Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum: The Story of an L.A. Icon

Summer Olympics, Super Bowls and historic events

Aerial view of Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum rendering

Aerial view of Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum | Rendering: DLR Group


Since opening in June 1923, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum has become one of the world’s greatest sports venues, home to world-class athletes and legendary games. The Coliseum has also hosted numerous historic figures and countless special events. It is the only facility in the world to host two Olympiads (X and XXIII), two Super Bowls (I and VII), one World Series (1959), a Papal Mass, and visits by three U.S. Presidents: John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. The Coliseum will add to this illustrious record in 2028 when L.A. hosts the XXXIV Olympiad. The Coliseum was declared a National Historic Landmark on July 27, 1984.

United Airlines Field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

United Airlines Field | Photo: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Renovation

Designed by DLR Group, the two-year $315-million renovation of the Coliseum was completed in time for the Rams first preseason game (August 17) and the USC Trojans home opener against Fresno State on August 31. A gala ribbon-cutting announced the project's completion on August 15. 

Highlights of the renovation include:

  • new seats and handrails throughout the stadium
  • new aisles and increased leg room
  • a new structure on the south side of the stadium to contain suites, loge boxes, club seats, a concourse, and a press box
  • a restoration of the peristyle to more closely resemble its original design
  • Wi-Fi throughout the stadium
  • improved audio and video equipment, including two large screens at the east and west ends of the stadium
  • new and improved concession stands
  • upgraded entry concourses
  • new field and stadium lighting
Expo Park/USC Station on the Metro Expo Line | Photo by Daniel Djang

Expo Park/USC Station on the Metro Expo Line | Photo by Daniel Djang

Location

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is located at Exposition Park, across the street from the campus of the University of Southern California (USC). The Coliseum is adjacent to the former site of the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, which was replaced by the state-of-the-art Banc of California Stadium, the home of the Los Angeles Football Club.

Located about four miles southwest of Downtown L.A. off Exposition Boulevard and Figueroa Street, Exposition Park is also home to the California African American Museum, California Science Center and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Exposition Park will be the future home of the $1-billion Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. The Coliseum and Exposition Park are easily accessible from Interstate 110 (aka the Harbor Freeway) and the Expo Park / USC Station of the Metro Rail Expo Line.

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum under construction, ca. 1922

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum under construction, ca. 1922 | Photo: LA Coliseum, Facebook

History

The Coliseum was designed by the father-son architectural team of John and Donald Parkinson. Other landmarks designed by the L.A. firm include City Hall, Union Station and the Bullock’s Wilshire Building. The Coliseum was commissioned in 1921 as a memorial to Los Angeles veterans of World War I; it was rededicated to all veterans in 1968. The official groundbreaking ceremony took place on Dec. 21, 1921 and work was completed on May 1, 1923. When the Coliseum opened in June 1923, it was the largest stadium in L.A. with a capacity of 75,144.

USC Trojans running onto the field at LA Coliseum

Photo: John McGillen, USC Trojans

USC Trojans

The Coliseum is the home stadium of the USC Trojans football team. Established in 1888, the Trojans football program is a perennial NCAA powerhouse, claiming 11 national championships. As of 2019, 510 Trojans have been taken in the NFL draft, more than any other university. With 12 Pro Football Hall of Famers, USC is second only to Notre Dame.

Five months after it opened, the Coliseum hosted its first football game on Oct. 6, 1923. A crowd of 12,836 watched USC beat Pomona College 23-7. Many memorable games have been played on that field over the decades; one of the greatest was USC vs. Notre Dame on Nov. 30, 1974. Known as “The Comeback,” the Trojans erased a 24-point deficit and routed the defending national champion Fighting Irish 55-24.

Los Angeles Rams Samson Ebukam vs Kansas City Chiefs

Rams outside linebacker Samson Ebukam scored two touchdowns in an epic 54-51 win over the Chiefs on Monday Night Football | Photo: Los Angeles Rams, Facebook

Los Angeles Rams & Raiders, Super Bowls I & VII

In 1946, the Coliseum began a long relationship with the National Football League (NFL) when the former Cleveland Rams relocated to Los Angeles. Kenny Washington broke the NFL’s color barrier when the Rams opened the season against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sept. 29, 1946. The team would play in L.A. through the end of the 1979 season, when the Rams lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XIV. The former Oakland Raiders later called the Coliseum home 1982-1994. Beginning with the 2016-17 season, the NFL returned to L.A. and the Rams are once again the Los Angeles Rams.

The Coliseum was the site of the first-ever NFL-AFL Championship Game, which took place on Jan. 15, 1967 and is now known around the world as the Super Bowl. The NFL champion Green Bay Packers defeated the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs 35-10. The Super Bowl was played in L.A. for the second time when the Coliseum hosted Super Bowl VII in 1973, featuring the AFC champion Miami Dolphins and the NFC champion Washington Redskins. The Dolphins beat the Redskins 14-7 to become the first - and currently the only - team in NFL history to complete a perfect, undefeated season with a record of 17-0.

