Cal Memorial Stadium unveiled after 21-month renovation

All but the outer wall and eastern seating bowl were rebuilt during the $321m renovation of Cal Memorial Stadium. Photo: Tracey Taylor

On Friday, the great and the good of UC Berkeley unveiled the newly renovated Memorial Stadium, the result of more than 30 years of planning, $321 million in pledged funding, many feats of seismic engineering, and 21 months of construction.

The project encountered some unexpected obstacles along the way, not least the presence of a group of protesters who spent 19 months perched in trees on the university property in a bid to prevent their removal. “Very colorful, as only Berkeley can produce,” said UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau recalling the episode. He stressed, however, that he was confident everyone will be nothing less than awed with the revamped shrine to Cal football.

The newly revamped stadium will open to the public on Saturday Sept. 1 with a game against Nevada. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The historic 89-year old stadium, designed by John Galen Howard and modeled on a Roman Coliseum, sits smack on the Hayward Fault and required significant seismic upgrades.

Below, we offer highlights of our tour of the renovated stadium, which reopens this Saturday, when the Cal Bears play Nevada at noon.

And check out a photo gallery of the new stadium, including a look at the dramatic new press box and evidence of its state-of-the-art seismic upgrades.

Cal Head Football Coach Jef Telford admitted getting emotional as he went through the new north tunnel recently. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The rebuild

“We’ve gone from arguably the worst conditions for Division 1 football to among the best,” said Director of Cal Athletics Sandy Barbour at Friday’s press tour, adding that a 30-month project had been delivered “game ready” in 21 months. On some days during the rebuild, as many as 400 construction workers were on site at once.

All but the outer wall and eastern seating bowl were completely rebuilt. To ensure the structure withstands a major quake, the architects and engineers effectively built three separate structures that sit inside the frame created by the original Romanesque façade. The original oval shape of the bowl was preserved. A new press box and University Club structure appears to float above the west side of the stadium, although it is in fact anchored on concrete pylons and connected to strong shock absorbers.

Berkeley’s Meyer Sound created customized speakers designed to blend with the stadium’s architecture. “It’s the best sound system anywhere,” said Joe Diesko of HNTB Architects.

Asked by Berkeleyside what role the refurbished stadium might play in the Berkeley community aside from being a magnet for Cal fans, Barbour said it was built for the community. “Programming for the stadium has not been finalized yet,” she said. “But we want to make it available to Berkeley.”

The new Simpson Student-Athlete High Performance Center, which opened in fall 2011, offers training and sports medicine facilities to 450 students. The gateway to the stadium is the new Lisa and Douglas Goldman Plaza (the couple donated $10 million) which will act as a park for students as well as a gathering point on game days.

The stats

  • Total project budget: $321 million
  • 640 days of construction
  • 50,000 cubic yards of concrete used
  • 14 million pounds of steel used
  • Seating capacity: 63,000
  • 99% of soil, concrete and construction debris removed from site was recycled
  • Wooden bleachers were recycled and repurposed (see our June 27 story). New bleachers are aluminum
  • 100 trees removed; 134 new trees planted
  • 300,000 sq ft of walkways, concession stands (with kitchens for cooking), restrooms and operations facilities
  • Restored views to the west through façade’s grand arches (previously covered up by offices)
  • Parking for 90 bicycles (none before)

A worker puts the finishing touches to a glass deck at the University Club in the stadium’s new press box. Photo: Tracey Taylor


While conceding budgeting for the stadium’s revamp had caused some challenges, John Wilton, Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance, said the university is committed to having the financing of the renovation “fully met by the athletic endeavors of Berkeley.” The plan had always been for the project to be debt-financed over a long period of time, he said.

Wilton described Cal’s new, “aggressive” strategy for selling seats and raising funds through concessions (read our August 7 story which details the plan), and is consulting with three Haas Business School professors to work on variables to the financial model. There is talk of raising money by holding events other than football at the stadium. “We are going to explore everything because we need financial cushions,” he said.


Cal is committed to having the financing of the renovation fully met by the athletic endeavors of Berkeley. Photo: Tracey Taylor

“It’s great to be home,” said Jeff Tedford, Head Coach of Cal Football. Tedford admitted to becoming a little emotional when he walked through the north tunnel for the last time before the stadium closed for renovation work in November, 2010, and again when he stepped through the new space recently.

