UIHistories Project: A History of the University of Illinois by Kalev Leetaru
        B U I L D I N G S

Memorial Stadium

Memorial Stadium stands as a pristine monument to those University of Illinois students who lost their lives in World War I. Along with the memorial courtyard in Lincoln Hall and the Military Drill Field trees, it stands as living testament to the ultimate sacrifice made by those students.

The Stadium got its start in 1921, when Head Football Coach Robert Zuppke and Athletic Director George Huff launched a $2M fundraising campaign for a new 75,000-seat stadium to honor the students who had died in the freshly concluded war. On April 25 of that year, more than 6,000 students gathered to discuss the proposal, with the result being that $700,000 was pledged almost on the spot. [1] Over time, more than 21,000 people donated to the building fund. [2]

Holabird & Roche designed the new stadium, located "1100 feet from south-west corner of Parade Ground to [the] corner of [the] playing field". [3] It featured an "imposing shell which cleverly introduces a majestic colonnade in harmony with the Georgian buildings designed and erected at the same time". The original plans also called for the surrounding grounds to hold a campanile, fountains, and elaborate entrances to the stadium. [4] During the construction a particularly rainy week caused a bulldozer to sink into the field, and it was determined that it would be cheaper to leave it in place rather than remove it. [5]

The first game played in the partially completed stadium was the Chicago-Illinois dual on November 3, 1923, [6] where Illinois won 7-0. [7] At the behest of Robert Zuppke, the stadium was not dedicated until the following year, after the 200 memorial columns had been fully installed. [8] Each of its 200 memorial columns carries the name of one of the 183 [9] students who gave his or her life in defense of the United States. [10] Finally, on October 18, 1924, [11] the stadium was formally dedicated, and the famous game against University of Michigan played. [12] The final cost of the building was $2,084,000. [13] In 1928 the $50,000 West Hall was erected, designed by James White, while the South Stand was built in 1929 for a cost of $241,000. Designed by the original architects of the stadium, Holabird & Root, [14] [15] funding for the addition came from the Athletic Association. [16]

In 1925, the stadium also became the home of the Illinois Track and Field program, and the Memorial Stadium Track played host to the team and its meets until 1984, evolving "from the era of cinders to high-tech all-weather surfaces". It hosted every state prep meet from 1926 through 1973 and was home to a world record (Herb McKenley in 1947) and numerous NCAA championships through the years. Despite providing ample spectator seating and superior facilities, the Stadium Track finally lost out to the ever-growing football program and in the spring of 1984 the track was ripped out with the installation of a new artificial turf for the football field. [17]

During its meeting on June 20, 1942, the Board of Trustees authorized the United States Navy to establish a Diesel Engine Operator's School at the University. The University allocated the West Hall of the Stadium and "the locker and training rooms on that side [to] be used for classroom and laboratory purposes". The Stadium was chosen because "The West Hall and the Skating Ring are the only areas large enough the Athletic Association and the School of Physical Education prefer to give up the West Hall instead of the Skating Rink." [18]

By 1954, the University Television Studio was based in Memorial Stadium. However, the "proximity of the Betatron [to the studio] cause[d] interference with the transmission of television pictures when electricity from the University Power Plant [was] used", forcing the University to look to Illinois Power to provide separate electrical service to the studio. The company agreed to run service lines to the Stadium without charge as long as the University agreed to use its service for at least 3 years, at a cost of around $5,000 a year ($120 monthly charge with an expected use of less than 5,000kva). [19]

On November 24, 1962, the Schulmerich Carillon Americana was dedicated at the stadium, partially fulfilling the original plans for a carillon at the stadium. One of the five largest in the country, the carillon's console was housed in the Auditorium and "its impulses carried by wires through campus tunnels to Memorial Stadium, where the stentors are located in the northeast tower". The tower contained the bell assembly, which was comprised of "small bronze bells which, when struck with metal hammers, produce pure bell tones barely audible to the ear. The resultant bell vibrations are then picked up electrostatically, amplified to the desired proportions, and reproduced from a lofty height". The carillon was made possible through a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Rollin Staley and the inaugural concert was played by John Klein at 12:30 in the afternoon the day of its dedication. [20]

