“The ASARCO plant site had nearly 100 years of history, beginning as the Ryan Smelter, a lead-refining company built by investor Dennis Ryan in 1888. Two years later it became the Tacoma Smelting and Refining Company, under the ownership of William Rust (1850-1928) who began modernizing and expanding the facility. Rust sold the plant for $5.5 million in 1905 to the American Smelter and Refining Company (ASARCO), which converted the plant for copper smelting and refining in 1912.” – www.historylink.org/File/8744
My wife Peggy and I used to own a couple of houses in Ruston, the site of the Asarco plant. Renters loved Ruston houses because Asarco paid for garbage disposal and other utilities. I remember the Italian prune plums grew nicely in the back yard of one of our rentals. A friend, Brad Brailsford who lived nearby also had an Italian prune plum tree that produced excellent fruit. Our own home was just outside the boundary of Ruston. When the smokestack was scheduled for demolition, I was a member of the Rotary Club of Tacoma #8 and so was Tom Aldrich of Asarco. He hired our company to produce a documentary about the site including the demolition of the stack.
Peggy and our friend Dell Dennison from the Tacoma Ad Club recorded interviews with past workers and others who lived in the area. The production was called “Bricks, Cheers, and Tears.” We also scouted out the best locations for videotaping the demolition and worked with the local broadcast TV production people to make sure they knew where to get the best shots. In the last few days before the implosion I worked with the demolition experts as they drilled holes and filled them with explosives. The January winds were troublesome. The crew was up on a cherry picker and the wind frequently blew their hard hats off and down to the ground. I could only shoot them wearing proper protection gear. It was cold!
On the day of the demolition we had one camera inside the security fence and four outside. My position was near the end of Orchard Street a little over a block from our home. I had a cameraman there prepared to follow the top of the stack as it fell. I videotaped the crowd looking for a nice reaction shot and nailed it. Everyone was just standing nonchalantly and waiting. When the explosion boomed the people in the front stepped back a foot or more into the rest of the crowd. The look on their faces was priceless.
We asked people to videotape the demolition and then give us the footage. At the end of the documentary we had numerous views of the stack coming down thanks to neighbors and fellow producers.
On October 28, 2014 over 150 people attended the Tacoma Smelter History Exhibit Grand Opening. The exhibit is located at Point Ruston in the building between the cinema and Dolci Si. At the exhibit you can push a detonator plunger and start a slide/video show of the implosion.
People drove for miles to see the demolition. Pleasure craft and even the Vashon ferry took positions to watch. It was estimated that 100,000 people gatherd to witness the detonation. 100,000 minus one perhaps. My buddy, Randy Melquist lived on North Bristol, which didn’t have a view of the smokestack, so he waited on our deck to watch it. Just before the explosion he stepped back into the house and missed the demolition. Once the charges were set off it only took eight seconds to reduce the smokestack to rubble. Our crew near the locked-down camera kept shooting as the dust approached.
You can watch a short music video about the demolition of the Asarco Smoke Stack in Ruston on Youtube. The music was written and performed by Jay Irwin. The video was produced by PNW Video Productions: www.pnwvideo.com. You can see a a longer version at the History Exhibit – Enjoy – youtu.be/ENhYXJA3d6Q
Photo credit for Asarco demolition: Brad Brailsford (he has an entire series) – brad-brailsford.pixels.com