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Could a Face Lift Make the Coliseum a Contender?

Architecture: There's a plan to modernize the historic site to make it a first-class football arena, preserve its facade--oh, and save lots of money.

June 10, 1996|LEON WHITESON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In the year since the Raiders departed for Oakland, football fans have been itching to know how a new NFL team might be attracted to Los Angeles. There's been tons of talk and debate and posturing about the best possible site--Chavez Ravine? Hollywood Park in Ingelwood? Anaheim?

Now, for the first time, an actual design for a modern football stadium in L.A. has been put on the table. Surprisingly, it shows how the 73-year-old Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum could be transformed into a first-class venue for pro football, and at a cost cheaper than that of a new stadium.

There are countless hurdles yet to clear, but in the complicated political, cultural and financial context of the competition for a new football franchise, this design could make the Coliseum a contender.

The design is the brainchild of Beverly Hills-based architect Barton Myers and developer William McGregor. After the Raiders left town, Myers and McGregor were spurred by a concern that the old landmark might be overlooked. Linking up with the international engineering firm Ove Arup & Partners, and local contractors Peck / Jones Construction, Myers and McGregor have presented a proposal to the nine-member Coliseum Commission. It makes a strong case for the urbanistic and social value of keeping the stadium as a vibrant element in Exposition Park, in a historic but rundown district that is badly in need of economic stimulus.

The consortium's scheme envisages the construction of a new, horseshoe-shaped stadium inserted within the shell of the existing outer wall. The plan preserves the lower tier of 41,000 field seats that lie below the existing entry level, close to the sidelines. The level above the present long entrance tunnels is removed and replaced by a new steel stand supporting an upper tier of 16,000 seats, 180 private luxury boxes, plus 10,000 higher-priced club seats. Between the new stand and the preserved outer colonnade is a continuous promenade housing concession stands and restrooms. The result would be a state-of-the art stadium accommodating 70,000 fans, a number considered optimal for pro games.

The differences between the Coliseum's existing amenities and the proposed new stadium are dramatic. Most importantly, every seat in the stands would be as close to the action on the field as it can get. The distance from the highest seat in the stands to the sidelines of the field is cut by 75 feet, from 315 feet to 240 feet. The private boxes and club seats that are crucial to the economic viability of any modern stadium would be close to the sidelines--an important selling point.

"We feel it's important for the city that the Coliseum remains a vital venue," Myers said. "The Coliseum carries memories of two Olympics, in 1932 and 1984, and Los Angeles is rather poor in architecture with this much social history." A theater designer with a national reputation, Myers was the architect for the acclaimed Cerritos Performing Arts Center and for the $75-million New Jersey Center for the Performing Arts under construction in Newark.

The Coliseum has a strategic location in the city. Across Exposition Boulevard from USC, it is linked to downtown along the Figueroa-Flower street corridor, which the city plans to upgrade. At the same time, the Coliseum is easily accessible to fans coming from the Westside and the Valley along two major freeways, the Santa Monica and the Harbor. On the other hand, it must battle against widespread fears of spectators who would rather not venture into the area.

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was designed in 1921-'23 by architects John and Donald Parkinson, whose other local landmarks include Bullocks Wilshire and the Pacific Stock Exchange on Spring Street. The firm was also part of the team that designed the Los Angeles City Hall in the late 1920s. The colonnaded, stripped-down beaux-arts peristyle and stubby tower that marks the entry to the stadium is one of L.A.'s prime urban images.

According to developer McGregor, renovating the Coliseum along the lines proposed by his consortium makes sound economic as well as social sense. He claims that the concept he and his partners are offering would cost $150 million--around $100 million dollars less than the price of a totally new stadium. This cost advantage is considerably increased if the low cost of the land is factored in. Since the Coliseum is publicly owned, managed by a commission that includes representatives of the state, the county and the city, its site cost would be nominal, or possibly zero.

In addition, the Coliseum has recently completed a $100-million, FEMA-funded repair of structural damage caused by the 1994 Northridge earthquake. This repair program also upgraded some of the stadium facilities like the press box, leading to a controversy over the quality of the work and questions about abnormalities in some welds that help support it.

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