CLEARWATER — Guy Napolitano of Largo has driven by the building with the big hot-air balloon on the side for years.
Millie Lyons of Pinellas Park remembers seeing the Spyglass Hotel, the balloon mural's canvas, when she moved to the area in 1978.
When they heard that the nine-story building was going to be reduced to rubble, they had to be there to see it.
"The balloon is a landmark, and it's one you will never forget," Napolitano, 49, said Thursday morning, as daylight revealed the wreckage from the night before.
Lyons, 62, concurred as the each managed to snatch a brick from the rubble as a souvenir.
"But its time has come and gone," Lyons said. "I like progress. I'm a Gemini. I like change and this is another change that has come."
Wednesday evening, nearly 25,000 thrill-seekers crowded Clearwater Beach to watch what was once the island's tallest edifice come tumbling down.
No, the building with the mural was not the draw for most. That would be illusionist Criss Angel, who walked away from the imploding hotel after being locked to a railing on a sixth-floor balcony. The feat was captured live on Angel's nationally televised show, Mindfreak.
But some people took time to acknowledge the building's place in Clearwater history. Some loved it, some hated it, but few disputed that its time had come.
"I'm glad to see it come down," said Jim Barge, 38, of Clearwater as he viewed the rubble. "It was an eyesore. It's been empty for a while, and I'm totally glad."
The 64-room Spyglass Resort was built in 1971 for about $1-million. At the time, the building on S Gulfview Boulevard was the tallest building on the beach. In November 1978, Roger Bansemer, a Clearwater native, spent six days painting the 100-foot-tall balloon mural on the side of the hotel.
It would become a visual landmark.
The building has sat empty for several years and transformed from a proud spectacle to a blemish in the beach's skyline. With 450 sticks of dynamite and a national audience watching, the Spyglass became 4,500 tons of hardened mud and clay rubbish and part of Clearwater's past.
In its place will be a swanky 250-room resort with 200 time-shares.
Timothy Hughes, 44, of New Port Richey will not forget the mural. His mother would bring him to Clearwater Beach when he was a child and he'd always look for the big hot-air balloon.
This week, Hughes took two vacation days from work and brought his 12-year-old son and his son's friend to see the implosion. The youngsters are Angel fans and were interested in the illusionist. Hughes was there for a different reason.
"I was really more interested in the building," he said.
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 445-4174.