A Stadium Full Of Cherished Memories
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum – Los Angeles
Visited: April 5, 2016
It’s the stadium where I attended my first baseball game back in 1959, my first college and pro football games in the 1960s, plus the venue where I saw my only Olympic Games. So many memories, and now I had the opportunity to take a tour of the stadium where all these great sporting events all took place.
Los Angeles County encompasses more than 10 million residents, so I found it quite remarkable that when I took a guided tour of the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, I turned out to be the only person on the tour (perhaps the rest of L.A. knew I was coming). This stadium has, through the years, been the home of the Los Angeles Rams, USC Trojans, UCLA Bruins, Los Angeles Chargers (yep, they started here), the Los Angeles Dodgers and (gulp) the Los Angeles Raiders. It has also hosted two Olympic games (1932 and 1984…the first stadium to ever host two Olympic games), the first Super Bowl…although that’s not what it was called back then…
…numerous Pro Bowls, plus a plethora of concerts and speeches by influential world leaders. It’s a stadium I have been to countless times as a sports fan, so I thought it might be fun to tour this venerable, old sports mecca and learn a little bit about its history.
The Coliseum was originally commissioned as a memorial to Los Angeles veterans of World War I (a fact I did not know until the tour). The Coliseum opened in 1923 and was the largest stadium in Los Angeles with a capacity of more than 75,000. With the Olympics only two years away, in 1930 the stadium was expanded upward to hold 101,574 (today capacity is a little more than 93,000).
USC (its campus is adjacent to the stadium) started playing home football games here in 1923, while UCLA also played here from 1928 to 1981, when they moved their home games to Pasadena’s historic Rose Bowl (check out California Dreaming for the Rose Bowl Tour).
In 1946, the Cleveland Rams bolted those frigid eastern temperatures for the warm climes of Los Angeles and made the Coliseum their home until they moved to Anaheim in 1980…until they moved to St. Louis in 1995…until 2016 when the team moves back to L.A. (they should be called the Los Angeles Bekins). The Rams will call the Coliseum home until the new stadium is constructed in Inglewood.
1958 saw major league baseball come to Los Angeles when Walter O’Malley’s Brooklyn Dodgers said “goodbye” to Flatbush. They played here for four years (my first time at the Coliseum was in 1959 for a Cubs-Dodgers game) until Dodger Stadium was built. I attended a number of games at the Coliseum (I was a rabid Dodgers fan until I ruined my life by switching my allegiance to the hapless San Diego Padres when I was in college at San Diego State).
The Coliseum was a wacky place to play (and watch) baseball as the field barely fit a baseball diamond. The dimensions were insane. It was just over 250 feet to hit a home run to left field (softball dimensions), so they had to construct a 42-foot tall screen to make it a bit harder to hit a homer. The Dodgers’ Wally Moon was a master at hitting it over the screen. His home runs were dubbed “Moon Shots.”
Our (or should I say “my”) tour began at 1:30, and my guide was the very knowledgeable and personable Sheree. Our first stop was the Memorial Court of Honor. This is located at the Peristyle end of the Coliseum, and its plaques commemorate more than 50 individuals and events that have made an impact on the stadium.
The first plaque was of Charles W. Paddock, and after learning about him, I wondered how I had never heard of this athlete. First of all, he was from my hometown, Pasadena. After serving in World War I, he won the 100 meter dash at the 1920 Olympic games in Antwerp. For eight years in the 1920s he was dubbed, “The World’s Fastest Human!” Tragically, he was killed along with a Major General William Upshur in a plane crash in Alaska.
Sheree pointed out one interesting category that is no longer in the Olympics…the Art Competition. Medals were awarded in five categories (architecture, literature, music, painting and sculpture, for works inspired by sport-related themes). I thought Claude Monet should have entered, thinking he would have made quite an impression.
A name I did recognize from those games was the greatest woman athlete of the 20th century; Mildred “Babe” Didrickson. A great track and field star in the ’32 Olympics, she went on to become a championship golfer. Another athlete gone too soon, she passed away from colon cancer at the young age of 45.
