Modernizing LA’s Historic Coliseum

A construction crane looms over the LA Memorial Coliseum, which is undergoing a massive restoration and renovation. Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors.

A groundbreaking ceremony marked the official start of a $270-million project to restore and upgrade the 95-year-old Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, preserving it as a historic landmark while adding modern amenities – not to mention creating thousands of jobs.

LA Councilman Curren Price, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, USC President CL Max Nikias, United Airlines’ Janet Lamkin, and USC athletic director and Pro Football Hall of Famer Lynn Swann at the ceremonial groundbreaking. Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors.

To underwrite a portion of the project’s cost, the University of Southern California announced a naming rights agreement with United Airlines. The stadium will be called the United Airlines Memorial Coliseum beginning in August 2019.

“The university has a time-honored commitment to the Coliseum,” said C. L. Max Nikias, president of USC, which operates the stadium under a 98-year lease with the city and county of Los Angeles and the state of California. “USC is honored to be the caretaker of this Los Angeles treasure.”

“Over almost a century, the Coliseum has endured as one of the world’s greatest sports and entertainment venues, a civic monument and architectural icon in the heart of Los Angeles,” said County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, a member of the Coliseum Commission. “Through this restoration project, USC continues to demonstrate its responsible stewardship of the stadium, ushering in a modern era for this historic landmark and preserving its legacy for generations to come.”

An artist’s rendering shows the renovated United Airlines Memorial Coliseum. (Image/Courtesy of DLR Group)

The project calls for restoring the iconic peristyle, as well as additional aisles, handrails, wider seats, more legroom, cup holders, updated Wi-Fi, concession expansion and improvements. Audio and video systems also are being upgraded, along with electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems.

The peristyle. Photo courtesy of USC.

Commissioned as a memorial to Los Angeles veterans of World War I, the Coliseum opened in June 1923. It was designed by the father-and-son architectural team of John and Donald Parkinson, whose firm also designed LA City Hall and Union Station.

Declared a National Historic Landmark in July 1984, the Coliseum is the only venue in the world to host two Olympic Games, in 1932 and 1984, with a third scheduled in 2028. Super Bowl I and VII were both played at the Coliseum, as were the 1959 World Series, the Dodgers beat the White Sox, their first championship in Los Angeles after moving from Brooklyn.

The Coliseum also hosted visits by three US Presidents: Ronald Regan, Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, who accepted the nomination for president there during the 1960 Democratic National Convention. It also visits by Pope John Paul II in 1984, and anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela in 1990. Among the orga nizers of the South African icon’s trip was then-Southern Christian Leadership Conference executive director Mark Ridley-Thomas.

In addition to the Coliseum, other construction projects at Exposition Park are the Banc of California stadium for the LA Football Club, the expansion of the Natural History Museum, and the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.

“Exposition Park is undergoing a renaissance of sorts that is bringing with it much prosperity in the form of jobs, economic growth and community benefits unlike anything we’ve seen before,” said City Councilman and Coliseum Commission President Curren Price. “I want to thank USC for the major investment in our community, which will have a lasting, positive impact in the lives of current and future generations.”

Renovation of the Coliseum field and stadium seating is under way. Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors.