The First Super Bowl Stadium

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Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Super Bowl I, January 15, 1967 at the Los Angeles Coliseum in California
Super Bowl I, January 15, 1967 at the Los Angeles Coliseum in California. Photo by Focus On Sport/Getty Images Sport Collection/Getty Images

Do you remember the first Super Bowl game in 1967? It wasn't called Super Bowl I back then—it was more generically a World Championship Game between the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs. And some of the seats went empty. Times have changed—more hype and more tailgate parties—but nothing has changed more than Super Bowl stadia.

The LA Memorial Coliseum, the Los Angeles site of the first Super Bowl, is a 1923 arena—no retractable roof on this historic landmark. It was built on an old sand and gravel racetrack at the city's old agricultural Exposition Park, a piece of land that officials hoped to rescue from social and urban blight. As a memorial to the World War I veterans, the stadium was built like an ancient Roman bowl, with the field 32 feet below grade and the first level of seating built into the excavated earth, as a terraced amphitheater.

The LA Coliseum, named after the Colosseum in Rome, has been renovated for today's modern use—many of the old bleacher seats have been replaced, which only makes it more difficult to crawl over the many legs on the way to the renovated bathrooms.

The stadium was also rebuilt a decade after its opening—updating and adding another concrete tier of seats for the 1932 Summer Olympic Games in LA. Let's take a brief glance at what the LA Coliseum looked like way back then.

Source: National Register of Historic Places Inventory - Nomination Form (PDF), prepared by James H. Charleton, June 21, 1984, National Park Service [accessed January 20, 2015]

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LA Memorial Coliseum as Olympic Stadium, 1932

Historic black and white photo of LA Memorial Coliseum circa 1930
LA Memorial Coliseum circa 1930. Photo by FPG/Hulton Archive Photos Collection/Getty Images

At the height of the Great Depression, Los Angeles hosted the 1932 Summer Olympics. The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was enlarged for this international event, the Xth Olympiad of the modern era, and the games that "gave birth to the modern format." For a few weeks that summer, Los Angeles became home to world athletes, weary from economic hardships but invigorated by this classically built and richly historic venue.

About Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum:

Other Names: Olympic Stadium, LA Coliseum, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum & Sports Arena
Location: 3939 South Figueroa Street, Exposition Park, Los Angeles, CA 90037
Constructed: 1921-1923; enlarged in 1931-1932 for the Olympic games
Opened: June 1923
Architects: John and Donald Parkinson
Design Idea: Colosseum in Rome
Size: Ellipse, 1,038 by 738 feet, which is larger than the Roman Colosseum (182 by 285 feet)
Height: 107 feet with the Olympic torch, but not as high as the 157 foot tall walls of the Colosseum in Rome
Construction Materials: Cast-in-place, reinforced concrete
Sporting Events: Summer Olympic Games X and XXIII (1932 and 1984); Super Bowl I and VII (1967 and 1973); and one World Series (1959)
Event with Largest Attendance: Billy Graham Crusade, 1963, 134,254 people (including seats on the field)

Nearly 13,000 fans saw the very first football game played at the stadium in 1923. The University of Southern California (USC), who still leases and operates the publicly-owned venue, beat Pomona College, 23 to 7. The stadium is often credited with the expansion of professional sports to the West Coast. By 1958 the grandeur of the Coliseum had persuaded the Brooklyn Dodgers to forsake their own Ebbets Field in New York and make sunny southern California their new home.

Sources: Coliseum History at lacoliseum.com; National Register of Historic Places Inventory - Nomination Form (PDF), prepared by James H. Charleton, June 21, 1984, National Park Service [accessed January 20, 2015]

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A Classical Peristyle Memorial at the LA Coliseum

Peristyle, LA Memorial Coliseum, 1984 Summer Olympics,
The peristyle of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum during the 1984 Summer Olympics. The scoreboard reads "Good luck to the athletes of the world.". Photo by Steve Powell/Getty Images Sport Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

The word peristyle comes from the Greek word peristylon, meaning "around" (peri-) "column" (stylos). The peristyle, or surrounding concrete colonnade, is the defining architecture of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

About the Peristyle:

The main exterior feature of the Coliseum, which interrupts an otherwise continuous and rhythmic flow of pierced panels and pilasters with an earth berm base, is the Peristyle, on the east end. The original elevation, which remains, is composed of a heroic propylaeum (triumphal arch) flanked by 14 smaller arches (7 to each side) and a central "torch."—National Register of Historic Places Inventory, 1984

The torch, added with renovations for the 1932 Olympic games, rises 107 feet above street level. The torch structure is both modern—illuminated with a bronze fixture on top—but also blends with the classical architecture of the stadium. As shown here, the 1984 Olympic Games became a regal celebration with fireworks and big-screen technologies against the peristyle architectural details.

The "Memorial" part of the stadium's name comes from it being first built as a memorial to World War I veterans. Today's Memorial Court of Honor is within the peristyle.

Since World War II the Coliseum has continued to be modernized—lighting, scoreboards, offices, elevators, ticket booths, individual seats—but the open-air, historic architecture always has been preserved.

Source: National Register of Historic Places Inventory - Nomination Form (PDF), prepared by James H. Charleton, June 21, 1984, National Park Service [accessed January 20, 2015]; Visit USC/Lost Angeles [accessed February 1, 2015]

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Classical Super Bowl at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Aerial photo of open air Los Angeles Coliseum, California, site of 1973 Super Bowl VII
Aerial photo of open air Los Angeles Coliseum, California, site of 1973 Super Bowl VII. Photo by Vic Stein/Contributor/Getty Images Sport Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

Super Bowl VII, shown here from 1973, was the last Super Bowl event for Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Today's stadia are marvels of technology and mechanics. Roofs are built to be retractable, opening and closing at the fan's convenience. The 2014 Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California even has a green roof, trying to keep the outdoors inside. And today's playing fields can be rolled outside of the enclosed stadium to get a breath of fresh air. Sound crazy? The University of Phoenix Stadium designed by Peter Eisenman does just that.

Sports architecture has come a long way since the first Super Bowl in 1967. Some of today's most innovative designs are that of stadia and arenas. But Los Angeles' historic stadium is built with grandeur, and to this day, the LA Memorial Coliseum remains open-air and all green.

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Craven, Jackie. "The First Super Bowl Stadium." ThoughtCo, Feb. 2, 2017, thoughtco.com/the-first-super-bowl-stadium-178411. Craven, Jackie. (2017, February 2). The First Super Bowl Stadium. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-first-super-bowl-stadium-178411 Craven, Jackie. "The First Super Bowl Stadium." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-first-super-bowl-stadium-178411 (accessed November 24, 2017).