Coliseum Politics

Front cover of a brochure produced by the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission in the 1970s, featuring a proposed renovation of the Coliseum with luxury suites along the rim of the stadium. According to the brochure, fans in the suites would watch the Rams, USC Trojans, and UCLA Bruins in “comfortable, relaxed surroundings.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Front cover of a brochure produced by the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission in the 1970s, featuring a proposed renovation of the Coliseum with luxury suites along the rim of the stadium. According to the brochure, fans in the suites would watch the Rams, USC Trojans, and UCLA Bruins in “comfortable, relaxed surroundings.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

In recent months, the National Football League’s seemingly imminent return to Los Angeles has been big news. This year, the press has widely reported that three NFL franchises—the Chargers, Raiders, and Rams—want to move their teams to the city. Despite the city’s long and rich professional football history, and despite the fact that it remains the second largest television market in the country, Los Angeles has been without a professional football team since Al Davis’s Raider franchise left Los Angeles to return to Oakland in 1995.

To better understand why there is no NFL team in Los Angeles, it helps to recall an episode in 1970s Coliseum politics revealed by materials in the Kenneth Hahn papers at The Huntington. The Hahn collection contains a wealth of documentation on more than 30 years of local sports history and the contentious politics that accompanied the tenure of professional teams in Los Angeles. Hahn, a longtime Los Angeles County Supervisor and steadfast booster of professional sports, was a member of the Coliseum Commission during the battle to keep the Los Angeles Rams in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

A page from the 1970s brochure highlighting the design of the proposed luxury suites. Interest in the suites was not as great as the Commission had anticipated. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

A page from the 1970s brochure highlighting the design of the proposed luxury suites. Interest in the suites was not as great as the Commission had anticipated. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

In 1976, Carroll Rosenbloom, the owner of the Los Angeles Rams, was not happy. Soon after he purchased the Rams, one of the NFL’s showcase franchises, he began to tell the sporting press that the team’s home stadium, the Coliseum, was an outdated facility in need of serious renovation. Opened in 1923, the immense stadium had a lot of history—it had hosted the Olympics, the World Series, the Super Bowl, and countless other events. But Rosenbloom was less concerned with the stadium’s history and more interested in jumping on a new trend in stadium construction: luxury suites where he and affluent football fans could entertain guests and Hollywood celebrities as they watched his players battle on the gridiron. When Rosenbloom’s complaints failed to gain much traction, he began to make threats to move his team elsewhere.

To sports fans, this scenario is all too familiar: owners of professional franchises threatening to move their teams if the public does not finance a state-of-the-art stadium. After three years of acrimonious negotiations between Rosenbloom and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission—the nine-member committee comprised of public officials and other government appointees that managed the stadium—the Commission finally put together a renovation plan for the aging facility in 1976.

Opening day, 10th Olympic Games, Los Angeles. 1932. “Dick” Whittington Studio Collection of Negatives and Photographs. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Opening day, 10th Olympic Games, Los Angeles. 1932. “Dick” Whittington Studio Collection of Negatives and Photographs. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Among the Hahn papers in the Library are the architectural renderings of the renovation plan, detailing the installation of 138 luxury suites on the top rim of the Coliseum. In the 1970s, luxury suites appealed to team owners and the growing audience for sporting events among U.S. corporate elites who wanted a privatized spectating experience away from rowdy fans in the stands. The Coliseum Commission, which drew no taxpayer monies, sought to lease suites to fund the renovation of the stadium to Rosenbloom’s satisfaction. The suites promised to deliver “the ultimate in spectator luxury and comfort” with lounge seating, private elevator access, air conditioning, a wet bar, and closed circuit television. The funds from the rentals would then be used to finance the renovation plan. It seemed to be a win-win scenario for the Rams and the Coliseum.

But luxury suites, now ubiquitous in all new stadiums, were still a novel concept in the 1970s—and apparently too novel for Angelenos at the time. The Commission put the suites on the market in April 1976, but they failed to generate much interest; a few months later, the Commission decided to shelve the plan. The failed suite campaign turned out to be the beginning of the end of the Rams’ tenure at the Coliseum. Two years later, Rosenbloom moved his franchise to Anaheim, where he received a renovated stadium with plenty of luxury suites for his Hollywood friends.

Davis, who had moved his Raiders team from Oakland to Los Angeles in 1982 after winning a bitter lawsuit against the NFL, promised to build the long-sought-after suites at the Coliseum. Davis later reneged on his promise and, to this day, the Coliseum remains one of the few stadiums in use without luxury suites. The Coliseum remains a Los Angeles landmark that is still the home field of the USC Trojans. It remains to be seen if the stadium will be able to combine, as the renovation project promised 40 years ago, its “rich tradition” with the “most modern” stadium amenities.

Football game, University of Iowa and University of Southern California, Los Angeles Coliseum, Los Angeles. November 21, 1925. Writing in white in the bottom right reads “U.S.C. 18 Iowa 0; 11-21-25” and “No 701; Aerograph Co.; L.A.” Verner Collection of Panoramic Negatives. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Football game, University of Iowa and University of Southern California, Los Angeles Coliseum, Los Angeles. November 21, 1925. Writing in white in the bottom right reads “U.S.C. 18 Iowa 0; 11-21-25” and “No 701; Aerograph Co.; L.A.” Verner Collection of Panoramic Negatives. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The NFL’s contentious history with Los Angeles is a chapter in a book that Frank Guridy is writing on the history of the Coliseum and its centrality to Los Angeles sporting and recreational culture. You can listen to Guridy’s Haynes lecture, “Game Day at the Coliseum,” on iTunes U or download it directly here.

Guridy is the author of Forging Diaspora: Afro-Cubans and African Americans in a World of Empire and Jim Crow (University of North Carolina Press, 2010), which won the 2009–11 Elsa Goveia Book Prize from the Association of Caribbean Historians and the 2011 Wesley-Logan Book Prize conferred by the American Historical Association.

Frank A. Guridy is associate professor of History and African and African Diaspora Studies at University of Texas, Austin, as well as a 2015–16 visiting associate professor at Columbia University. He was a 2014–15 long-term fellow at The Huntington as the Occidental/Ray A. Billington Visiting Professor in U.S. History.

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