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Advent Calendar - Day 6: Balboa Stadium

Find out about Balboa’s rocky history!

This is a great time of year to be thankful for what we have, where we have been, and what the future holds. Although the Chargers have lost their way a bit in recent years, the month of December used to hold such incredible promise! This advent calendar is an attempt to hearken back to these days of December joy. Each day will bring a new advent from the Bolts’ history that make it wonderful to be a Chargers fan.

Dec. 5: Balboa Stadium

The San Diego faithful certainly know the name Balboa. Yes, there’s the conquistador and of course Balboa Park, but there was also a time when the Chargers played in Balboa Stadium.

U.S. Marines displaying the stars and stripes at Balboa Stadium, San Diego, California (USA), in 1932.
German Federal Archives

The original stadium was built in 1914 as part of the 1915 Panama–California Exposition. It was built inside of Balboa Park, with a capacity of 15,000.

Balboa Stadium was designed by the Quayle Brothers architectural firm and originally called City Stadium. On May 31, 1915, the stadium was dedicated and around 20,000 people came to watch track and field events. These were simpler times, I suppose. In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson spoke in front of over 50,000 people in Balboa Stadium in support of the creation of the League of Nations. As a factoid, this was the first presidential speech to use an electronic voice amplification system (later patented and called Magnavox).

Woodrow Wilson addresses over 50,000 people in Balboa Stadium (1919)
Public Domain

Beyond track events and political rallies, the stadium was a haven for auto racing events before professional football game along. Even the Padres played at Balboa stadium, and the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, and Satchel Paige rounded the bases there. Musical productions and live events were held there commonly. Even the Beatles played in Balboa Stadium in 1965!

To accommodate the Chargers, moving from Los Angeles after one year, the seating capacity was increased from 23,000 to 34,000 by adding an upper deck in May 1961. Balboa Stadium remained their home for six years. San Diego Stadium (Jack Murphy Stadium) [Qualcomm Stadium] <SDCCU Stadium> opened in 1967 and remained the Chargers’ home until 2017.

The original Balboa Stadium was demolished in the 1970s as part of earthquake preparedness plans. The stadium was rebuilt in 1978 with a much smaller capacity. The remaining seating is made up of simple concrete bleachers and resembles a simple college or high school field. Now that the Chargers are quite used to such an..intimate..setting, they might be interested in a reunion tour!

-Jason “There’s always the Zoo” Michaels