In Los Angeles, the arrival of the new state-of-the-art soccer stadium is overshadowing the bygone arena whose place it is taking.
After standing for nearly 60 years, the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena has been reduced to rubble to make way for Banc of California Stadium, the future home of Los Angeles FC. For the most part, coverage of this story has focused on the arrival of LAFC rather than the departure of the Sports Arena. LAFC is backed by a start-studded ownership group that includes the likes of Magic Johnson and Will Ferrell, and the expansion team’s arrival represents the MLS’ efforts to add to the Los Angeles soccer scene.
By the time LAFC and Banc of California Stadium arrive in 2018, the Sports Arena will be but a distant memory. Banc of California will offer the latest in modern amenities, and will be connected to a large mixed-use development.
Yet for the all of the modern development Los Angeles will receive as the result of this plan, it will also lose one of its early sports icons. With the city at the forefront of the westward expansion that took place across major sports in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the Sports Arena and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum served as key lures for franchises. The Sports Arena was the first home in Southern California for the Lakers, who played there from 1960-1967 after relocating from Minneapolis.
The opening of The Forum in Inglewood led to the departure of the Lakers, but the Sports Arena’s NBA days were far from over. After short stays in Buffalo and San Diego, the Clippers arrived to the City of Angels in 1984. The Clippers became the Sports Arena’s longest NBA tenant, playing out of the venue through the 1998-1999 season.
When it opened July 4, 1959, the shiny $6-million venue was lauded as the future of the city, a more versatile host than its vastly bigger next-door sister, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“The city had so little in those days in the way of facilities,” recalled Martin Brower, 88, who worked as a publicist for the arena’s architectural firm, Welton Becket & Associates. “The arena represented an era of something great happening in Los Angeles.”
Built to host “spectacular” athletic events, trade shows, conventions and circuses, the arena soon swelled with boxing, wrestling and tennis matches, as well as rodeos, ice-skating performances and home exhibitions.
At the time, USC and UCLA were playing on a stage at the Shrine Auditorium and at the Pan Pacific Auditorium. Suddenly the two teams had a respectable and expansive home court.
The Lakers soon arrived. So did the Democratic National Convention in 1960.
The arena is where Cassius Clay – before he assumed the name Muhammad Ali – made good on his prediction that he’d knock out Archie Moore in the fourth round, where Jim Beatty shattered the four-minute indoor mile, where Michael Jackson closed out his first solo concert tour, “Bad.”
The Sports Arena is also notable for its contribution to film. For the fight scene between Rocky and Apollo Creed in Rocky, the Sports Arena stood in for Philadelphia’s The Spectrum. As LA Weekly once recounted, budget concerns forced the filming of Rocky to be split between Philadelphia and Los Angeles, with the fight scene being one of the most parts to be shot in LA.
Beyond the 20th century, the Sports Arena did not host any major sports tenants. USC made vacated the arena about a decade ago, though UCLA returned for parts of the 2011-2012 season while renovations were made to Pauley Pavilion. Most of the Sports Arena’s later years were filled with large-scale events, with recent examples including an August 2015 Bernie Sanders rally that attracted more than 27,000 attendees and a Bruce Springsteen concert in March. During the performance, Springsteen stated “We’re gonna miss this place, it’s a great place to play rock ‘n’ roll.”
In the end, the Sports Arena is a venue that-relative to its LA contemporaries-will not last forever. It never offered the luster and atmosphere that the Staples Center does today, it did not reinvent itself as The Forum has, and does it stand as a testament to sports history in the same way that the Coliseum does. Yet its contributions to Los Angeles still make it memorable, even if that is not apparent in its departure.
Image courtesy Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Sports Arena
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