By the 1980's, the University realized it needed an indoor practice facility for its football team to use during the winter: "the bubble" was born. It was supposed to be in place by December 6, 1985 for the team to practice before their Peach Bowl appearance, but delivery delays and strong winter winds delayed the dome's inaugural appearance until December 28, 1985. The dome was unveiled to the public at a February 2, 1986 open house, where 4,423 people turned out to see the new facilities. The dome cost $1.5M and the 99,715 square foot structure was 70 feet tall and "spanned the entire field, from sideline to sideline cover[ing] both end zones", with two fans on either end of the field keeping it inflated. On January 1, 1999, the dome collapsed under the weight of 15 inches of snow, but suffered no substantial damage and was able to be reinflated. The dome was finally deflated for its last time in spring 2000, when it was packed up and shipped to Springfield for state action. [21]

In 2002, the Stadium became the temporary home of the Chicago Bears for a second time while their new Chicago stadium was finished. [22] The Bears were no strangers to Memorial Stadium, having practiced under the newly-unveiled "Bubble" on their way to the 1986 Super Bowl. [23]

By the dawn of the new millennium, the stadium was beginning to show its age. To modernize and structurally stabilize the aging structure, the University began soliciting proposals for upgrading the stadium in late 2004. [24] One of the most pressing renovations is to replace the concrete in the horseshoe and structurally stabilize that section of the stadium. To generate revenue to cover the costs of construction, one of the renovations proposed is to add luxury VIP stadium boxes. [25]

[1] 2001 Campus Calendar
[2] University of Illinois Archives, Building and Statue Dedication Programs: RS 2/0/808
[3] 1928 Campus Map
[4] 100 Years of Campus Architecture at the University of Illinois by Allen S. Weller
[6] University of Illinois Archives, Building and Statue Dedication Programs: RS 2/0/808
[7] 2001 Campus Calendar
[8] 2001 Campus Calendar
[9] 182 men and 1 woman
[10] University of Illinois Archives, Building and Statue Dedication Programs: RS 2/0/808
[11] University of Illinois Archives, Building and Statue Dedication Programs: RS 2/0/808
[12] Campus Landmarks Brochure
[13] History of the Growth and Development of the Campus of The University of Illinois - Leon Tilon / Thomas O'Donnell - UI Press 1930 - p 182
[14] History of the Growth and Development of the Campus of The University of Illinois - Leon Tilon / Thomas O'Donnell - UI Press 1930 - p 183
[15] In 1929, Holabird & Roche was reorganized by William Holabird's son, John A. Holabird, and John Wellborn Root, and becamse Holabird & Root. - http://www.ci.chi.il.us/Landmarks/Architects/Holabird.html
[16] "The University of Illinois - Its History, Legal Status, Objectives, and Functions" - 1934 (from Campus Plan Vfile)
[17] Venues to Remember, News-Gazette, August 14, 2005
[18] Board of Trustees Proceedings - July 25, 1942
[19] Board of Trustees Proceedings, September 29, 1954
[20] University of Illinois Archives, Building and Statue Dedication Programs: RS 2/0/808
[21] Venues to Remember, News-Gazette, August 14, 2005
[22] Author recollection
[23] Venues to Remember, News-Gazette, August 14, 2005
[24] "UI wants big picture of Memorial Stadium" - News-Gazette - 9/1/2004
[25] "UI begins student of its stadium" - News-Gazette - 8/21/2004
Bookmark and Share

Search Site:

Advanced Search

Site Navigation
   Welcome to the ...
      About The UIHis...
      Gifts & Memoria...
      Other UI Histor...
      Special Feature...
      Student Life
      University Mile...
      All Buildings
         ACES Library, I...
         Admissions and ...
         Advanced Comput...
         Agricultural En...
         Agriculture Bui...
         Agronomy Barn
         Agronomy Field ...
         Agronomy Greenh...
         Alma Mater
         Alpha House
         Animal Husbandr...
         Animal Patholog...
         Animal Sciences...
         Aquatic Researc...
         Architecture Li...
         Armory Annex
         Art and Archite...
         Artillery Barns