiting for (Warren Hall) to be blown up."
Cal State East Bay hosted a demolition party at the Kmart parking lot. Some spectators arrived early for tailgate parties, and the lot was full by 8 a.m. Nearby streets were jammed as people jockeyed for a spot to watch.
Music blared from loudspeakers, including AC/DC's "T.N.T.," as people milled about, chatted and shared memories. Many said they just came because they had never seen a building blow up.
One couple, Martha Pena and Yoshi Grippin, of Castro Valley, met in the building during an English class in 1998. Married in 2008, they now have three girls.
"It was a staple in our family; our daughters knew that's where we met," Pena said.
"I will be missing it, after seeing it come down like that," said Rich Lopez, who worked in the tower from 1971 to 1995.
The former administration building at Cal State East Bay has been vacant for two years after it was declared the most seismically unsafe structure in the university system. The Hayward Fault zone lies less than half a mile away.
Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey are using the implosion to study the Hayward Fault, via 600 seismographs that have been placed in a radius around the demolition site.
USGS scientist Rufus Catchings was pleased with the way the hall imploded in terms of research results.
"That building dropped in a continuous bam-bam-bam-bam," he said. "That will give a continuous signal for 8 to 10 seconds, a steady source of energy."
He said scientists don't expect results from the sensors for three months or so.
After watching the fall, Cal State East Bay President Leroy M. Morishita said it went "very, very well."
"I'll miss it, but there wasn't a choice here," said Assemblyman Bill Quirk. "Particularly when flying, pass by it and you knew you were in Hayward."
After determining that it would cost less to tear down and replace the structure than to retrofit it, California State University regents authorized $50 million to demolish Warren Hall and instead construct a new administration building.
The building came down almost exactly as planned, said Jim Zavagno, Cal State East Bay associate vice president for facilities. From afar, it appeared a section of the tower was still standing. "There is a large piece that's down, but leaning against the debris pile," he said. "We're thrilled with how it turned out."
The campus was shut down Friday night for safety reasons and will reopen Monday. Soon after the implosion, Silverado Contractors started clearing debris, which will take several weeks.
Warren Hall opened in 1971 and was named in 1980 for E. Guy Warren, a local businessman who played a key role in getting a university built in Hayward.
The Rev. Chuck Horner of Calvary Baptist Church in Hayward summed up the feelings of many viewing the implosion: "Everybody wants to see things blow up, don't they?"