Baton Rouge, LA
Home of the Louisiana State University Tigers
Our next stop is down on the Bayou, to Baton Rouge, LA and Tiger Stadium home of the LSU Tigers. Known as “Death Valley” or “Deaf Valley” by some, reference to the volume reached by Tiger Stadium crowds, this is the 10th largest stadium in the country and 17th largest in the world. Like many of the stadiums we have looked at it had humble beginnings.
What is now a 92,000-seat mega-stadium, Tiger Stadium was built in 1924 when its east and west side bleachers held just 12,000 spectators. In 1931, 10,000 seats were added to each side and in 1936 the north end was enclosed making it a horseshoe-shaped stadium. At the time there was no state allocated money for stadium expansion, though there was for student housing. To make the expansion eligible for state funds, then State Governor Huey P. Long required student dorms be built into the stadium – with seating above. As a result, students lived in accommodations under the West, North and South stands, right up until the early 1990’s.
In 1953, the south end of the stadium was enclosed and Tiger Stadium became a 67,720-seat, bowl-shaped stadium. As space was limited on the south end, these seats were and still are two-tiered, adding a subtle variation to the single bowl scheme.
Tiger Stadium was a concrete building and its exterior neo-classical. The expression of the structural bays provided a pleasant rhythm on the façade which wrapped the single-height bowl. The white concrete color palette and the arched structural bay was reminiscent of the original Yankee Stadium, with the symmetry of the single bowl bringing a further harmony to Tiger Stadium. Unfortunately, the continuity of this original exterior was broken in 1978 when an 11,900-seat second deck was built atop the west side of the stadium.
The noise level of the stadium gained legendary status during a game in the 1988 season dubbed the “Earthquake Game” when the crowd reaction following a game-winning LSU touchdown was so loud it registered as an earthquake on the seismograph in the Louisiana Geological Survey office on campus.
The Trahan Architects-designed East upper deck was completed in 2000, bringing capacity to 91,600. In 2004, Trahan were brought back to design a new west upper deck, press box, club seating, four new elevator towers and west exterior façade. The project was completed in time for the 2006 season, having been delayed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The most peculiar feature of this renovation are two monumental, pink terracotta gateways which house the four new elevator towers and mark a main entry to the stadium. Combined with the original white concrete arches, the sharp-angled circulation ramps, these gateways form a new exterior to Tiger Stadium that is, frankly, a bit of a mess. The previously harmonious exterior has been broken by a confusing mix of architectural expression brought on by the addition of upper decks on the east and west sides of the stadium.
Individually each of the various iterations of the stadium are fine – the harmonious neo-classical façade of the original stadium, the abstracted concrete upper deck circulation ramps and the grandeur of the latest west expansion – overlaid on top of one another they clash, suggesting some misguided design decisions. All this leaves one longing for the subtle simplicity of the 67,000 bowl back in the 50s.
Construction will begin this summer on a new south end-zone upper deck that will bring capacity to around 100,000. Like many of the stadiums we have looked at on this tour, Tiger Stadium is always a work in progress. It is hard to judge a building before it is complete so I will hold off final judgement until this ambitious project is finished. Let us hope that the new addition will bring some order to the chaos and allow the stadium to live up to the extraordinary noise levels reached by Tiger fans and the team’s successful runs.