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Inside the abandoned former Super Bowl stadium that hosted Elvis Presley and Elton John before falling into disrepair

Jan 03, 2024Jan 03, 2024

THE city of Pontiac likely has mixed memories of the Silverdome.

Once at the cutting edge of stadium design, the Pontiac Silverdome's time in the limelight was ultimately short-lived.

Opened in 1975 to house the Detroit Lions, the Silverdome cost just over $55million to build and had a capacity of just over 80,000, making it the largest in the NFL.

This marked a huge step forward for the Lions, who had called the then 63-year-old Tigers Stadium - a traditional all-outdoors baseball stadium - home since 1938.

The Silverdome was the first of its kind, featuring a pressurized interior that held the fiberglass panel roof in place.

It was constructed during an era that saw America go dome-crazy.

Between 1965-1995 the Lions, Houston Oilers, Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, St. Louis Rams, and Atlanta Falcons all constructed variations on the domed stadium concept.

Only two of these stadiums (St. Louis and New Orleans) remain in use today.

Despite its relatively short existence, the Silverdome had its fair share of memorable moments over the decades.

The home of the Lions from 1975-2001, it also housed the NBA's Detroit Pistons from 1978-1988, the defunct NASL's Detroit Express from 1978-1980, and the defunct USFL's Michigan Panthers from 1983-1984.

The 1979 NBA All-Star Game headed for Pontiac, featuring the likes of Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, David Thompson, Julius Erving, and George Gerving.

Then in 1982, the dome saw Bill Walsh's legendary San Francisco 49ers beat the Cincinnati Bengals 26-21, in Super Bowl XVI.

The WWE's WrestleMania III also headed to Michigan in 1987, seeing Andre The Giant taking on Hulk Hogan in front of 93,173 fans - the second-highest crowd in the stadium's history behind Pope John Paul II's Mass later that year, per WFGR.

And in 1994, the four FIFA World Cup group games descended on Pontiac, making it the first indoor stadium to host the tournament, per The Game 730AM.

However, it wasn't all smooth sailing, with the dome's heat and humidity the subject of criticism from England coach Graham Taylor and Switzerland's Roy Hodgson.

USMNT star Thomas Dooley even went so far as to describe the stadium as "the worst place I have ever played" thanks to its "severe conditions," per SBNation.

But these were far from the only complaints levied against the stadium over the years.

The dome's roof collapsed in 1985 under the weight of snow, blanketing the interior with ripped fiberglass sheets.

While the roof was ultimately replaced with a different fabric, it wasn't enough to keep the Pistons from moving on to a new home - The Palace of Auburn Hills.

Eventually, the Lions decided to head for pastures new as well, moving to the newly built Ford Field in downtown Detroit in 2002.

In 2009, the Silverdome was sold to Greek-Canadian real estate developer Andreas Apostolopoulos for $583,000, who then spent another $6million on refurbishments, per Canadian Business.

However, despite a brief reopening, the roof collapsed again in 2013, essentially marking the end of its life.

In 2015, it was announced that the stadium would be demolished.

Two years later, demolishing commenced - or at least, it was attempted.

The planned implosion of the upper deck failed after "Roughly 10% of the explosive charges did not detonate due to a wiring issue," the Detroit Free Press was told by demolition contractor Adamo's executive vice president Rick Cuppetilli.

As such, while explosions rang out and smoke initially bellowed from the stadium, it still stood tall, defiant after years of neglect.

Eventually, the structure was bested, and in 2021, Amazon opened a Robotics Fulfillment Center on the site.