Historic US Stadium Bulldozed


The following link goes to an excellent story by The Spy (Ed Gordon) with additional features by the Big Man of California track, John Crumpacker. They know their stuff…

I posted the link because there are some classic old pix of USA v USSR meets. Bring 'em back please.


At the 1962 USA-USSR match, Ulis Williams (far right) wins the 400 Metres in 46.4 ahead of (from left to right) Viktor Bychkov (47.9), Ray Saddler (46.8) and Vadim Arkhipchuk (46.9). (Stanford Athletics)

A grand old lady falls to the wrecking ball
Monday 19 December 2005
On a chilly November Saturday evening three weeks ago, more than 56,000 mourners gathered for a funeral. But it was not a maudlin event but more of a celebration as a bulldozer rambled to the center of Stanford Stadium and symbolically began ripping out the pitch at the conclusion of the American football game between Stanford and Notre Dame. It signified the end of the line for the venerable arena, which had witnessed so many headlines of track and field history, as modern needs dictated a change.

The stadium had been the site of many memorable events, both from the sporting world and from other realms. But after almost nine decades of service, the aging structure, with a listed seating capacity of 86,000, was deemed to have served beyond its time and now needed replacing.

1962 USA-USSR - The 80 metres Hurdles is won by Irina Press (second from right) in 10.7 over (from left to right) Niliya Kulykova (10.8), Cherrie Parrish (11.2) and JoAnne Terry (11.3).
(Stanford Athletics)

A survivor

In the earthquake-prone land near San Francisco, one would think that such a large stadium built on an earthen base would be a disaster waiting to happen. Ironically, the structure survived the 7.1 temblor in October 1989 and served as a temporary home for the San Francisco’s NFL team, whose own stadium had been damaged in the quake.

In the crisp, late fall air, so many memories flashed through the minds of the eyewitnesses as the dismantling started. After the “first dig” on that Saturday night, the demolition began in earnest the following Monday, and within days the entire structure disappeared. A time-lapse view of the quick work may be seen in the video clips at www.gostanford.com

In its place by September of next year will rise a smaller, more
spectator-friendly (for football, that is) arena seating 50,000. This
also means removal of the running track which has not been in use for more than ten years, as adjacent Angell Field has recently hosted athletics events.

Over the years, the massive capacity of the stadium made it an attractive venue for many spectacles, not just sporting contests. In the summer of 1922, when the stadium was only a year old and had witnessed only a single football game, Italian immigrant Gaetano Merola chose the amphitheater-like setting for unveiling his first opera productions, the start of an enterprise quickly to evolve into the world-renowned San Francisco Opera.

At the end of the same decade, US presidential candidate Herbert Hoover spoke there to a crowd of 68,000 as part of a successful campaign for his country’s top office.

Sport, however, was the prime tenant during the stadium’s 84-year lifetime.

Although American football was its fundamental raison d’etre, the arena was one of the major locales for the 1994 FIFA World Cup, as well as for three pivotal events in US athletics history.

1932 Olympic Trials

Barely ten years old, Stanford Stadium hosted the 1932 Olympic Trials just two weeks before the Olympic Games were held in Los Angeles. Against strong headwinds, Ralph Metcalfe scored a double win in the 100 and 200 metres at the Trials, but in Los Angeles, it was his rival, Eddie Tolan, who snagged the gold medals in those events.

Automatic timing precursor

The 1932 Trials also saw the first use at a major competition of the Kirby two-eye timer, a forerunner of today’s automatic timing equipment. Invented three years earlier, the device was also used to complement the official handtiming at the Games, but it led to great controversy in Los Angeles when identical automatic times were assigned to both Tolan and Metcalfe in the 100 metres. (Tolan won the judges’ decision in a finish still debated today.)

The two pole-vaulting Bills - Graber and Miller - tied the existing world record with 4.30 jumps as Graber eventually continued upward to a new record of 4.37 as the Trials victor. Miller would have the last say in Los Angeles, however, as he took the Olympic title.

World records aplenty

Again in 1960, American chose the stadium as the site for selecting its team for Rome.

After suffering an injury in an auto accident earlier in the year, Rafer Johnson capped a miraculous return to full training only ten days before the Trials by setting a new World record in the Decathlon, defeating his college teammate C.K. Yang in a dramatic competition.

Sprinter Ray Norton tied the global standard in the 200 metres twice that weekend with 20.5, and High Jumper John Thomas sprang to an unprecedented height with his 2.23 win.

Don Bragg also pushed back frontiers in pole vaulting with a 4.80 performance in his march to the Olympic gold that year.

The 1960 Trials also confirmed America’s power in two events which led to medal sweeps in Los Angeles. Lee Calhoun, Willie May and Hayes Jones crossed the line in that order in the 110 metres Hurdles, both at the Trials and later at the Games. And shot putter Bill Nieder, though finishing only fourth at Stanford, would later replace an injured Dave Davis on the US squad and win the gold medal, ahead of Dallas Long and two-time Olympic champion Parry O’Brien.

The Stanford Trials also provided the stage for Ralph Boston’s dominating Long Jump win of 8.09, only four weeks before he would break Jesse Owens’ 25-year-old record (8.13) in the event with a 8.21 jump at a pre-Olympic meet.

Large crowds and Cold War history

That weekend in 1960 brought a second-day crowd of 62,000 to “the Farm” (as Stanford is known to the locals), thus demonstrating the keen interest the Bay Area public had for the sport of athletics. The sight was not lost on the university’s athletics coach at the time, Payton Jordan, who envisioned the arena as a site for a future historic event.

Using his long-time acquaintance with a Soviet sports official, Jordan proved to be a master in cutting through bureaucratic red tape, and his dream of a USA-USSR match at Stanford became a reality two years later.

This period was at the height of the Cold War, and a natural curiosity regarding their political adversaries brought Americans out in large numbers to see the competition in 1962.

Old-time aficionados of athletics still recall the 153,000 fans packing the stands that summer for the two-day event between the world’s two superpowers. This is still an all-time record turnout for a two-day international dual competition in the US.

Coming away with World records after that weekend were the Soviet Union’s Valeriy Brumel in the High Jump (2.26) and American Hal Connolly in the Hammer Throw (70.67).

A preview of the Tokyo Games two years hence came from wins by American sprinter Bob Hayes, plus strongmen Al Oerter and Dallas Long. Besides Brumel, Soviet winners in the Stanford competition included Rome 10,000m champion Pyotr Bolotnikov, who followed his victory in the 10,000m with a win in the 5000m the next day.

Ed Gordon for the IAAF

On the occasion of Stanford Stadium’s final evening, San Francisco Chronicle writer John Crumpacker provided a retrospective in two feature articles, available by clicking on the following links:

John Crumpacker - Feature 1

John Crumpacker - Feature 2