April 10, 2017

Photo Essay: LA Memorial Sports Arena, Upon Its Demolition

A couple of weeks ago, I was out with an out-of-town friend on a Friday night when we realized we'd stumbled into some kind of big night out for soccer fanatics.

At the bar, I met someone who handed me a branded tote bag and introduced himself as part of the new Los Angeles Football Club.

"We tore down the old sports arena," he said, proudly, "and we're building a new stadium in Exposition Park right now."

Ah yes.

Until then, I'd practically forgotten that I'd gotten permission to document the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena right after its final hurrah (three Bruce Springsteen concerts)...

...on the last day any of its staff would be in the office...

...and before the thing would be demolished.

I'd expected some fanfare surrounding its demise, so I was waiting to hear of its demolition—possibly to document that, too.

But I never heard another word of it until some soccer guy was boasting of how his team had helped get rid of it.

When I got to explore the famed arena, it had already been taken apart somewhat.

It actually looked like it had been abandoned for some time.

At some point, management had just given up on updating it, replacing anything, or keeping anything looking like new.

The circular building had fallen out of vogue—just 57 years after its grand opening in 1959—and had become known rather unfavorably as a "dump."

Or, as The Boss was quoted as saying, "the dump that jumps."

All the biggest superstar musicians of the 1980s and 90s played the Sports Arena as part of the world tours.

From Michael Jackson (in the Bad era) to Madonna (the Blonde Ambition tour) and U2 (circa The Joshua Tree), this Welton Becket-designed stadium was perhaps known better for music than for sports.

But this was the home of the LA Lakers from 1960 to 1967 and of the LA Kings during their inaugural season starting in 1967.

It hosted the boxing competitions of the 1984 Olympics... well as Wrestlemania (twice, in fact).

It also stood in for Philly's the Spectrum in the boxing match scenes between Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed in Rocky and Rocky II.

Democratic National Convention, Los Angeles, California, July, 1960 (Photo: By Irv Brent, photographer for Audio Photo Services) [Public domain]

But beyond all music, movies, and even sporting events, it made its mark as the site of the Democratic National Convention where JFK became the party's nominee for U.S. president in 1960.

At a capacity of just over 16,000, it seemed small. (The outdoor Coliseum next door can hold 16,740, while the Forum holds 17,505 and Staples Center holds 21,000.)

With newer or restored facilities nearby, the Sports Arena seemed old.

And while there really wasn't a bad seat in the house in terms of view, there weren't any real super-duper VIP seats, either.

In fact, there weren't any of the modern amenities that LA concertgoers and sports fans have grown accustomed to.

LA is a tough town to grow old in.

Its first inclination is just to get rid of you and replace you with something younger or newer.

Some might say that the stadium's well-worn appearance was part of its charm...

...but, in truth, not enough people were charmed by it.

At least, not enough to save it.

And so, last October, it went gentle into that good night, with nary a whimper.

Great photos of the demolition-in-progress from Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times here.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: LA's Art Deco Olympic Stadium
Photo Essay: Rose Bowl Stadium, Renovated Again, and Open for Tours!
Photo Essay: Dodger Stadium, A Brooklyn Team's LA Home

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