As the only building on the planet to host two Olympic games, two Super Bowls and a World Series, it is easy to understand why the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum easily lives up to its billing as the greatest stadium in the world.
Opening in June of 1923 as a memorial for Los Angeles veterans of World War I (and expanded as a memorial for all WWI veterans in 1968), the Coliseum was built for a meager $1,000,000, about one three-thousandth of the projected cost of the LA Rams stadium in Inglewood.
The USC Trojan football team has called the Coliseum home since it opened, playing the first ever football game there against Pomona College on October 6, 1923 (USC won 23-7 in front of a crowd of 12,836).
In addition to hosting the X and XXIII Olympiads in 1932 and 1984, Super Bowl I and VII, the 1959 World Series, Pope John Paul II, three U.S. Presidents and countless other events, the Coliseum was also the home of the Los Angeles Rams from 1946 to 1979, the UCLA Bruins from 1933 to 1981, the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1958 to 1961, the Los Angeles Chargers in 1960, the Los Angeles Raiders from 1982 to 1994 and several other smaller franchises in a variety of sports.
On July 27, 1984 the Coliseum was declared a State and a Federal Historical Landmark, one day before the start of the 1984 Olympics.
With so much history and so many stories to tell, the Coliseum now offers tours to give the public a behind the scenes look at the "Grand Old Lady."
Fittingly the tour begins on the east end of the stadium under the historic Peristyle arches, modeled after the Colosseum in Rome (and the namesake for USCFootball.com's premium message board The Peristyle).
The tour guide shares several stories about the Coliseum, including some of the seedy history in what preceded Exposition Park. From 1872 until 1910, the 160-acre area around the Coliseum was known as Agricultural Park, serving as what was essentially a Los Angeles farmers market. Besides the agricultural fairgrounds, the area supported a saloon, hotel and a racetrack leading to heavy gambling gambling and other vices.
In 1880 USC moved in next door and went to work cleaning up the area. The State of California eventually bought the land and opened Exposition Park in 1912.
Walking under the Peristyle you are able to experience the historic Court of Honor, while sneaking a peak down onto the playing field. In the Court of Honor there are dozens of plaques "Commemorating outstanding persons or events, athletic or otherwise, that have had a definite impact upon the history, glory and growth of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum." From Howard Jones to Vin Scully, Jackie Robinson to John F. Kennedy, John Wooden to Knute Rockne, the Court of Honor is a standalone Los Angeles sports history lesson in itself.
Just north of the Court of Honor the tour brings you into the USC recruiting lounge where before every home football game and on weekend visits, top high school prospects are entertained with a extensive food spread and a detailed education on the history of USC football.
On every wall in the lounge you can see photos of former players along with lists of USC football accolades like Heisman trophy winners, national championships and All-Americans.
After departing the recruiting lounge, the tour continues down the stairs from the Peristyle into Section 1 of the Coliseum. Original bench seating from the 1940's are on display, complete with a confusing seat numbering system where Seat 17 is somehow next to Seat 116.
Only a couple of sections still have the old bench seating while the rest of the Coliseum has the narrow plastic seats mostly installed during the 1964 renovation.
From the expansion in 1930 there is a visible seam going around the entire stadium above what is now row 77. That add-on was in preparation for the 1932 Olympiad, increasing the Coliseum seating capacity from 75,144 to 101,574.
In 1993 the Olympic track was removed and the entire playing field was lowered by 11 feet. This allowed the field to be moved down to the western side of the stadium and an additional 14 rows of seating were added. To this day you can still see two row numbers in most sections of the Coliseum, the older row number that is etched into the concrete and the new row number, usually 14 higher than the old, painted with a stencil above the etched one.
After admiring the quirks of the Coliseum, the tour turns into Tunnel 6where with each passing step as you walk out, you can see and feel the ceiling closing in on you. By the time you reach the concourse, the clearance above your head leaving the tunnel is a good two feet less that it is on the stadium side.
From the concourse you take the elevator all the way up to the roof where only security guards and cameramen get a bird's eye view on game days. There is also a sensational 360 degree view of Los Angeles including the Hollywood sign, downtown LA and the mountains.
One floor down the tour let's you explore the press box that was added in 1949 and replaced in 1995 following the Northridge earthquake. Then one more floor down the tour takes you through the suites for coaches, broadcast media and athletic administration.
Once outside, the tour takes a right turn towards the tunnel leading down to the locker rooms and eventually out onto the playing surface. The home locker room has an open concept promoting unity, complete with a Matt Barkley-era USC hype video playing on several flat screen TVs. The visitors locker room has no central location for teams to meet, a design element added by the late owner of the then Los Angeles Raiders, Al Davis.
The final phase of the tour takes you from the locker rooms following the same path down to the field that countless athletes have traversed over the past century. Emerging from the tunnel looking east you have a spectacular view of Peristyle arches as well as the impeccably manicured vibrant green grass right at your eye level. The field itself is off limits to the tour, so after one step on the surface you climb the Section 11 stairs before making your way around towards the stairs leading up to the Peristyle and out of this national landmark.
More interesting facts about the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum discussed on the tour:
- The architects for the Coliseum were John and Donald Parkinson who also designed the first skyscraper in Los Angeles, several buildings on the USC campus, Union Station and Los Angeles City Hall.
- When the Dodgers called the Coliseum home from 1958 to 1961 home plate was at the base of the tunnel and left field was only 251 feet away. To protect the fans and make home runs more difficult, a 42-foot screen was placed in left field. Dodger outfielder Wally Moon became famous for his "Moon shots" he would hit over the left field screen.
- The Berlin Olympic stadium (Olympiastadion) was built for the 1936 games and was modeled after the Los Angeles Coliseum.
- Most stadiums in the United States run from north to south, the Coliseum runs from east to west.
- The largest attended event in the Coliseum was in 1963 when 134,254 people packed in to witness the Bill Graham crusade.
- The iconic headless life-sized bronze nude statues outside the Peristyle were created for the 1984 games by Robert Graham. They are anatomically accurate, modeled after water polo player Terry Schroeder and long jumper from Guyana, Jennifer Inniss.
- The 1984 Olympic games were the most successful games of all-time. It was also the first time the People's Republic of China participated in the games.
- The 1932 games featured Clarence "Buster" Crabbe who was a swimmer but better known as an actor who played Tarzan, Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. Mildred "Babe" Didrikson is one of the greatest female athletes in history. She won two gold medals and one silver in track and field at the 1932 games, was an All-American in basketball and she also excelled golf, winning 41 times on the LPGA tour including 10 majors.
If you would like more information about Coliseum tours, visit LAColiseum.com.
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Ryan Abraham has been the publisher of USCFootball.com since 1996. You can follow him on Twitter at @InsideTroy or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.