As of 6:59 a.m. Monday, the southern University of Alabama skyline looked much as it had for more than 50 years. In the distance, curved rooftops of the athletic buildings and Coleman Coliseum rose above tree lines; further east, DCH Regional Medical Center stands out. Nestled between scatterings of trees sit rows of dorms, instructional buildings, businesses and more, few of them rising more than three floors.
Roughly 24 seconds after 7, following a controlled demolition of several hundred pounds of dynamite placed strategically throughout the building, all 13 floors of Julia Tutwiler Hall, the freshman dorm for UA women since 1968, fell inward to a fragmented pile of rubble, towers of smoke billowing out to obscure the collapsing view.
Less than 15 minutes later, the roils of white, gray and brown smoke had cleared well enough to witness the remains, with living space removed, all 270,225 gross square feet nestled in a heap not even as tall as the Supe Store next door.
From deck 8 of Bryant Denny Stadium, the most eye-grabbing building in sight had been the second Tutwiler Hall. The first residence to be named for the educator and prison reformer had been situated roughly where Rose Administration sits now. This Tutwiler was opened to students in 1968, standing out as the sore-thumb modernist building on a largely traditional campus, rising to 13 floors, though its numerals jumped from 12th to 14th, because of superstition.
Monday morning the distinctive Tutwiler was surrounded by debris, a rough ring of construction equipment, and flying drones, some employed by the demolition crew to keep an eye on all angles, with others from city of Tuscaloosa police and fire departments. A mighty misting machine blew up toward the splayed-Y-shape, hoping to add to the humidity, and keep the coming dust tamped down.
Sirens could be heard, an impending warning for the site, which had been cleared for blocks around. As Denny Chimes rang out 7 bells, a single startling concussion, like a battleship's cannon firing, rippled outward, followed rapidly by a cascading series across the top floor. Flames flared out windows east to west, as the resounding explosive roar rolled into a massive rumbling cacophony, like a drum solo from "Jurassic Park."
The implosion included a little something extra, a university spokesman confirmed.
"The flames were pyrotechnics and fired as planned," said Shane Dorrill, assistant director of communications at UA. "If you look closely at the video, you'll also see that white and crimson powder came out of those pyrotechnics. That was a combination of flour and corn starch that had been dyed red. It's the same powder that people get thrown on them when they do a color run."
To its west, the new Julia Tutwiler Hall, third to go by that name at the Capstone, lay wider and lower, topping out at five stories surrounding a central courtyard, ready for this fall's incoming women students.
UA student Emma Grace Fobas was one of the last to live in the old Tutwiler, the second residence on campus to bear that name. Monday morning, from the deck of Bryant-Denny, she watched her Bryant Drive-facing 12th floor room flame outward, give way and crumble.
"It's kind of bittersweet, I'm not gonna lie, to see that, because I made a lot of memories in there," she said. Fobas met her current roommate there, and her mom had resided at Tutwiler in the '90s, as did a couple of cousins.
"It's gonna be sad when I graduate, like I can't drive by and say, 'Oh, I lived there,' " she said.
Tim Leopard, associate vice president for construction at UA, was smiling as he spoke with the media, though he admitted being slightly nervous just moments before that first crack of detonation. Monday's implosion was the culmination of a 10-year process, after first determining that the old building would require such extensive repairs that it was a better choice to deconstruct, and build its replacement.
"We like to go big at the University of Alabama," he said.
Crowds gathered in nearby Evergreen Cemetery, on the top floor of the Magnolia parking deck, and elsewhere around the site, recalling massed gatherings 10 years before, when another long-time campus residence, Rose Towers, came down July 4, 2012. UA chose the Independence Days not for fireworks and big-bang synergy, but because summer holidays tend to be sedate in Tuscaloosa.
"The University worked really hard to minimize the impact to the community," Leopard said, "and today is a very quiet day on campus. Typically everybody's off to the beach."
Streets for blocks around were closed from 5 a.m. onward, until after the smoke had cleared. The weather worked in UA's favor, he added, noting the dust seemed to settle and dissipate even quicker than expected.
"It's very appropriate that out of the dust of the old Tutwiler, the new Tutwiler was right there," Leopard said. "I like that symbolism."
Steven Hood, interim vice-president for student life said the Tutwiler evolution was a "big, big deal."
"We're really excited about this day," he said. "We have been planning for this new facility for eight or 10 years, so it's great to see it come to fruition. Obviously, it's really important for the old building to come down
"We're really excited about the women that the new Tutwiler will get to serve. The old Tutwiler housed over 50,000 women over the past 50-plus years, and we expect this new Tutwiler to house even more over many years to come... so yes, we're really excited about today and what the future holds."
UA will start clearing demolition debris Monday afternoon, recycling its concrete and metals. Green space will be planted where the old Tutwiler Y once stood, with site redevelopment also including more lighting, pedestrian pathways, utility improvements, road and infrastructure improvements, and a traffic signal along 10th Avenue.
This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Alabama Tutwiler dorm demolished on the Fourth of July