When the University of California launched a state-wide campaign in October 1921 to build a football stadium on campus in honor of the World War I participants who lost their lives on the battlefields abroad, the response and results were staggering.
In only one month, more than $1 million was pledged by generous supporters of the University and, just two years later, one of the most beautiful athletic stadiums in the world was completed in picturesque Strawberry Canyon.
Now, 72 seasons after its 1923 opening, the setting of Memorial Stadium remains one of the most breathtaking sights in all of college athletics. The plush wall of pine trees in the Berkeley Hills to the east is contrasted by a panoramic view of the San Francisco Bay and three bridges to the west.
Designed by world-renowned architect John Galen Howard and co-designers G.F. Buckingham and E.E. Carpenter, the stadium is a tribute to their architectural talents - skills that were years ahead of their time. Fans who attend games today still marvel at the beauty of the structure, modeled after the Coliseum in Rome, and comment about the easy viewing for spectators from all angles within the stadium.
The stadium was completed in time for the Big Game of 1923 at a total cost of $1,437,982. It was constructed in sections with expansion joints to withstand earth movement. Included in the initial construction were 12,000 barrels of cement, 1.1 million feet of lumber for concrete forms, 8,000 cubic yards of rock, 4,000 cubic yards of sand, 600 tons of steel, 800,000 feet of premium lumber which was used for seating and 2,500 pine trees which today serve as the backdrop for the stadium.
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 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 with the added wheelchair seating and aluminum bleachers which followed in the 1980s, the stadium capacity is now officially listed as 75,662.
Overall, Cal football teams through the years have played before crowds of 70,000 or more on 53 occasions and there have been 21 games which attracted in excess of 80,000 spectators.
The advent of the Cal Sports 80s project, an $8 million fundraising campaign earmarked for the renovation of athletic facilities at Cal, further enhanced the appearance of Memorial Stadium. The most visible renovation came in 1981 when a new synthetic turf replaced the natural grass field to facilitate a stadium which could be utilized for practices as well as games when Cal's other practice facilities on campus became unavailable. State-of-the-art training quarters, locker rooms and a weight room replaced outdated facilities and a new stadium administrative complex were also constructed in late 1983.
An expansion of the weight room and training facilities was completed in l991, while a team meeting room expansion was completed in time for the start of the '94 season.
For the 1995 season, natural grass made a return to the stadium after 14 years of artificial turf at an estimated cost of $1.5 million.