Growing up, I was a huge Rams fan, so the plaque with the likenesses of “The Fearsome Foursome” (Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy) reminded me of the times watching them torment opposing quarterbacks.
Two of my favorite basketball players from the 60s were Elgin Baylor and Jerry West of the Lakers. Jerry West was the first sports poster I put up in my bedroom when I was a kid. They played at the adjacent Sports Arena, where we just saw Bruce Springsteen last month. That concert series was the last event ever there, as the Sports Arena is scheduled for demolition soon to make way for a new soccer stadium.
McKay went on to coach the expansion NFL franchise Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were quite terrible in their early existence in the NFL. McKay, who was a master of funny quips, had one of the great sports quotes ever about the Bucs. When asked after another loss what he thought about his pathetic team’s execution, he replied, “I’m all for it!”
Of course, there had to be a plaque of the great Jackie Robinson (see The Jackie and Mack Robinson Memorial in California Dreaming).
I was very excited to see a plaque of my favorite basketball coach ever, and remarkably it wasn’t San Diego State’s Steve Fisher (although he is great). There in front of me was UCLA’s John Wooden. From 1964-1975, Wooden’s Bruins captured ten NCAA basketball titles.
Not only are sports stars and coaches honored here, but so are members of the media. The greatest sports writer of all-time, Jim Murray, is among them. No one could write like Murray. He once wrote a column about the dangers of the Indianapolis 500. It was entitled, “Gentlemen, Start Your Coffins!”
Sheree asked me, “What event hosted the biggest attendance at the Coliseum?” I was stumped…and quite surprised to hear that 134,254 people attended a 1963 Crusade by evangelist Billy Graham. There were also an estimated 20,000 people listening outside the Coliseum on loudspeakers.
I looked out over the field I had seen so many times before…
We walked around the exterior of the stadium, where I had been dozens of times before. I could almost smell the popcorn. I wondered how many times I have climbed stairs like these.
Next we hit the locker rooms, which honestly are pretty antiquated…
It’s always good to utilize one last bit of intimidation before your opponent steps on the field.
In that Olympics, I believe Hermes won the 100 meters in one second, while Poseidon dominated the swimming events, although it was quite an adventure (it looks like he might even have taken steroids).
I asked Sheree about the two statues that stand at the entrance of the Peristyle end of the Coliseum. The Olympic Gateway statues are a pair of life-sized bronze, anatomically correct, nude statues of a male and female athlete. It was created by Robert Graham for the 1984 Olympics and generated a little bit of controversy at the time, but the statue is now part of the landscape.
The statues were modeled after Terry Schroeder, an American water polo player; and a long jumper from Guyana, Jennifer Inniss. Graham said that “his intention was to depict ‘specific athletes, but not individual portraits; by cropping the figures, I made them more emblematic and more universal.”
Before heading toward the exit, I did spy one more plaque. Rafer Johnson was a great track star at UCLA and an Olympic gold medalist. He ignited the flame to begin the 1984 Olympics. Interestingly, he and the Rams’ Rosey Grier were the two men who tackled Sirhan Sirhan shortly after he had fatally shot Robert F. Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel.
A little USC “propaganda” on the walls reinforces the recruits’ decision to become a Trojan.
The tour cost was $25…you can buy them online at TicketMaster…
…but by the time those guys add on their outrageous fees, the price jumps to $35). Buy your tickets at the gate, as I did. Sheree told me to come back after the Rams start the season, because improvements are being made to the Coliseum for the preparation of their return.
Growing up in the Los Angeles area, this tour brought back a host of wonderful memories of my dad and myself attending games together when I was a kid. So even though the price of the ticket was $25, those memories are priceless!
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Tour
3911 South Figueroa Street
Los Angeles, California 90037
Tour Price: $25 (tour lasts about 90 minutes…buy tickets there, but you can check on availability at website below…10 bucks cheaper if you buy at the door)
Times: 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Tuesday -Saturday (check website to see if there is a blackout date)
Parking: $12 (at the Science Center next door)