Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

The Development of Razorback and War Memorial Stadiums

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

The Development of Razorback and War Memorial Stadiums

Article excerpt

Since its construction in 1938 as the University of Arkansas's first permanent football venue, Razorback Stadium (now Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium) has been enlarged and very much transformed. Several major renovations increased the stadium's seating capacity and accommodated the evolving preferences of various classes of fans and the needs of the media by installing luxury suites, lights, restrooms, concessions, video boards, and amenities for radio and television broadcasters. But Razorback Stadium was not always the center of fans' attention or recognized as one of the nation's best college football facilities. It required significant effort for the stadium to catch up to peer facilities not only around the country but also within the state so that the university could enhance its legitimacy in the eyes of Arkansans. This article offers a history of the major football stadiums developed in Fayetteville and Little Rock, showing how one and then the other became the state's primary football venue.

In the early twentieth century, many colleges and universities attempted to develop permanent football stadiums-to encourage alumni giving, produce revenue, and improve what might now be called the "brand awareness" of the institution, all with an eye toward increasing student enrollments.1 Generally, the construction of football facilities followed a model established by Harvard University in 1903, by which, as sports historian Ron Smith notes, stadiums were to be aesthetically pleasing and funded by alumni, student fees, and gate receipts. In the case of Harvard, alumni graciously funded approximately one-third of the final cost of the stadium, while gate receipts covered much of the rest. The end product, according to Joseph Beale, faculty chairman of Harvard's athletic committee, was a facility that had all the "beauty and antique charm of the Greek stadia"-a way of dignifying the game and school.2

Football, and organized athletics in general, at the University of Arkansas, however, were not heavily supported by the university or the state in these years. Football began in 1894 with the university setting aside 2.5 acres of land for games but indicating it would spend no money to improve it.3 The original field was described as a "hastily cleared briar patch" without bleachers near the northeast corner of campus, where Peabody Hall stands today. The only thing keeping the spectators from the field of play were the ropes lining each sideline. Students organized their own games and often reached into their own pockets to fund this "very modest" apparatus.4 The 1897 yearbook, the Cardinal, commented, "the legislature of our state seems to cling to the antiquated and mossgrown idea that an appropriation-even a small one-for athletics is not only a waste of money, but a positive detriment to the welfare of the students."5

By 1901, support had increased to the extent that an athletic field was graded, enclosed, and fitted with a three hundred-seat grandstand and, later, a track. The field, affectionately known as the "Hog Wallow," sat atop "The Hill," an area of campus presently occupied by Mullins Library and the Fine Arts Center.6 "In 1907 the trustees authorized the president to draw upon the contingent fund for the purpose of improving the field." All these changes, however, contributed little toward making the field a permanent space on campus.7

The university's first major investment in athletics came with the hiring of Hugo Bezdek to coach the football team in 1908. Bezdek, a star player under the University of Chicago's Amos Alonzo Stagg, built a team that went undefeated in 1909 to claim the "Championship of the South." Subsequent successful seasons under Bezdek from 1910 to 1912 allowed the university to join the newly formed Southwest Athletic Conference (SWC) in December 1914, but, still, there was no investment in any permanent facility.8

Inadequate in its early years to meet growing interest in football and evolving consumer preferences, Hog Wallow annually underwent minor improvement into the 1920s. …

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