LA Coliseum 1984 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony

Opening Ceremony for the 1984 Summer Olympics at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum | Photo: IOC

LA Coliseum 1932 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony

Opening Ceremony for the 1932 Summer Olympics at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum | Photo: IOC

Summer Olympic Games

The Coliseum hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1932 Summer Olympic Games. The stadium was also the site of field hockey, gymnastics, the show jumping part of the equestrian events, and track and field. In anticipation of the Olympic Games, the Coliseum’s capacity was increased to 105,574 seats. The famed Olympic Cauldron (aka the Olympic Torch) was added to the peristyle on the east end of the stadium, as well as the Olympic rings, which were placed over the main center entrance of the peristyle. Today, the torch is lit during the fourth quarter of USC football games, as well as other special occasions (e.g. when the Olympic Games are being held in another city).

In 1984, Los Angeles became the only U.S. city to host two Olympics, and the Coliseum became the first stadium to host the Olympics twice. For the 1984 Olympic Games, the Coliseum was the primary venue for track and field, and the site of the opening and closing ceremonies. The Olympic Gateway, created by sculptor Robert Graham for the '84 Games, is notable for a pair of life-sized bronze nudes modeled on two Olympic athletes, U.S. water polo player Terry Schroeder and Guyana long jumper Jennifer Inniss.

Along with the new Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park, the Coliseum will co-host the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2028 Summer Olympic Games.

Concerts

The Coliseum has hosted decades of spectacular concerts featuring some of the greatest music acts in history, including Roger Waters performing “The Wall” in its entirety; the Rolling Stones “Steel Wheels” Tour with Guns N’ Roses; U2, Metallica, The Who, the Grateful Dead, Van Halen and many more.

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band concluded their Born in the U.S.A. Tour with a four-night stand at the Coliseum on Sept. 27, 29-30 and Oct. 2, 1985. The shows were recorded and eight songs from the Sept. 30 concert appear on their 1986 box set, Live/1975–85. The Sept. 30 performance of Edwin Starr’s War was released as the first single from Live/1975-85. The music video is a straight concert filming of the Coliseum performance.

Plaque commemorates John F. Kennedy's historic speech at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Memorial Court of Honor plaque commemorates John F. Kennedy's historic speech | Photo: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Memorial Court of Honor

Located at the historic Coliseum peristyle, the 62 plaques that comprise the Memorial Court of Honor commemorate outstanding persons or events (athletic or otherwise) that have made an impact on the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Peristyle "Mystery Mural"

Restored "Mystery Mural" at the Peristyle | Photo: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 

"Mystery Mural"

During the restoration of the Peristyle that was part of the Coliseum renovation project, the story of the "Mystery Mural" was uncovered. The stunning mural was painted by Heinz Rosien in 1969 as part of LA's bid for the 1976 Summer Olympics. That bid went to Montreal, Los Angeles hosted the '84 Games, and the rest is history.  

Billy Graham Crusade at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1963

Billy Graham Crusade on Sept. 8, 1963 | Photo: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Attendance Records

USC vs. Notre Dame: The 1947 edition of the rivalry game was seen by a crowd of 104,953, the highest attendance for a football game at the Coliseum. The Fighting Irish defeated the Trojans and went on to win the National Championship.

World Series: During the 1959 World Series against the Chicago White Sox, attendance at all three Dodgers home games exceeded 90,000. Game 5 drew 92,706 fans, a World Series record that will likely remain unbroken.

Billy Graham Crusade: Evangelist Billy Graham’s 1963 Southern California crusade was held at the Coliseum Aug. 15 - Sept. 8, 1963. On the final night, a crowd of 134,254 attended the service, which is still an all-time Coliseum record.

RBD: A new mark for the highest paid attendance for a Latin music concert in the United States (63,101) was set on March 18, 2006, when Mexican pop group RBD took the Coliseum stage.

Soccer International Doubleheader: On Aug. 6, 2006, the Coliseum hosted an international doubleheader featuring Chivas USA vs. the New England Revolution and Chivas de Guadalajara of Mexico vs. FC Barcelona of Spain, the reigning Spanish and European champions, respectively. According to MLS Soccer, the standing room only crowd of 92,650 fans was the largest in MLS history and the largest to witness a professional club soccer event in the United States.

Dodgers 50th Anniversary: An exhibition game on March 29, 2008 celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers in L.A. The Dodgers lost to the Boston Red Sox, 7-4. The crowd of 115,300 set a new Guinness World Record for attendance at a baseball game.