The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Is Celebrating Its 100th Anniversary
Built in 1923, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is celebrating 100 years as a civic treasure for Angelenos. With its capacity ranging from 60,000 to 100,000 at various points in its history, the coliseum has hosted massive crowds for everything from the nomination of John F. Kennedy to the daredevil stunts of Evel Knievel to the 1984 Olympic Games.
LA was a relatively young city when the Coliseum was built, according to Chris Epting, a historian and the author of 40 books, including a compilation of the Coliseum’s history. Epting joined LAist's public affairs show AirTalk to discuss the landmark anniversary. Located near Exposition Park, the Coliseum has always been an inherently multipurpose space, Epting says, and it was envisioned as a place for the community to gather.
In fact, the Coliseum has hosted 4,000 events in the last century, for nearly 130 million people, according to Joe Furin, the general manager of the Coliseum.
“Those are two astonishing facts to sink in for a second,” Furin says. “We celebrate [event] anniversaries every day, which is part of the magic of this place.”
Many people called into AirTalk to share their own memories at the Coliseum, from watching a family member finish the LA Marathon, which ended at the Coliseum, to attending back-to-back Bruce Springsteen shows with sold-out crowds. A caller named Chris said he had the fortune of being the mascot for the 1984 Olympics, Sam the Olympic Eagle — he waited for his cue to come out, and then emerged onto the field, wearing an 80-pound costume, to the roar of a packed crowd.
“I had never experienced anything like it,” Chris said.
Here we had the entire world, coming to Los Angeles.
As the world has changed over the last 100 years, so has the Coliseum. It was retrofitted after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, and as the 2028 Olympics near, Furin says continued investment will be important to help it stay competitive in LA’s market. Furin also says it is important to keep up with technological progress in event spaces, from mobile ticketing to WiFi infrastructure.
But through these changes, some parts of the Coliseum’s iconic image will remain intact. Linda Dishman, the president and CEO of the Los Angeles Conservancy, says that preservation efforts should focus on three key aspects of the structure: its peristyle (the row of arches surrounding the interior), the walls of the Coliseum, and the big democratic-style sweep of its bowl.
USC has allocated $270 million for the renovation of the Coliseum — Dishman says USC has been aware of the history and architecture of the structure, and she’s confident it will be a fruitful partnership.
Dishman said it’s very meaningful for tens of thousands of people to convene in one place to witness something together. Its large capacity and the wide variety of historic events are part of the city’s character, she says.
“LA has always been very aspirational — and it was not a big city in the 1920s,” Dishman says. “And so this really speaks to its aspirations.”
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