Memorial Stadium on September 6, 2008
|Location||1402 South 1st Street|
Champaign, Illinois 61820
|Owner||University of Illinois|
|Operator||University of Illinois|
|Broke ground||September 11, 1922|
|Opened||November 3, 1923|
|Renovated||1985, 2008, 2013|
($25.5 million in 2019 dollars)
|Architect||Holabird & Roche|
|General contractor||English Brothers|
|Illinois Fighting Illini (NCAA) (1923-present)|
Chicago Bears (NFL) (2002)
Memorial Stadium is a football stadium in Champaign, Illinois, in the United States, on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The stadium is a memorial to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign students who died in World War I; their names are engraved on the nearly 200 pillars surrounding the stadium's façade. With a capacity of 60,670, the stadium is primarily used as the home of the University's football team.
In the early 1920s, the old football stadium, Illinois Field, was deemed inadequate. There was some sentiment for retaining the site, but it was too congested to expand the stadium adequately, so a new site was selected, in a largely undeveloped area at the south end of the campus.George Huff and Robert Zuppke were responsible for pushing most of the fundraising for this project.
Memorial Stadium was completed in 1923 at a cost of US$1.7 million, which adjusted for inflation is equal to $25.8 million in 2020. Its original U-shaped design borrows some form from the earlier constructed Harvard Stadium. The project's general contractor was English Brothers of Champaign, who are in business to this day. The name was chosen in honor of the dead from World War I. The original construction was financed with donations from University students, alumni, and others. At the time, the stadium consisted of double-decked stands on the east and west sidelines. The single-decked horseshoe around the south end zone was later completed, along with a large student section near the north end zone.
Heavy rain during the construction resulted in a bulldozer sinking into the field. It was decided the expense of removing the bulldozer would have been greater than leaving it buried under the field, and it remains there today.
The bell of the USS Illinois (BB-65), an Iowa-class battleship that was never completed, is on loan to the university and is in use. It is traditionally rung when the Fighting Illini score a touchdown or goal during home games.
The first game played in the partially completed stadium was the Chicago-Illinois game on November 3, 1923, where Illinois won, 7-0.
The stadium is dedicated to the men of the University of Illinois that gave their lives serving in World War I. In 2002, the stadium dedication was extended to those who died in World War II. There are a total of 200 columns on the east and west sides of the stadium. 183 columns display one name of a University of Illinois alum that lost their lives in the first war (182 men and 1 woman).
The stadium was officially dedicated on October 18, 1924, on which the University football team played a homecoming game against the University of Michigan. On way to a 39-14 Illini victory,Red Grange scored five touchdowns in one of the greatest single-game performances in football history.
The seating capacity of the stadium's permanent seating, including the north end zone bleachers, is 60,670. This number was reduced from 62,870 when it was announced on 12 April 2011 that 2,200 south end zone bleacher seats added in 1982 would be removed. The 62,870 number had been reduced from 69,249 as part of the Illinois Renaissance program which was completed in 2008. The east main holds approximately 18,000 with the east balcony adding 10,000. The west main holds less than 13,000 on the first level plus 5,000 in the balcony. The south end zone "horseshoe" holds nearly 9,800 (12,000 before the removal of the aforementioned 2,200 seats), while the north bleachers add 5,000 more seats.
The stadium's highest single event attendance was 78,297, for a football game against the University of Missouri in 1984.
A massive renovation project was unveiled for Memorial Stadium in the fall of 2005. The "Illinois Renaissance" project began after the completion of the 2006 football season, and was completed just days before the 2008 season began. The concourse areas on all four sides of the stadium were improved with better concession and restroom facilities. Additionally, the concourse areas were connected all the way around the stadium for easier passage between the east and west stands. A permanent, 5,000-seat structure was built on the north end of the stadium, and the existing scoreboard and video replay screen was moved to the south end zone. The south horseshoe was planned to be filled in down to field level, and would have completely connected the east and west stands. The horseshoe improvements, which were not implemented, would have increased seating to 14,000 seats behind the south end zone. The capacity of the west stands will be significantly reduced in order to build a large press box and luxury suite area at the top of the balcony. The new boxes will be three levels tall and will extend the entire length of the field. The new capacity of the stadium after the renovation will be 62,143. This $100 million project will be largely paid for by sales of the stadium's new suites and luxury seating in the west stands. The field also got a new FieldTurf playing surface.
Controversy has arisen over the decision to move the bulk of the student section to the north side of the stadium. Some student overflow seating is set aside on the north end of the east stands. The location may hamper the view of the student section when the ball is at the south end of the field. Critics of the plan suggest this is a move to sell the seats currently occupied by the student section at a higher price to the general public. The planners assert that they are trying to make the field noise louder and cater to the student's needs by giving them separate concessions and amenities.
The renovated stadium was rededicated at the 2008 season home opener against Eastern Illinois University on September 6, 2008.
For the start of the 2013 Fighting Illini season, the athletic department replaced the main scoreboard with a new Daktronics video board that measures 36 by 96 feet (11 by 29 m). Additionally, the stadium's sound system was updated and two 420-foot-long (130 m) ribbon video boards were installed along the façade between the upper and lower decks of the stadium's sideline seating.
To recognize the Illinois Fighting Illini football's historical accomplishments, the athletic department also installed new lettering along the outside of the luxury suites and press box. The lettering lists National Championships, Big Ten Championships, Retired Numbers, and also reads Welcome to Memorial Stadium Home of the Fighting Illini.