of Jordan-Hare Stadium
by Van Plexico
vplexico (at) gmail.com
To this special place, the faithful roll in for games like pilgrims headed to Mecca. More than a simple sports arena, the structure holds a special place in the hearts of Auburn people, as the scene of some of the happiest memories of their lives. It indeed borders on a level of spirituality, the attachment of these people to this stadium.
Located in the heart of the campus, this grand edifice has grown along with the University around it, and now ranks among the top facilities of its kind in the nation. With over 85,000 in attendance on football Saturdays, the stadium ranks as the fifth largest city in Alabama, directly ahead of, of all places, Tuscaloosa. (A television commentator once noted that if the University of Alabama learned of this, they would begin busing people into Tuscaloosa immediately.)
Though the feelings elicited by the structure are clear, the reasons for its existence are somewhat more complex. How has a world-class sports arena, capable of holding nearly three times the population of its host city, sprouted up over the past sixty years on the plains of east Alabama? Fragments of the answer can be found in a number of places, including Atlanta, Montgomery, Columbus and Birmingham. Ultimately, however, the answer lies in the vision of a handful of men who, over the years, believed in the potential of Auburn's football program, and who worked to bring the dream to fruition.
I. BUILDING A DREAM: "LET'S PUT AUBURN ON THE MAP!"
Before 1939: Drill Field and Drake Field
Athletic Director Emeritus, Jeff Beard, a student at the time, helped assemble the temporary bleachers at Drake Field. "Each year bleachers were erected ten rows high on each side of the field." He recalls, "They held approximately 700 people, the seating capacity for our home games. We had one home game a year."
By the late 1930s, crowds were too large to be adequately accomodated in the temporary bleachers at this location, and Auburn found itself forced to play most of its games on the road, usually in Birmingham's Legion Field, Montgomery's Cramton Bowl, Mobile's Ladd Stadium, and Memorial Stadium in Columbus, Georgia. From this unhappy situation, with the team forced to play home games far from home, came the seeds of the mighty edifice which now graces the Auburn campus.
As the end of the 1930s neared, Auburn leaders understood they simply had to build a home stadium for their wandering team. "There was a terrible need for a stadium...if we were going to compete with the rest of the schools in the Southern Conference," says Jeff Beard. "Coach Meagher realized something had to be done. He continued to improve the team and the schedule." The team's success "began to give Auburn people the feeling that Auburn should have a home stadium to play in and that Auburn's facilities needed to be improved."
As early as 1934, the university's Physical Plant had considered building a "concrete stadium to put Auburn on the map," though with the lingering effects of the Depression, nothing had come of it. By 1937, the decision had been made to build, should the funds be available. Moving to a third site, preparations were begun for the construction of a permanent facility, Auburn Stadium. A young Jeff Beard, helping to survey the area, drove in the first stake to mark off the future stadium. Auburn has played on this site ever since.
By 1938, the economic situation had improved to the point that Auburn President Dr. L.N. Duncan could report the approval by PWA Secretary Ickes of "the most ambitious building program ever undertaken by the Alabama Polytechnic Institute." Among items included in the $1,446,900 PWA-funded project was the construction of a $60,000 stadium unit, which included erection of concrete stands, engineering work to prepare the area, and completion of a modern track facility.
Engineering work was indeed needed at the new site. A meandering stream at the bottom of the valley had to be diverted and filled in. In addition, before a stadium and field could be built there, the previous tenants needed evicting. These inhabitants consisted of a herd of goats, belonging to the dean of the school of veterinary medicine, which grazed in the valley. These goats exhibited a severe nervous condition, one which would be duplicated by supporters of many visiting teams over the years.
The original grandstand, "Auburn Stadium," was designed by Arnold G. Wurz, who passed away in 1989, just weeks before the stadium's fiftieth anniversary. The name choice, "Auburn Stadium," is significant in that it reflects the tendency of all associated to refer to the team and school as "Auburn," even in the 1930s. The school was actually designated Alabama Polytechnic Institute and officially became Auburn University only in 1960.
The field house, now Petrie Hall, was also under construction and not completed in time for the game. Florida players were forced to dress in uniform in their hotel in Opelika before riding to the stadium. Incidents such as this over the years further complicated Auburn's efforts to move important games to the campus.
Auburn and Florida tied, 7-7. The game was a success. The original 7,290 seats remain today as the lower half of the west stands. Only a year later 4,800 wooden bleachers were added to the east side, demonstrating the viability of a home field and dispelling the doubts of the naysayers. Auburn Stadium was a success, and it seemed there was nowhere to go but up.