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Looking Back: 25 years ago, the Soreno Hotel went out with a bang

On Jan. 25, 1992, the Soreno went out in an 11-second blaze of glory. Scheduled for demolition anyway, the hotel was blown up on camera for a role in Lethal Weapon III, starring Danny Glover and Mel Gibson (although stunt doubles were in town for the on-camera work). Glover and Gibson were not here.
On Jan. 25, 1992, the Soreno went out in an 11-second blaze of glory. Scheduled for demolition anyway, the hotel was blown up on camera for a role in Lethal Weapon III, starring Danny Glover and Mel Gibson (although stunt doubles were in town for the on-camera work). Glover and Gibson were not here.
Published Jan. 26, 2017

This story appeared in the pages of the St. Petersburg Times on January 26, 1992. What follows is the text of the original story, interspersed with photos of the event taken by Times staff photographers Brian Baer, Kathleen Cabble and Maurice Rivenbark.

LIGHTS, CAMERA, KA-BOOM!

By Stephen Koff and Will Rodgers, Times Staff Writers

"Perfect."

That was Mark Loizeaux's technical assessment of the 11-second demise of the Soreno Hotel, which Saturday morning crumbled into a neat pile of debris moments after Lethal Weapon III's explosives sent red fireballs blasting through the roof.

Loizeaux's Controlled Demolition Inc. and a Hollywood film crew brought to rest the 68-year-old landmark, whose past and future in this growth-hungry city were debated as late as 11:54 a.m. One minute later, the "Save the Soreno" signs of protesters on Bayshore Drive became moot.

With what police estimate were 5,000 spectators cheering from downtown rooftops, sidewalks and The Pier, the Soreno came toppling down _ a series of booms, balls of flame flaring from the front and roof, flying debris and a wall of smoke and dust that coated cars and sidewalks.

TIMES | Kathleen Cabble

TIMES | Kathleen Cabble

TIMES | Kathleen Cabble

TIMES | Kathleen Cabble

"It went perfectly," said Michael Klastorin, an associate producer for Lethal Weapon III. "It went like clockwork. It was everything that we had hoped and expected it would be, and it will add immeasurably to our film."

"It was shocking," said Richard Snipes, a spectator who tried to videotape the implosion but had technical difficulty.

He can look for scenes in theaters in late May.

TIMES | Brian Baer

TIMES | Brian Baer

TIMES | Brian Baer

TIMES | Brian Baer

TIMES | Maurice Rivenbark

TIMES | Maurice Rivenbark

For the record, Warner Bros. wanted it known that it decided to film the explosion only after the Soreno was slated for demolition. The Soreno is controlled through a lease by developer Bay Plaza Cos., which wanted the building razed for redevelopment. The City Council gave Bay Plaza that right last month, and Bay Plaza paid Controlled Demolition about $631,000. Warner Bros. paid additional money to set up its own explosives.

"We do regret the loss of the building," Klastorin said. "And it was not until Dick Donner and Joel Silver" _ Lethal Weapon's director and producer, respectively _ "were assured that this building was going to come down, whether or not we were here, did we make our decision. If we could have saved this building by staying away, we would have."

TIMES | Kathleen Cabble

TIMES | Kathleen Cabble

TIMES | Kathleen Cabble

TIMES | Kathleen Cabble

TIMES | Kathleen Cabble

TIMES | Kathleen Cabble

TIMES | Kathleen Cabble

TIMES | Kathleen Cabble

Lethal Weapon III's stars did stay away _ the result of a disagreement between Warner Bros. and Bay Plaza. Warner Bros., which filmed the scene using stunt doubles for Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, wanted Bay Plaza to wait until Thursday before imploding the hotel at Beach Drive NE and First Avenue, according to lawyer Charlie Ann Scott of Sarasota.

Gibson and Glover have been filming scenes in California, and Saturday's date was impossible for them to meet, she said.

But Bay Plaza insisted on moving forward, resulting in a scene Saturday without the movie's stars _ and without Donner, the director.

"Whether Mel or Danny are here, it's still going to be a spectacular scene," Klastorin said. "And when you see this scene" in the theater, "you will believe that they were here."

Robert Kaufman, a Bay Plaza attorney, said the company would not budge because "we wanted to bring the building down on the weekend, when it would be less disruptive to the businesses and traffic."

"We had mobilized police, firemen and demolition teams, and we weren't prepared to demobilize them," Kaufman said.

The whole explosion, including the Soreno's collapse, seemed to last only three seconds. In reality, it took three times that long after the pushing of a button connected to a wire running out of the hotel's back side and through a lot behind the Soreno.

First there were special-effects pyrotechnics blasts lasting 2.1 seconds. Warner Bros. used "about 200 pounds of black powder," with 27 rapid-fire delays in their explosions, Loizeaux said. Then came a 2.8-second lapse to let the smoke clear for the cameras.

Next, about 178 pounds of explosives, placed in holes drilled in the support beams, went off in sequence, allowing the middle of the seven-story structure to fall in while the outer wings trembled and then, much like an envelope, fell on top of one another. That process, called implosion, lasted four more seconds _ timed to allow movie cameras to "see the building rock," Loizeaux said. It took another two seconds for all the building to land in rubble.

Crowds immediately ran from the far sidewalk on Bayshore Drive across the street and into Straub Park to get near the scene, but police quickly sent them back. The implosion ruptured a small gas line, but the leak was repaired quickly.

TIMES | Brian Baer

TIMES | Brian Baer

TIMES | Kathleen Cabble

TIMES | Kathleen Cabble

TIMES | Brian Baer

TIMES | Brian Baer

TIMES | Brian Baer

TIMES | Brian Baer

TIMES | Brian Baer

TIMES | Brian Baer

Times staff writer Tim Rozgonyi contributed to this post. Contact Jeremy King at jking@tampabay.com.