Setting and history. That -- and the weather, of course -- makes the Rose Bowl, home of UCLA since 1982, a national landmark and celebrated football stadium no matter which coast you’re on.
Opened in 1922 with 57,000 seats, the Tournament of Roses Association (it isn’t just a clever name, after all) and designer Myron Hunt modeled the Los Angeles venue after Yale University’s stadium bowl. Fittingly, the Rose Bowl and Yale represent two of only four stadiums listed as a National Historic Landmark (Harvard and the Coliseum in Los Angeles round out the list).
The atmosphere at the Rose Bowl fits the environment. Adorned with pillars aplenty, the natural grass turf ties to the vegetation all around the venue, including trees that reach above the top of the stadium’s famed rim.
Seating about 92,500, “the Rose Bowl has the best setting of any stadium in the world,” Darryl Dunn, the slightly biased Rose Bowl general manager, tells SI.com. “Nestled in the mountains, trees literally overhanging the top rows of the stadium, beautiful homes all around it and usually the weather is pretty good. It is just beautiful.”
For UCLA, fans arrive to the site early, tailgating on the 36-hole golf course adjacent to the stadium, setting the tone for the Southern California feel within.
But the Rose Bowl is about more than 22 years of Bruin football (and a few years of the Cal Bears). The venue has hosted five Super Bowls, the storied Rose Bowl game and is the only stadium in the world to host a men’s World Cup Final, a women’s World Cup Final and an Olympic gold medal soccer match.
Early on, the Rose Bowl had success in its location within a ravine of parkland and natural vegetation on the west side of Pasadena. USC defeated Penn State during the first game there in 1923 and by 1928 the stadium had already jumped 19,000 seats to a capacity of 76,000 when expansion enclosed the horseshoe with a southern stand and gave that top rim a circumference of 2,430 feet. In 1931, concrete replaced wooden sections and capacity grew again, this time to 83,000 seats in time to host cycling events during the 1932 Summer Olympics.
By 1950, capacity had extended to nearly 101,000 and that year’s bowl game became the first bowl to have more than 100,000 fans on site. The capacity ballooned to 104,500 by 1972 and the Rose Bowl continued to host mega event after mega event, from the 1984 Summer Olympics to World Cup finals, with improvements and renovations all along the way.
The Rose Bowl isn’t done improving, though. Dunn says they have tried to upgrade the stadium and retain its historic character at the same time as part of an ongoing renovation project. In the end zone, eight tunnels were doubled in width to move people in and out easier and new aisles mean no more 40-row seats. Remade exits at the field level, a new video board and completely updated electrical — “a huge undertaking,” Dunn says — throughout the venue have already occurred. The new Terry Donahue Pavilion houses all the Rose Bowl’s premium seating, media and key operations. As the stadium remains a work in progress during the offseason, expect to see even wider concourses by 2018 with new gates and upgraded restrooms and concessions.
Not everything will transform at the Rose Bowl. Whether the steepness of the bowl that starts shallow and builds as you move higher or sightlines pointing toward midfield, don’t expect a change in the history and setting of the 92-year-old stadium. Or that weather.