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So long to Ralph’s House: University Hall imploded

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ZACK WAJSGRAS/THE DAILY PROGRESS University Hall falls after charges explode during demolition on Saturday morning. Former players, coaches and University of Virginia officials gathered to watch the demolition on a hill near Klockner Stadium.

At first slowly, then all at once, the University of Virginia’s University Hall fell Saturday morning, leaving only rubble and a cloud of dust covering its iconic clamshell roof.

The implosion brought down the former home of the UVa men’s and women’s basketball programs, built in 1965, creating a symbolic end to an historic era for many former athletes.

Standing by Klöckner Stadium, a mixture of former athletes, their friends and families and members of the media gathered to share memories of the building, which loomed quietly in the distance.

UVa basketball legend Ralph Sampson was given the honor of pushing a fake plunger — alongside fellow legend Dawn Staley — symbolically bringing down 5,000 tons of concrete from the building’s roof.

Prior to the demolition, Sampson shared memories and musings about U-Hall. Though he said it was bittersweet to see the building demolished, he said the memories and bonds shared by athletes will endure.

“That building housed over 10,000 athletes in its life, and all those athletes got the chance to make memories together,” he said. “There will never be another building like University Hall.”

Carla Williams, UVa’s director of athletics, gave a speech immediately preceding the detonation, tracing the building’s long history, which saw UVa men and women’s basketball teams rise to prominence.

“Students-athletes of many sports trained, competed, studied and ate meals in U-Hall. As we look forward, these are the memories that will help propel Virginia athletics. A lot of people remember the games, but you remember the hard times,” she said. “You remember the sprints and the practice, the injuries, the bruises and the homesickness. So this facility was your home, and I understand that, and we don’t take that for granted.”

As a 10-second countdown began, one member of the crowd called for everyone to take one last look at “Ralph’s House.” When the countdown ended, a hush fell as the audience held its breath.

One by one, blasts went off, leaving thundering snaps of sound in their wake. As the last one erupted, the clamshell roof collapsed on itself, spewing small amounts of debris into the sky.

After a large dust cloud settled, the horizon now looked just a bit emptier, with the remains of the stadium laid bare.

The sounds of the implosion could be heard far away, including at the Stonefield shopping center, where Albemarle resident Lauren Johnson was shopping. Johnson said she was unsure what the sound was at first, but then remembered hearing about the implosion.

“Damn, I wish I could have seen it,” she said.

The demolition of U-Hall is part of the first phase of Virginia’s Athletics Master Plan. The adjacent buildings to U-Hall, Onesty Hall and the Cage have already been demolished.

Work to demolish “Ralph’s House,” which is where the Virginia men’s and women’s basketball teams played until 2006, began in 2018. First, toxic materials and asbestos were removed from the building. This spring, rippers and excavators ate away at the insides and exterior of U-Hall.

By Saturday, only the roof and load-bearing concrete pylons remained. A chain mail and fabric curtain has been hung around the pylons to contain the majority of dust and rubble from the implosion.

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Tyler Hammel is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact him at (434) 978-7268, thammel@dailyprogress.com or @TylerHammelVA on Twitter.

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Tyler is a reporter for the Daily Progress. You can reach him at (434) 978-7268

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