“A very significant building that we think needs to be acknowledged and celebrated.”

“A beautiful building.”

“There’s a lot going on, but the design is very clean.”

Those were all things a group of about two dozen architects and architecture students said as they toured a San Diego building this week.

They were talking about Qualcomm Stadium.

Yes, the Qualcomm Stadium that the Chargers hate so much they might leave the city over. The Qualcomm Stadium that draws Yelp reviews from fans calling it “old, decrepit and an eyesore.” The Qualcomm Stadium that NBC analyst Chris Collinsworth called “a terrible stadium” that was arguably the worst in the NFL.


We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

Late last week, I tagged along on a behind-the-scenes tour of Qualcomm, which is considered an architectural gem in certain circles. The tour was organized by the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

“We felt it was important to have a tour of the building since it’s been in the news so much and it’s potentially threatened with demolition,” said the tour guide, David Marshall, president of a local historical architecture firm. “A lot of people know it just as the place where the sports teams play, but from an engineering and architectural standpoint it’s a very significant building that we think needs to be acknowledged and celebrated.”

Qualcomm Stadium is one of just two San Diego projects to have won a prestigious, national AIA award (the other is the famous Salk Institute for Biological Studies). Completed in 1967, the massive concrete stadium is an example of a style of mid-century modern architecture called brutalist.

“Which sounds harsh,” Marshall said. “But it comes from the French term, brut, which means concrete. Think [of brutalist architect] Le Corbusier – or massive concrete that communicates strength and functionality.”

The stadium was designed by San Diego firm Frank L. Hope & Associates. Frank Hope Jr., principal of the firm when it landed the stadium contract, joined Thursday’s tour to help Marshall dive deeper into the design of the multi-use stadium, which has hosted three  Super Bowls and two World Series.

Photo by Kinsee Morlan
Photo by Kinsee Morlan
Frank Hope Jr. thinks Qualcomm is all right.

After a brief introduction and a failed attempt to watch a short documentary detailing the construction of the stadium (some of the electrical outlets in the club lounge weren’t working), Marshall led the group through the walkways, press boxes and locker rooms inside Qualcomm. The big recognizable concrete circular entrance ramps inspired most on the tour to whip out their phone cameras and snap pictures.

“I love these ramps,” one woman said.

Stains on the concrete, smells emanating from restrooms and other wear-and-tear was evident in the nearly 50-year-old building. But Hope said he thought things were going to be much worse.

“It looks fine to me,” he said, addressing the group in the Aztec locker room, which smelled of decades of sweat. “After reading what I read in the paper of the sports writers I expected that the whole place was junky, but it looks nice.”

In the city’s environmental impact report analyzing the possibility of replacing Qualcomm with a new stadium, the historical section, which was prepared by Marshall’s firm, lists the current stadium “as significant at the local level and eligible for historical listing in the National Register, the California Register and the City of San Diego Historical Resources Register.”

That historical status doesn’t mean the stadium can’t be torn down. If the city does opt for demolition, though, it’ll need to do something to soften the blow, like document the building through historical reports and photographs, or possibly create some kind of interpretive display.

Hope and Marshall told the tour crowd they recognize the old stadium’s need for an upgrade – smaller things like a new Jumbotron, plus larger construction projects like moving the club houses so they have views of the field (they currently offer views of the parking lot).

Overall, though, the pair said they think the building’s worth saving.

“It just came at me that [stadiums] are the biggest buildings in almost any town or city and they’re the ugliest,” Hope said. “You know; they really were ugly. And I said look, this is going to be a beautiful building, whatever happens. And it turned out to be that way.”

Meanwhile, the city has shown no signs of a last-minute embrace of Qualcomm Stadium. The mayor’s office recently doubled down on the effort to build a new stadium in Mission Valley by releasing a video showing off the design concept.

Even if the city does ultimately demolish Qualcomm, Marshall has some ideas on that front too.

“There’s a lot you could do inside this concrete shell,” Marshall said. “It’s as much about sustainability and keeping this out of the landfill than it is about architecture and adaptive reuse. I think we should be looking at what we can reuse.”

    This article relates to: Arts/Culture, Chargers Stadium, Must Reads

    Written by Kinsee Morlan

    Kinsee Morlan is the Engagement Editor at Voice of San Diego and author of the Culture Report. Contact her directly at kinsee.morlan@voiceofsandiego.org. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter. Subscribe to her podcast.

    8 comments
    Stephen Hon
    Stephen Hon subscribermember

    I have been to many games, both football and baseball, since the Stadium opened in 1967 including the first one which was a preseason game against the Detroit Lions. I think it is a fine stadium only marred by the enclosure of the open end by the expansion in the 90s. All of the problems (locker rooms, scoreboard, electrical, bathrooms, leaks) cited could be resolved at a much lower cost than a new stadium. Of course, that would not bring in additional revenue to the Spanos family in terms of luxury boxes etc. We would think it foolish to tear down a house or other building that was only 48 years old since it is more efficient to remodel than demolish and build something new unless of course you are having it done on someone else's dime (in this case the taxpayers). I have driven by the football stadium in Glendale Arizona (site of the last Superbowl) and it always reminds me of a giant inflatable with absolutely no character. The problem with the Spanos family is that they are greedy and have demonstrated great incompetence when it comes to running a pro football team. I guess we should not be surprised that Dean Spanos was a big supporter of Rick "oops" Perry for President in 2008. It just shows the quality of his judgement.

    Dean Plassaras
    Dean Plassaras

    A $600 Mil. stadium renovation paid for by the NFL + local owner would do marvels. This city can not afford a public subsidy. Only a 100% private stadium deal will do.

