One of the most enduring stadiums in the Bay Area is California Memorial Stadium. Though it has not always hosted the greatest teams, the memories this stadium has hosted will be remembered for generations. This is its story and impact on the Bay Area.
The University of California Golden Bears football team played at California Field from 1904 to 1922. While the 25,000 seat venue was appropriate for a sport still in its infancy, the leaders of the university recognized the growing need for a much larger stadium; one which could stand the test of time. They chose noted architect John G. Howard to lead the project.
The workers worked diligently in constructing a stadium which featured a total of 1.9 million feet of both regular and premium lumber for concrete forms and seating. It also featured 600 tons of steel which was starting to invade the construction business and change the industry forever. Together, the two products produced a stadium which served as a tribute to the past as well as the future. What was problematic was that it was built directly over the Hayward Fault, which was cause for great concern in earthquake infested California. To battle the elements, they decided to build the eastern half of the stadium into a nearby hill. Due to the hill’s proximity to the stadium, fans who couldn’t afford the ticket prices could watch the game for free from the hill which was affectionately nicknamed Tightwad Hill. The total cost for the historic project was $1,437,982. In comparison, Yankee Stadium which opened in the same year, cost $2.5 million to build. Cal’s new stadium was funded entirely by 10,000 seat subscriptions at $100 per subscription which was sold out in ten days. At the time, the venue could hold up to 72,609 spectators.
With World War I having recently ended just a few years before, the stadium was named in tribute to the brave men who sacrificed their lives in the Great War. California Memorial Stadium opened its doors just in time for Cal’s annual battle with Stanford University on November 24, 1923. In the final game of the season, Cal beat Stanford 9-0 to claim their fourth straight national championship.
Great Moments, Great Players and an Everlasting Landmark
Since 1923, the Golden Bears have claimed ten conference championships and two national championships within the confines of their beloved stadium. Through the years it has seen its share of history. Their beloved coach, Pappy Waldorf would traditionally give speeches from the balcony at the western gate after wins in front of a crowd of thousands. It was there where “The Play” happened, ending Stanford quarterback John Elway’s illustrious college career. Though the football may not have been great, memories were made within the confines of the stadium.
California Memorial Stadium has also hosted some non-football related events. Before 1970, it hosted the commencement ceremony but due to the protests of the times the administration decided to hold graduations elsewhere for a while. Graduation ceremonies have since returned to campus. President John F. Kennedy gave a speech at the stadium on March 23, 1962 to commemorate Charter Day, which is the anniversary of the founding of the University of California.
California Memorial Stadium has hosted a number of high draft picks and big name stars in the NFL. Quarterback Steve Bartkowski was selected first overall in the 1975 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons, becoming the first client of future super agent Leigh Steinberg. Aaron Rodgers spent just two years in Berkley before being drafted 24th overall in the 2005 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers. He would go on to eight Pro Bowls, a Super Bowl win in 2010 and is generally recognized as one of the most naturally gifted quarterbacks in NFL history. Rodgers’ teammate Marshawn Lynch was a powerfully explosive running back who was selected 12th overall in the 2007 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. He would go on to five Pro Bowls and going to two Super Bowls with the Seattle Seahawks, winning one in 2013.
Over the years, California Memorial Stadium began to show its age and in 2011 the school decided to close the beloved stadium for the season so that they could make some much needed upgrades. The team played its home games at Candlestick Park and AT&T Stadium in San Francisco during this time. When they returned home the ground had been lowered by four feet; club levels, a press box, concessions and bathrooms had all been added to a completely rebuilt west side of the stadium. To guard against earthquakes, a surface rupture block had been added to each end zone where the fault line runs through. Though the capacity had decreased to just under 63,000, not all was lost as new video/scoreboards had been added to complete the transformation. In total, the refurbishing cost the school $321 million, much more than the stadium had originally cost.
Currently, the University of California at Berkley Golden Bears football team has enjoyed minor success in the significantly enhanced venue. Though they haven’t come close to competing for a conference championship, they have produced some of the NFL’s better offensive talents in quarterback Jared Goff and wide receiver Keenan Allen. As a tribute to the past, Charter Hill (Tightwad Hill) can still be accessed for a game day experience. Though times may change and the lights may be a bit brighter, California Memorial Stadium will always look to the past while preparing for the future.