music in the park san jose

.Spartan’s Facelift

The new CEFCU Stadium carries a legacy

music in the park san jose

Last month, the new-fangled two-story SJSU Athletic Center opened on the east side of CEFCU Stadium, formerly Spartan Stadium, revealing ultra-modern facilities decades overdue.

Students will appreciate the new athletic digs even more if they realize just how antiquated and crumbling this facility was until recently. I say this with the utmost affection, since I have a lifetime of memories in that stadium. That said, for the rest of this column, I will still refer to it as Spartan Stadium. Since I have written an entire chapter elsewhere about Spartan, I will keep it short. Promise.

As a third-generation San Jose State graduate that grew up with the original San Jose Earthquakes, and then later sold chocolate malts in the crowd during college football games, I also watched near-riots unfold at international soccer games in the late-‘80s when the concession stands ran out of beer and angry fans threw empty kegs down the hill. I worked various downtrodden food service jobs at Spartan, and then watched Major League Soccer debut in that same venue, and also began my local journalism career in the press box right when Landon Donovan arrived for the MLS-era Quakes. In no way can I separate myself from the history, or forget to mention Iron Maiden, David Bowie, the Cure and ZZ Top gigs in that stadium. If any place in San Jose merges the temporal landscape with the ever-changing physical landscape, it’s Spartan Stadium. 

So there I was, taking photos of the gorgeous ribbon-cutting event last month. Men and women soccer players joined the football reps, along with the university president, vice-president and athletic director, all in one big happy family with everyone now sharing the same complex. The improvements cannot be overstated. To walk through the new athletic facility was downright inspiring, a far cry from players getting splinters in their butts from sitting on those old wooden benches and then having to deal with the third-world showers in the old locker rooms. Now, when prospective football or soccer students come visit, they’ll see real locker rooms, real coaching offices, real equipment, real conference rooms and just about everything they’d expect from a legitimate athletic program. 

In living memory, even some of the public bathrooms at Spartan seemed like they hadn’t been updated since the ’60s. All of which probably sufficed for a 17,000-capacity stadium in a backwater fruit-packing cannery town, but for a modern college football program that wants to be taken seriously, the stadium needed modern facilities. Now it has them, with even more changes in the pipeline.

Again, there is no way for me to separate the current lavish digs from decades of Spartan Stadium destruction and reconfiguration. On the heels of the 1994 FIFA World Cup games at Stanford, Peter Bridgwater spent years lobbying to widen the Spartan Stadium field so it met FIFA specs for World Cup qualifying matches. This is why some of the 1999 Women’s World Cup games unfolded at Spartan. A few rows of seats on the eastern side had to be removed. It was a contentious project. Not everyone was happy, especially the college football folks. It was their stadium, after all.

Now the entire eastern side is gone, having been removed while the new athletic center was built. This part of the landscape will change yet again. 

I remember Spartan before the upper deck on the opposite side was even built. I remember when the stadium flooded. I remember watching Pele on the news when he played at Spartan with the New York Cosmos, not once, but twice. The Quakes won both times. I remember George Best, first as a player and then when he came to the 1984 and 1989 Quakes reunion games. I remember Diego Maradona and FIFA autocrat, I mean, president João Havelange, who attended the inaugural MLS match in 1996.

The following year, San Jose hosted the legendary English soccer team Aston Villa. Jeffrey Epstein’s compadre Prince Andrew entered the Spartan Stadium field in a Rolls Royce just to greet them. He was not the first person to do that. Krazy George did it in 1974.

What other venue in San Jose has such a storied history? I’ll tell you. There isn’t one. Hail Spartans, Hail!

Gary Singh
Gary Singh
Gary Singh’s byline has appeared over 1500 times, including newspaper columns, travel essays, art and music criticism, profiles, business journalism, lifestyle articles, poetry and short fiction. He is the author of The San Jose Earthquakes: A Seismic Soccer Legacy (2015, The History Press) and was recently a Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing at San Jose State University. An anthology of his Metro columns, Silicon Alleys, was published in 2020.


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