    George in BayHo
    George in BayHo subscriber

    Don't I recall a VOSD report a few months ago ... the consulting architect detailed about $80 million of repairs that would completely restore the stadium?  I'll not make excuses for mismanagement of the stadium, but it's painful to imagine demolishing our valuable asset because of NFL pressure.  The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is certainly long in the tooth, yet it seems to keep trucking along.


    When Spanos' dastardly plans fall through, he'll need a venue for his miserable team's home games.  Time to renegotiate the lease?


    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    Remember the last time they had the Super Bowl here (Yes, they had more than one in this “junkpile”)?  One of the announcers opined that he didn’t understand why they didn’t play all Super Bowls in San Diego.  I can’t recall who it was, but he’s probably not doing NFL broadcasts any more.  Suddenly, Qualcomm became unacceptable, arguably the worst stadium in pro football.  

    Most fans don’t know this, but attendance has held up remarkably well despite lousy teams recently, e.g., averaging last year 65,432 per home game, ranking 21st of 32 teams.  Below the Chargers were teams with better records, including Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Arizona and Cincinnati.  So, what’s the Chargers real beef?

    I think we’d all agree you can’t believe much of what Spanos says.  The stadium has a disgraceful amount of deferred maintenance, particularly considering what the city pays annually in upkeep, but I believe it’s this simple:  The Chargers have never gotten over the fact the Padres got a new stadium, and downtown, courtesy of the taxpayers, and they felt entitled to one as well, despite the fact that the extensive remodel, for which taxpayers still have 50 mil to pay off, was done to satisfy the Chargers and made baseball much less workable at Qualcomm.

    Some say an L.A. location could at least double the value of their team.  They may be right, but attendance figures in L.A. haven’t been sensational in the past.  Maybe it’s the stadium, e.g., the Coliseum and the Rose Bowl are both much, much older than Qualcomm.  None of the three have the quantity of luxurious seating many newer NFL stadiums have, or bells and whistles like gigantic scoreboards, but much of this stuff could be added in a remodel.  In case you haven’t noticed, the NFL isn’t interested in catering to Joe Sixpack.  It wants people with serious dough to pay for PSLs, then fork over big bucks for season tickets in posh seats.  Maybe we just don't have enough millionaires to satisfy Spanos, who isn't used to rubbing elbows with the hoi polloi.

    My couch is posh enough.  I really don’t think the Chargers have earned the attendance they are getting, albeit much of it from L.A./Orange counties.  I don’t know what, if anything will go on a ballot at this point, but I hope they split.  I’m tired of the constant whining and bad-mouthing of city leadership.

    David Crossley
    David Crossley subscriber

    @Bill Bradshaw  --The last Super Bowl that was played here was only here due to the fact that the original 49ers stadium plan was derailed, so the game ended up here instead.


    All 4 cities you list have smaller capacity stadiums than San Diego.


    The Padres took a calculated gamble that they could sign all sign revenue over to the Chargers, claim poverty, and parlay that into a new ballpark.  Looks like it worked.  Also, that "extensive" remodel wasn't much more than adding seats--while removing seats from the original expansion in the early 80's.


    You are absolutely correct in your 4th paragraph.


    The Chargers attendance is bolstered by many fans of the visiting teams having moved to this area over the years--hence the thousands of visiting team fans in the Q, which has been increasing in recent years.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    @David Crossley @Bill Bradshaw 
    David, I haven’t been to a football game at Qualcomm since the Holiday Bowl over 10 years ago when Oregon beat Texas in a real shoot out thriller.  I sure got my money’s worth on that one.  However, when you say the remodel wasn’t much, I seem to recall they spent about 80 mil on it. Something must have been substantially improved.  Oh, I forgot, this IS San Diego.

    My point about attendance is that Spanos, who has really done very little to bolster attendance or improve the team in over 30 years while sporting a record under .500, really has no leg to stand on when he constantly whines about how uncooperative the city has been in giving him a new stadium.  Organizers of the two bowl games held here each year seem content, the Aztecs aren’t crying, what’s Spanos problem?

    Here’s another interesting factoid, courtesy of the internet:  There are 10 teams with a lower franchise value than the Chargers, including New Orleans, Detroit, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Tampa Bay.  How come none of these people are threatening to move? To hear Spanos tell it, the San Diego situation is the worst in the league.

    Spanos is a chronic whiner who is so brilliant he had to hire a consultant to find him a coach and G.M.  When presented with two guys who had never done the job he grabbed them.  Now he has installed one son as Vice President of Football Operations, i.e., as boss of the GM he hired a consultant to pick.  He’s grooming his other son to run business operations. I can hardly wait.

    We should go in hock for a doofus like this?  No wonder some of the L.A. sportswriters refer to the Chargers as the “Spanos Goofs”. 

    David Crossley
    David Crossley subscriber

    @Bill Bradshaw @David Crossley  --Again, it wasn't much of a remodel.  The main thing was to add some more (alleged) luxury boxes and about 10,000 more seats to make the stadium large enough for Super Bowls.


    Agreed that Spanos shouldn't be complaining about attendance.  For that matter, he should be happy that he made (according to Forbes) $64.8 mil while playing at the Q last year.  And no, the Aztecs aren't crying, but they aren't making any money either, and they are wondering what is going to happen if/when the Chargers leave the Q.


    Those other teams you mention have new (or fairly new) stadiums, or in the case of New Orleans, rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina, so they have no need to threaten to go anywhere.


    I'm beginning to think that Spanos just wants to move this franchise to LA so he can sell it, be done with it, and make as much money as he can when he sells it.

    David Crossley
    David Crossley subscriber

    "(some of the electrical outlets in the club lounge weren't working)".  And that is in one of the newest parts of the stadium.