The Rose Bowl was born in a big, rock-strewn gully on a bootleg dump for rusted-out cars. It was 1922 and the Tournament of Roses--Pasadena's floral extravaganza--had outgrown the bleachers it had been using for its annual football game.
The new concrete stadium was, like the tournament itself, contrived by the wealthy business and professional men who steered Pasadena's civic life. Years later, Lathrop (Lay) Leishman, a past president of the tournament now deceased, would recall peeking through the keyhole as his father, who owned a lumber mill, hashed out the particulars of the deal in his living room with a local builder and the well-known architect Myron Hunt.
The stadium, as originally designed, seated 57,000 fans. The city bought the land. The construction money was put up by the Tournament of Roses Assn. and financed with seat subscription sales. When finished, the bowl was deeded to the city, which then leased it back to the association for the big game. The final cost: $272,198.26.
In the decades since, the bowl has grown to seat more than 100,000 spectators and its crowds have witnessed some of the peak moments in sports and entertainment history. This is where "Wrong Way" Riegels made his famous 1929 run, a 65-yard sprint to the wrong goal line. This is where O.J. Simpson zigged and zagged for USC, as if on winged feet.
It has been UCLA's home field since 1982. And there have been countless smaller events: swap meets and chili cook-offs, religious revivals and Frisbee matches.
But the bowl has also been the flash point in recent decades for some of the city's sharpest growing pains. As Pasadena has changed from a white-gloved enclave to a polyglot California city, its metamorphosis has been reflected in the bowl.
Before the 1970s, the bowl was a calm, patrician place. Aside from the big game, some Fourth of July fireworks and the Thanksgiving "Turkey Tussle"--a cross-town high school football game--it was as unobtrusive as a lawn ornament. Its very gentility, in fact, spawned the development of scores of homes around the bowl, which is now surrounded by two golf courses, a lush park, a world-class aquatic center and a ring of tightly knit neighborhoods.
But with the 1970s came changes: The city grew, and the influence of the wealthy men at the Tournament of Roses waned. Rock concerts were allowed into the bowl--and with them came noise and bright lights and fans who got high and threw up on the neighbors' yards. Then came a national recession, and the city's decision to bring the 1977 Super Bowl into the stadium. When the pro football playoff netted the city $175,000, Pasadena signed up for as many as it could get.
By the 1980s, the bowl was a big-time venue and the source of an ongoing land use debate. Anti-nuclear benefits, anti-drug concerts, the Jacksons' Victory Tour--all ignited bitter fights. Finally, in 1988, the city passed a pivotal ordinance limiting the Rose Bowl to a dozen "major" events a year--defining "major" as any event with an audience of 20,000 or more.
The neighbors were happy, but it wasn't long before another recession hit and the city was back to square one.
"They looked at the Rose Bowl, and thought, 'What do we got going on here?' We got a Turkey Tussle and a Rose Bowl game," said Alfred F. Moses, president of the Rose Bowl Operating Co. board. "They wanted to know, 'What's the Rose Bowl doing for us? Can we generate more revenue?' "
So the city created a nonprofit corporation to manage the bowl like a business--which meant, among other things, increasing its use. Last year, despite the ordinance, 25 major events were held at the bowl. The neighbors have reacted with a mixture of resignation and ire.