This week, Cal football kicks off its 2023 campaign on the road at North Texas as it gears up for a final year of Pac-12 play as the conference currently stands.
Throughout the season, fans will cherish the final strand of Pac-12 tradition amid an engulfing wave of conference realignment, but the Bears will honor their program’s rich history for another reason — the 100th anniversary of California Memorial Stadium.
The stadium’s history began in an era of Cal football dominance. In the early 1920s, the UC Berkeley campus community took the blossoming success of the football program, as well as the opening of new football venues at Stanford and USC, as a calling for a stadium upgrade.
The campus commissioned architect John Galen Howard to design a new heart for Bear Territory, and construction began in Strawberry Canyon in December 1922.
While there was initial concern over the structure’s placement — directly atop the Hayward Fault which rendered the stadium vulnerable to a significant earthquake — opening night was nonetheless a thunderous one.
On Nov. 24, 1923, 73,000 fans were welcomed into the revamped Memorial Stadium to watch Cal defeat Stanford, 9-0, in the Big Game. This inaugural game secured the Bears’ fourth-straight undefeated season.
Throughout the century that followed, the stadium has hosted many notable events, football related and otherwise.
In the early 1970s, the Oakland Raiders played several preseason games at Memorial Stadium, including a momentous victory over the defending Super Bowl champion, the Miami Dolphins, in 1973.
In 2014, professional soccer teams Real Madrid and Inter Milan played before a sold- out crowd at the stadium in the International Champions Cup. Cal’s lacrosse team has also played on the field since 1999.
Serving as a gathering point for the Bears’ community, Memorial Stadium holds UC Berkeley’s commencement exercises every spring. U.S. presidents have also taken the stage to give speeches at the stadium, including Harry S. Truman in 1948 and John F. Kennedy in 1962.
While the stadium’s original construction cost was estimated at just under $1.5 million a century ago, a 21-month renovation of 60% of the stadium beginning in 2010 came with a hefty price tag.
Concerns surrounding the structure’s seismic safety mounted, so the remodel took place in three stages: building the 142,000 square foot Simpson Center for Student-Athlete High Performance, the demolishing of the stadium’s entire west side and addition of club levels, a new press box and concession stands and later an extension to the concourse.
The renovation financing subsequently became a controversial topic, as campus had sustained $445 million of debt — with the stadium’s seismic safety renovations costing $321 million and the new athletic center adding another $153 million.
The stadium debt will cost Cal about $18 million per year in interest-only payments, which totals about 20% of Cal Athletics’ annual budget — meaning every year, the athletic department is working with an 80% budget. The yearly payments will rise in 2032 at a rate of $26 million per year, as the debt will remain for decades.
Nonetheless, Cal Athletics will spend the upcoming football season celebrating its historic stadium at several home games. The home opener Sept. 9 against SEC power Auburn will be a Gold Out for Bears’ fans and commemorative items will be given to fans at the Idaho, Oregon State and Washington State games.