California Memorial Stadium, completed in November 1923, is dedicated to University of California, Berkeley students, alumni and other Californians who lost their lives in World War I. Situated in Strawberry Canyon, it remains one of the most beautiful settings in college athletics.
When a plan to build a stadium was first conceived, the university's athletics program was run by the Associated Students of the University of California. To finance the original stadium construction, a subscription drive was launched in October 1921. For each $100 donated, the subscriber received scrip that could be used to buy two Cal-Stanford Big Game tickets at $5 each for the next 10 years.
Alumni, faculty, students and fans responded immediately. In no time the first $800,000 was raised.
The total construction cost was $1.4 million. UC Comptroller Robert Gordon Sproul (who in 1930 would become UC president) noted at the time that the fundraising effort made it possible to build the stadium "without the expenditure of one cent of university funds or state appropriations."
Construction began in December 1922, and 11 months later, Memorial Stadium opened in time for the 1923 Big Game. The game drew 73,000 fans and is reported to have been the largest crowd up to that day to witness a football game in the West. Cal won, 9-0.
Designed by John Galen Howard, with co-designers G.F. Buckingham and E.E. Carpenter, the stadium is modeled after the Colosseum in Rome. It is framed by the pine trees of the Berkeley Hills to the east and panoramic views of the campus and San Francisco Bay to the west.
On the day of the stadium's dedication, Sproul declared: "Deep rooted in the eternal hills, this memorial to the honored dead, here devoted to the service of the living, raises its noble crown into the clear California sky and stands in simple dignity, beauty and strength."
Original plans for the stadium called for a capacity of 60,000, but they were altered in favor of a capacity closer to 80,000. The seating capacity has fluctuated due to renovation and other changes, but in 1947, a school-record-tying crowd of 83,000 watched Cal defeat Navy, 14-7, a feat which may have prompted Cal officials to establish an official capacity for the stadium. In the 1960s, temporary bleachers on the east side were removed and additional wheelchair seating and aluminum bleachers followed in the 1980s. For 2001, the press box was rebuilt, giving the stadium an official capacity of 71,799.
Construction to renovate and seismically retrofit Memorial Stadium began in December 2010, which brought the facility up to modern standards while paying tribute to the historic nature of the building. Cal football played the 2011 season at AT&T Park in San Francisco and returned to Berkeley in 2012. Among the amenities added were a wide concourse, upgraded restrooms and concessions stands, a new press box with three club levels, all aluminum bleachers, two video boards, and a field lowered by four feet to improve site lines. Capacity was reduced to approximately 63,000.