The Wild, Surprising History of the L.A. Memorial Coliseum

We’re still waiting for the WrestleMania that never happened

Brawls broke out in the stands, parking lots charged exorbitant fees, and tens of thousands of fans flocked to Exposition Park to watch the L.A. Rams crush their opponents over the last two weekends. The NFL pre-season is in full swing, and for the first time in more than two decades, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is home to a national football team again. It’s also the turf of the USC Football team — which plays its first game of the season next month — and if L.A. wins its bid for the 2024 Olympics, it could host the world’s greatest athletes for the third time since it was built nearly a century ago as a memorial to World War I veterans. But the massive state-run venue wasn’t always this popular, and for decades, it sat in a sad state of disrepair and mismanagement. Here’s a look back at the stadium’s forgotten history.

The L.A. Dodgers Played There From 1958—1962

The Rams aren’t the first team to use the Coliseum as a temporary home while their stadium was being built. In 1958, after the Dodgers moved here from Brooklyn, they played for three seasons at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum until Dodgers Stadium opened. Their first regular-season game in L.A. broke a major league record for the largest crowd during a single game (more than 78,000 fans), but by the time they played their last game at the Coliseum, the stadium was less than 15 percent filled, according to the Society for American Baseball Research. “It was weird, weird, weird playing in the Coliseum,” Dodgers infielder Randy Jackson told reporters about the experience.

The “Black Woodstock” Was held There in 1972

Seven years after riots erupted on the streets of Watts, the Memphis-based soul label Stax Records organized a benefit concert to help rebuild the community. On August 20, about 90,000 people packed into the L.A. Memorial Coliseum to see speakers like Jesse Jackson and Fred Williamson and entertainers including the Staple Singers, Isaac Hayes, and The Bar-Kays. Dubbed Wattstax — a combination of Watts and Stax Records — the one-time festival spawned a Golden-Globe winning documentary of the same name a year later and eventually became known as “the black Woodstock.”

Also in 1972, It Hosted the First “Super Bowl of Motocross”

In the 1970s, motocross racing was still a fairly new sport, and though it was exploding in popularity, it had never been done in a stadium before. That all changed in 1972, when rock ‘n’ roll promoter Mike Goodwin saw an opportunity to draw some crowds and make some money. The track was far from perfect — motocross racer Jimmy Weinert said “the jumps were atrocious because there was no landing or landing ramps on the back side and the track was all confined,” according to Racer X magazine, but the event itself became a sensation. It went down in history as the Superbowl of Motocross.

A Year Later, the Actual Super Bowl Was Held There

For a city that went without a football team for 22 years — when the Raiders ditched us for Oakland in 1994 — Los Angeles’ history with the national football league runs deep. How deep? The first Super Bowl was held here at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum in 1967. Six years later, the Olympic stadium hosted the Super Bowl once again. All five Southern California Super Bowl games since have been played at the Rose Bowl, and in 2021, the Super Bowl will come to the new stadium in Inglewood.

Elton John’s Soccer Team Played There

The L.A. Galaxy are synonymous with professional soccer in Los Angeles, but for a brief (and much less politically-correct) time in the 1970s, this city’s home team was the L.A. Aztecs, who hopped around to not one, not two, but six different venues before disbanding after just eight years. Maybe it was a case of too much too soon: the team started out playing small stadiums at East L.A. College and El Camino Junior College in 1974, and by 1977, they’d jumped to the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. “Last year we were playing at El Camino, and now look at the crowd today,” Elton John, who was then a part-owner of the team, told a reporter at the time. The stadium behind him looked all but empty.

WrestleMania Was Supposed to be Held There in 1991

Some fans called it the WrestleMania that never was. In 1991, WrestleMania was set to be held at the Coliseum, but organizers moved it to the adjacent L.A. Sports Arena at the last minute. Wrestling fans still speculate over the reason for the move: while organizers reportedly claimed it was due to the controversial nature of the fight — Hulk Hogan was matched up against Sgt. Slaughter, a character that sympathized with the Iraqi military during the Gulf War — one fan theory prevails: the WWE couldn’t fill the Coliseum and didn’t want to be seen on television with a bunch of empty seats. As Elton John and the L.A. Aztecs had to learn the hard way, one problem with hosting an event at an Olympic stadium is having to actually fill an Olympic stadium. 

It Became a Mecca for Raves During the 2000s

Before it became an annual Las Vegas staple, the three-day rave known as Electric Daisy Carnival made the Coliseum its home in 2008, ushering in a new era of large-scale electronic dance parties in Los Angeles. The party was short-lived: the Coliseum placed a temporary ban on raves in 2010 after a 15-year-old fatally overdosed on drugs during EDC. The outdoor festival moved to the Las Vegas Speedway in 2011, where it’s been held every year since, but the Coliseum’s rave troubles are far from over. The venue’s ex-manager stood trial this week after being accused of embezzling tax-payer money and profit from the raves, according to the L.A. Times.

L.A.’s Lingerie Football League Played There As Recently as Last Year

Years before the L.A. Rams moved from St. Louis to Los Angeles, the Coliseum played host to a very different kind of football league: the LFL. Dubbed the lingerie football league when it was founded in 2003, the league now goes by the less-suggestive name Legends Football League, and the franchise debuted at the L.A. Coliseum in 2009. But the LFL isn’t just a thing of the past: it was still hosting games there through last year.