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UCLA basketball to make Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena its temporary home

School officials are expected to announce that the Bruins will play a majority of their home games at the Sports Arena next season while Pauley Pavilion is being renovated. The Sports Arena is moving toward demolition.

April 07, 2011|By Lance Pugmire
  • UCLA is expected to announce Friday that it will play a majority of its basketball games at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena next season.
UCLA is expected to announce Friday that it will play a majority of its basketball… (Ricardo DeAratanha/ Los…)

It is where John F. Kennedy won the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination and where basketball once ruled — the Lakers, Clippers, Bruins and Trojans all called it home for a time. The NHL's Kings did too. And it once was a rock cathedral Bruce Springsteen hailed as "the joint that don't disappoint."

Yet even as the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena moves inexorably toward demolition, its oblong roofline still framed by that blazing candy-green ribbon of light, UCLA basketball will soon be back inside its doors.

School officials are expected to announce as early as Friday that the Bruins will play a majority of their home games at the Sports Arena next season while Pauley Pavilion is being renovated. In addition, a sprinkling of games is expected to be played at Honda Center with one exhibition game at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario.

Steve Kundar, a UCLA basketball season ticket-holder for more than 20 years who also once had partial season tickets for the Clippers, said he isn't looking forward to returning to the Sports Arena.

"Being a Bruin and a lifelong Angeleno, it's not the best area," Kundar said. "I have a son and it's not the best place for kids at night. It's just not as welcoming."

Nevertheless, Kundar said he planned to attend a "fair amount of games." He just hopes UCLA provides transportation for students to help the Bruins maintain a home-court advantage.

Although getting the Bruins would temporarily revive the Sports Arena, it could also be the building's last hurrah.

Built in 1959 at a cost of $8.3 million, the Sports Arena and the 15 acres of Exposition Park around it have been the focus of an environmental impact report that greenlights alternative uses that would reduce the building to rubble.

A 22,000-seat soccer stadium, a relocated NFL team's practice facility and an outdoor concert/festival venue are among the possibilities for the corner of Figueroa Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, just south of the Coliseum.

"The EIR doesn't mean a wrecking ball is coming to the place tomorrow," Jon Lee, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission spokesman, said. "But it articulates options. The commission wanted to be forward-thinking on this. It's a license to act, a nice thing to have on the shelf."

Among those paying attention are Chivas USA, the MLS franchise seeking to escape its kid-brother status to the Galaxy at the Home Depot Center in Carson.

"It's something we're aware of," Chivas USA spokesman David Lindholm said. "We know it's important for our organization to have our own home and own stadium, for our own identity."

Coliseum commissioner Barry Sanders has pushed for a multiple-use space to replace the arena, capable of staging outdoor concerts, parades or rallies.

David Israel, another coliseum commissioner, opposes both ideas, chiding that a large soccer stadium or concert venue in a spot not too far removed from L.A. Live, the Hollywood Bowl and Greek Theatre wouldn't be as wise as constructing an NFL practice facility with public amenities for a team should one relocate to the proposed downtown stadium.

A spokesman for stadium developer AEG said an NFL practice venue has "yet to be discussed" and will "be the team's choice."

The 16,000-seat Sports Arena, which opened with a boxing match, has "become increasingly underutilized," according to a report by the commission.

Indeed, a blackboard hanging inside the arena's drafty, popcorn-ceilinged hallways reveal how desperate for attractions the building has become.

One March event was the Los Angeles Archdiocese's academic decathlon, while May boasts a second-tier mixed martial arts fight card pitting law enforcement officers vs. ex-criminals, "Cage vs. Cons." And former "American Idol" judge Simon Cowell was here last month to stage nationwide auditions for his upcoming show, "The X Factor."

"It's sad," said Margaret Farnum, Coliseum historian and former assistant general manager, standing outside the arena's faded-gray side panels and blue block walls. "The original arena was a modern-day work of art, one of the most versatile ever made. There's hardly anything that goes into an arena that hasn't been here.

"And it kind of gives you goose bumps when you realize who was in here."

When Councilman Kenneth Hahn in 1954 made a motion to build the Sports Arena with $4 million in bonds to be repaid over 20 years, he made civic pride a cornerstone of the pitch.

"The auditorium can be used not only for sports ... [but] every conceivable large gathering," Hahn said at the time.

"Dad was very proud of it," City Councilwoman Janice Hahn said. "And I can remember going to the Sports Arena to see the Lakers, the Harlem Globetrotters, in a Pepperdine camp — it was widely used by the community."

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