L.A. Coliseum has a history all its own


On a picturesque Memorial Day afternoon in Southern California, I ventured out into the streets of Los Angeles in search of the city’s most historic landmark.

In a city often defined by glitz and glamour, I don’t think you could have blamed me for choosing the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Santa Monica Pier or even Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

But for me — an outsider simply looking for a destination that could capture the essence of this metropolis’ vast history — the venue was a simple choice: the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, celebrating its 87th anniversary last month.

As I walked toward the stadium, it became apparent that this impromptu history lesson would be short-lived, as metal gates surrounded the now-dormant facility.

While the trip would not provide this inquisitive visitor with the up-close experience I had envisioned, one look through the aging peristyle arches was more than enough. As I glanced beyond the entrance façade and beneath the Olympic cauldron, the summer-cut lawn and endless array of seats were all I could see.

I stood there enthralled for a few moments, grinned a little to myself and soon departed for home.

On a day often celebrated with a large barbeque or a swim at the beach, it’s easy to understand why my adventure to a lifeless sports stadium would garner puzzled looks and skeptical inquiries from those of you reading these words.

But to me, an individual who still hasn’t grasped the beauty and tradition of this City of Angels, what more fitting destination on a day of remembrance than the Coliseum — a place whose hallowed grounds provide a unique connection between the past and present.

In 1921, as the nation began to recover from the losses sustained during the first World War, the city of Los Angeles, behind a lucrative (at the time, at least) $950,000 investment, determined the best way to memorialize the efforts of the war’s veterans was to commission an athletic stadium in their honor.

What ensued from this gesture no one could have foreseen.

When the gates opened in May 1923, the majestic 76,000-seat creation of John and Donald Parkinson, single-handedly transformed the role of a sporting venue from merely a host to the canvas by which many of this city’s defining masterpieces were painted on.

From the Olympic Games in 1932 and 1984 (the Coliseum is the only site in the world to host two Olympics), to the NFL’s first Super Bowl (also hosted Super Bowl VII), to the 1959 World Series (which became the first Fall Classic games to be played on the West Coast and only to ever reach over 90,000 fans in attendance per game), to the four professional and two collegiate football teams to call this place home (Dons, Chargers, Rams, Raiders, UCLA and USC), the Coliseum’s walls tell the type of story to whet any die-hard sports fan’s appetite.

While this prestigious institution holds the memories of some of history’s most memorable athletic performances, what makes the Coliseum more than just a legendary stadium is its commitment to maintaining a near-century-long legacy.

When you can boast a who’s who of visitors that at some point in their illustrious careers made your cement-clad structure their muse or individual stage (Jesse Owens, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, John F. Kennedy, Nelson Mandela and Pope John Paul II, just to name a few) it’s hard to resist getting caught up in the sports industry’s current approach on how to make venues into household names.

While the importance of stadiums has essentially shifted from preserving what was once thought to be the timeless annals of our most prized games to how can we better appease a commercialism-driven society, the Coliseum has remained relatively true to its initial intention: a memorial.

No, the Coliseum does not have any of the modern-day, trendy architectural features that are often commonplace around the country these days.

It’s not ornate, easily accessible for visitors or particularly fan-friendly when it comes to amenities.

Not every seat in the house is a good seat, the wealthy won’t find any luxurious boxes to escape the grimy, crowded stands filled with loud-mouthed sports enthusiasts and, to be frank, it doesn’t reside in a part of town that is famous for its glitz.

Though it has undergone four renovations in its eight-plus decades as a city monument, each tweak and improvement never tarnished or erased the imprint of its presence.

The Coliseum that welcomed in a new era of athletic achievement and ingenuity in the field of structural design with a USC football victory over Pomona College back in October 1923 still stands as the central tapestry in a city whose fabric is woven together by entertainment and tradition.

While Angelenos remain content for now with having USC as the only tenants to call the Coliseum home — as long as we keep winning, of course — the NFL is destined to make a return to trip to Los Angeles. The question isn’t if, it’s simply when.

One day when the ink from this article fades and men with more money than they know what to do with finally devise a plan that sticks, will this city still marvel at the lasting foundation it helped create over these last 87 years?

Will high-definition scoreboards, cushy stadium seats and lavish business suites manufacture enough sentiment to overtake this living, breathing testament to the city’s storied past?

As I took one final peek over my shoulder at the renowned edifice, these questions ran through my mind until I was stopped in my tracks by a man wearing an American flag bandana, who looked as worn as the stadium he now stood beneath.

Instinctually, I reached into my pocket for some change, but he cut me off.

“Ain’t she something, a gem.”

I smiled and shook my head in agreement. He was spot on. It’s a real diamond in the rough.

“For The Love Of The Game” runs every other Wednesday. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Dave at

dulberg@usc.edu.