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
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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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...