Tedford also recalled waving hello to the tree-sitters — his “neighbors” — every morning when he arrived for work, and feeling the building shake and wondering whether it was his players running by, or another earthquake. He said the new stadium was spectacular and looked like a spaceship lit up at night. “There is no place like Memorial Stadium to play a football game,” he concluded.

With Stadium reopening near, Cal revamps ticket sales [08.07.12]
Old Cal Memorial Stadium for sale, one bleacher at a time [06.27.12]
Final section of press box is installed at Memorial Stadium [10.13.11]
UC Berkeley’s best work on renovating Memorial Stadium [09.09.11]
Inside Berkeley’s newest, most discreet building [08.08.11]

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  • FiatSlug

    Cal’s Athletic Director is Sandy Barbour (not Balfour as the article indicates).

  • Frances Dinkelspiel

     Thanks for the catch.

  • Fixed. (I got it right the first time — slip of the pen on the second. Apologies.)

  • Valjean03

    Now if only they can make this whole renovation worth it by having a descent season

  • Tim

    descent….that kind of season is probably what they DON’T want to have…

  • Tim

    I prefer Balfour…as in “take a walk”

  • Guest

    “the great and the good” wtf?

  • Berkeleyborn234

    Looks great-can’t wait to see it in one use. One question-why did they go with the BART color theme on the bathroom tile photo?

  • Berkeleyvoter

    I think it’s called “biased reporting”.

  • It’s called “tongue in cheek” writing, that’s all. Nothing sinister or biased, I promise.

  • FiatSlug

    Not to nitpick, but in photo 20 of 23 in the photo gallery, the Bank of the West signage is being erected over the South Tunnel.  I differentiate it from the North Tunnel by the homes in the background, which are on Panoramic Hill.

  • You’re so right. Thanks for spotting that error, FiatSlug. I’ve changed the caption.

  • Sally

     Howard’s original design was altered to become an earthen bowl design because Stanford was building an earthen bowl stadium and UC didn’t want to be outdone.  Julia Morgan,one of the first women to receive an engineering degree from UC prior to obtaining a degree in architecture iin Paris was a member of Howard’s UC  campus Master Plan team. Morgan did the engineering for the stadium  because this was outside Howard’s area of  skill.   Amongst other features, Morgan designed the stadium in two sections to withstand earthquakes.  It held up.  The new upgrade is an important addition to the stadium.  

    Sally Williams,  “A Brief History of the University of California”.

  • Umm, the Cal head coach is Jeff Tedford not Telford. ;)

  • Oy. I’m chalking this up as a poor display of copy-editing on my behalf with this story. Must do better. Thx for the pick-up, Aaron!

  • Who’s got pictures of the “sliding” joints that roll with earthquakes?  

  • Shark_skin

    They can pay back the money faster if they sell beer throughout the stadium!

  • Guest

    And the football coach’s name is Tedford not Telford. 

  • no way to make 2 years of traffic disruptions worthwhile. 

  • FiatSlug

    There’s so much to quibble about in your post, I almost don’t know where to start.

    First off, John Galen Howard’s original design for a football stadium wasn’t intended for Strawberry Canyon at all.  It was intended for the location of Edwards Field, on the west edge of campus.  Originally, the Regents approved using the site of California Field (part of that site is where Hearst Women’s Gym is now located; this was a Julia Morgan project). The Regents soon decided against this spot for reasons related to limited space for academic buildings and then choose the site where Edwards Field is now.  But, because costs in acquiring private properties were becoming a concern, and the state already owned 16 of the 22 acres needed in Strawberry Canyon, the Regents reconsidered yet again and chose Strawberry Canyon.  Howard was vehemently against this site in part because the Hayward Fault runs straight through its middle, and also because his contract with UC gave him commissions for projects *west* of Piedmont Avenue (California Memorial Stadium is *east* of Piedmont Avenue). He also objected because of the general difficulty in accessing the Strawberry Canyon site with materials and equipment.

