Still rumbling: California Memorial Stadium stands tall through it all

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Isabella Ko/Staff

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Student-athletes, fans and graduates of a university are forever bonded by the soil on which they stood in unison — especially when it comes to game days in the fall.

In the aftermath of World War I, that ground was laid for the UC Berkeley community — and one of college football’s most iconic scenes.

With an old school feel and a recent renovation in the books, Cal’s home turf continues to persevere through everything, from fluctuating attendance rates to moving tectonic plates. Win or lose on the field, rain or shine in the sky, it’s tough to beat everything that California Memorial Stadium has brought to football fans since the venue first opened in 1923.

“Although the sound of workmen is still heard about the walls, we come here this afternoon to the fulfillment of our expectations,” said 11th UC president Robert Sproul in a San Francisco Chronicle article, prior to the stadium’s dedication.

Nestled at the bottom of the Berkeley Hills and Strawberry Canyon, Memorial Stadium — named in memory of students who died during World War I — has hosted generation after generation of football talent and fans. Each story of every individual that has stepped foot inside is special in its own way, but the story behind the grand archways, golden benches and bright lights is one for the ages in and of itself.

Modeled in the early 1920s after the Colosseum in Rome, no less, Memorial Stadium cost just $1,437,982 to lay its foundation and formulate from the bottom up — every cent of which was financed through a public fundraising campaign.

While administrators initially proposed the location to be where Evans Diamond and Edwards Stadium currently stand, those plans were scrapped and construction began at the current location near the hills atop the Hayward Fault.

After using an astonishing 8,000 cubic yards of rock, 12,000 barrels of cement and 600 tons of steel, head architect John Galen Howard’s project was ready just ahead of the 1923 Big Game.

In 1947, a football-record 83,000 people packed together for Cal’s primetime matchup with Navy.

On Mar. 23, 1962, President John F. Kennedy exceeded that number by attracting a crowd of approximately 88,000 in his speech commemorating the University of California’s Charter Day.

In 1973, Memorial Stadium played host to the Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins after the Raiders endured a scheduling conflict with the Oakland A’s.

Just four years ago, it was the site of an International Champions Cup between European powerhouses Inter Milan and Real Madrid.

But as players came and went, Memorial Stadium’s size and capacity shifted — quite literally. Maximum capacity was gradually cut down to meet code requirements for wider aisles and wheelchair seating, as well as accommodate new chair back and bench back seating.

After nearly two years of intense retrofitting, the new Memorial Stadium was rededicated in 2012 to all Californians who had given their lives to the nation. When its iconic canon nestled on the all-too-familiar “Tightwad Hill” fires in unison with the bright lights of game time, there’s little doubt that the beautiful aura makes those who the stadium is named after proud.

Josh Yuen is an assistant sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @joshcal2020

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the stadium’s capacity was reduced after cracks appeared on exterior walls. In fact, capacity was reduced after retrofitting to accommodate new chairs and code requirements for ADA-accessible aisles and seating.