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Vintage San Diego: The Grand Stands

Qualcomm Stadium, August, 1967


Photographs by John Oldenkamp

8,700 - Field seats that could be moved to adjust for football or baseball fields, via Firestone tires

$27 million - Total cost of the project in 1967; the 1997 upgrade cost $78 million

2 million - Yards of dirt moved over the course of 90 days, during site development by Cameron Bros. construction crews

13,000 - Individually controlled lamps on the electronic scoreboard, a one-of-a-kind design by Cubic Corporation

600 - Trees planted among 8 acres of concrete paving

2003 - The last time San Diego hosted a Super Bowl

At the center of San Diego’s current Charger drama is the one player that cannot defend itself—Qualcomm Stadium. Once touted as “the posh colossus of Mission Valley,” the Q is now considered, as ESPN senior writer Arash Markazi put it, “an obsolete relic that should have been put out of its misery years ago.” But for those of us who spent our childhoods cheering on the Bolts and Pads from its plastic seats—drippy helmet sundaes in hand, Beach Boys concerts every summer—we can’t help but reminisce about the “gorgeous giant” that was.

When the venue (originally named San Diego Stadium, and later Jack Murphy Stadium) opened in 1967, the city had never seen anything like it. The Women’s Auxiliary for Children’s Hospital hosted an exclusive premiere party, boasting special guests Jimmy Durante and Freddie Martin’s orchestra. Then on August 20, 1967 came the dedication game against the Detroit Lions, the Chargers’ first official NFL opponent.

Amid all the hype, San Diego Magazine published the above photos showcasing the complex’s architecture, including its “magnificent curves,” spiraling ramps, and the county’s largest parking lot. Reporter Ralph Trembley described the design as “round yet not round, huge and yet intimate, gaily colored and yet sedate in its symmetry.” Season ticket holders praised its configuration: “Wherever you are, you feel like you’re on the 50-yard line,” stadium operations manager Fred Conger said. Oh, how times and technology have changed. (We’re looking at you, Dallas, and your $40-million Jumbotron!) We just hope architect Gary Allen isn’t rolling over in his grave.

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