    Second, the engineers for this project were E.E. Carpenter and G.E. Buckingham.  Carpenter and Buckingham had expertise in earthworks and reinforced concrete, respectively. Carpenter had submitted a design proposal based on the Stanford Stadium construction utilizing earthen berms. Howard suggested a re-inforced concrete double-decked coliseum design.  Buckingham combined these approaches and suggested the stadium that was eventually built in 1923. The Regents established a Stadium Commission and the members were Howard, Carpenter, and Buckingham.

    There was something of a race between Cal and Stanford to build a big stadium, but Stanford finished their stadium in 5 months before the 1921 Big Game. Cal Memorial wasn’t finished until November 1923 and the Regents didn’t give final approval for the construction until after Stanford Stadium had been completed.

    To say that “(t)he new upgrade is an important addition to the stadium” is an understatement that does disservice to the engineering and construction accomplishment it represents. The recent rebuilding of 31 of the original 48 sections of Cal Memorial takes it from a decrepit dump in danger of falling down to a structure capable of withstanding a large seismic event along the Hayward Fault while protecting the lives of patrons who may be in the stadium during that event. The best thing that could be said about the original Cal Memorial structure was that it did not have to ride out a 6.0 or greater seismic event centered on the Hayward Fault.  If such an event had occurred, life safety would have depending on no one being in the building.

  • To me, the new stairways for the approaches really improve the ability to get to and from a game and integrate the stadium with the rest of campus.  Clogging the stairs /ramp by I-House — the “old” way, just didn’t work.  But…same crowded benches and small replay screen?  Sure would have been great to get real seats and a big screen for watching the replays.

  • Bishop G. Berkeley

    Don’t hate on the seats and screens, George!  Tell you what, I’ll take you to a game this season.  I’ll even rent cushions for our butts.

    The problem, of course, is that “real” seats reduce capacity.  We’re already gonna be down to 63K seats (“real” seats having been installed for the mega-donors).  The stadium held up to 83K back in the ’40s, and 75K more recently, and one of the charms of Memorial has always been that it packs more people into a smaller space than almost any other stadium out there.  Personally, I don’t want a stadium of 45K people sitting comfortably.  It would start to resemble Stanford, frankly.

    A nice ancillary effect of Memorial’s small, open bowl is there there isn’t a bad sightline in the entire place.  So…we can watch the game on the field, not the screen!

    –Cal Football Sunshine Pumper

    PS — you are absotively, posilutely correct about the beautiful and tasteful new approaches to the stadium.  Couldn’t agree more.

  • Twillmonkey

    The “dramatic” new press box is an eyesore, as is the new electronic ad banner under it.  And what about the promises the University made to use it for football and not turn it into a Bay Area events destination?

  • Twillmonkey

     This is a very reasoned and factual comment.  What hasn’t happened is an investigation of the convoluted financing…who benefited? Was there arms-length financing or did the bonds, the accounts, and all the money go to “friends?” Why was the financing and donors hidden away from scrutiny by legal zigzagging creating an entity that didn’t require public disclosure?

  • Bishop G. Berkeley

    Based on this comment and your financial-conspiracy-theory comment up above, I’m wondering if there’s absolutely anything at all about the remodel that you find positive?

  • SarahS

     That’s a ridiculous justification for what is clearly editorializing in a news story, Tracey. If you don’t know better than to write something like this, you need to get out your old Jourrnalism 101 textbook.

  • SarahS: Insulting me will make your point so much better, of course. Look up “the great and good”. It’s simply another way of saying “important”. Since the line-up at the stadium presentation included the Chancellor, two Vice-Chancellors, the Head of Facilities and Head of Athletics, as well as Cal’s football coach, this seemed like a perfectly reasonable, shorthand way to describe them. 

  • Charles_Siegel

     Here is a definition of “the great and the good” and an example of its use, showing that Tracey is right to say the phrase is ironic and humorous.

    the great and the good  (humorous) important people The move toward a more democratic state will not be universally welcomed by the great and the good.

  • No

    Please pull out your AP style guide for proper use of punctuation and quotation marks. Unless you’ve been reading too much Wikipedia. Punctuation inside quotations. I’m going to pull my hair out now.

  • Troll

    I wish we had a real team.

  • Nunya Beeswax

    Not for long, it wasn’t.