I’m on the tenth floor of UAB’s Faculty Office Tower at 5th Avenue South and 20th Street.
I'm standing at the window, drinking bad coffee from the break room and looking down, across 5th Avenue, at the pile of rubble that used to constitute -- until about 7:10 a.m. on Sunday -- the decaying body of the once-grand Parliament House hotel, Birmingham’s monument to 60s kitsch.
I watched the implosion, along with about 20 other people, from the seventh floor of the Kirklin Clinic parking deck at 5th Avenue South and Arrington Boulevard. I wouldn’t have missed it.
After all, I’m an experience junkie, and I had never witnessed an implosion up close and personal. I was living in Seattle in the late 90s when they brought down the Kingdome, but I missed it, for some stupid reason.
The most striking part of the demolition of the Parliament House for me was the percussive effect of the explosive charges. I didn’t count them, but I have the vague impression that I heard maybe five or six waves or volleys.
At any rate, I felt the explosions in my gut and, just for a few seconds, was overcome by a kind of sad, sick feeling that I was witnessing a hostile act, that something was being killed that didn’t want to die. It’s almost impossible to put into words.
The hotel crumbled and fell quickly, like a condemned prisoner shot by a firing squad, and threw up an enormous dirty-white cloud of dust against a threatening, gray-black sky.
The whole thing was over in a matter of seconds.
There was much hooting and hollering from spectators, and a wave of applause.
“Jesus,” exclaimed a young woman a few feet to my left, expressing a kind of shock and awe.
“That’s awesome,” said a twenty-something guy to my right, expressing the sheer exhilaration that so many guys -- including me -- often experience when they have the opportunity to watch something get blown up or shot down.
The dust cloud moved quickly to engulf the surrounding buildings, including the Kirklin Clinic and Liberty National, but it virtually disappeared by 7:15 a.m., barely five minutes after the implosion.
And that, my friends, was that, after 44 years, after all the parties and proms and banquets, after Bear Bryant and Broadway Joe and Bob Hope and Tricky Dick Nixon.
Somebody should post a videotape of the implosion on YouTube with a special music cue -- a few verses from Parliament House investor Doris Day’s biggest hit, “Que Sera, Sera.” You know the one. “Whatever will be will be, the future’s not ours to see,” and all that shit.
I must admit that I had no personal connection to the Parliament House, but I was still sad to see it go. The same building, had it been located in New York or L.A. or Miami Beach, would have been renovated by somebody like Ian Schrager or Andre Balaz and turned into a retro-cool Rat Pack pleasure pit, something along the lines of The Standard hotels.
Of course, this is Birmingham, a city that virtually no one visits if they don’t absolutely have to, a sad, broken town where, all too often, we don’t build or renovate, we destroy.