Beaver Stadium Turns 50
This is shaping up to be a big year for milestones for Penn State football. There’s the first freshman quarterback to start the season opener in Joe Paterno’s career. Paterno’s probable 400th victory. Evan Royster being only 481 yards away from breaking Curt Warner’s career rushing record.
And Beaver Stadium, the second-largest college football stadium in the country, will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Sept. 17. On that date in 1960, Beaver Stadium hosted its first game, a 20-0 victory over Boston University. (Before that, it was the site for the Class of 1960’s graduation.)
I’ve always thought Beaver Stadium was a unique place, and I learned why over the summer when I attended one of the sessions at Traditional Reunion Weekend—a talk about the history of Beaver Stadium by Harry West, a professor emeritus of engineering. (Except for the first photo, from Penn State, all of the photos on this post are ones he’s collected for his slide show.)
He pointed out that parts of the stadium are more than 50 years old. That’s because the University moved the grandstands and press box across campus to its current home in 1959. They are still there. Pointing to a picture of Beaver Stadium’s predecessor, “New” Beaver Field, West said, “Every element of this is woven into the fabric of the present stadium. It’s all been enlarged and integrated into what we have today.”
Now that doesn’t necessarily make for an aesthetically pleasing building; even West likened Beaver Stadium to a beaver dam. “It’s put together piece by piece, and unfortunately some would say it’s just as attractive. … But it’s ours, and we love it.”
The first football field, “Old” Beaver Field (capacity 500), was located in the middle of campus, behind where Osmond Laboratory is now. (There’s a commemorative plaque in the parking lot.) When the program outgrew that space, it moved to its second home, “New” Beaver Field, located about where the Nittany Parking Deck is now. When the program outgrew the 30,000-seat facility—and the University needed more space for building in central campus—administrators decided to relocate the grandstands.
After the 1959 season, West said, the stadium was dismantled into 700 pieces. In the meantime, at the new site, footings for new columns and concession stands were being built. It made for an odd-looking construction site. “I can remember on the horizon, it looked like a big aircraft carrier,” West said. “And it was sort of strange to see a stadium being built with the first rows 30 feet off the ground. But the older rows needed to be in front of that.”
Gradually, over the years, more seats were added. What West called “quite the ambitious undertaking” took place in 1978, when 16,000 seats were added after the stadium was literally jacked up—lifted into the air—to install 20 more rows of seats at the bottom. West said it took 40 jacks, operated with two switches, to lift the stadium 12.6 feet up. The process for each portion—lifting, putting the columns in place, dropping the stadium down and connecting everything—took four hours. Said West, “Next time you’re there, I challenge you: When you walk up the ramps, look at every column, and you’ll see the angles that were used to lift the stadium.”
More improvements followed. Walkways at the top of the end zones in 1985. The upper deck in the north end zone in 1991. The 2001 expansion, which West described as “changing Beaver Stadium from a large grandstand into a building with many embellishments.” That involved luxury boxes, club seats … and blocking the view of Mount Nittany. When the 140-ton scoreboard was lifted into place in August 2000, West was among the crowd that gathered to watch. (Yes, there were a lot of engineers.)
Can the 107,282-seat Beaver Stadium get even bigger? I don’t know. I do know what some fans think the next improvement should be, though: to name it for Joe Paterno.
Lori Shontz, senior editor