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The Stadium of the Century

With its construction, Husky Stadium helped transform Seattle into an American metropolis.

Presented by University Book Store November 18, 2020

Husky Stadium under construction prior to its opening in 1920

Millions of Seattleites, Huskies, and sports fans, clad in their purple and gold, have filled the legendary seats of Husky Stadium over the past hundred years in a unified love of college football. While the construction of the stadium was spurred by a growing need for a large venue in Seattle to be used for both football and large public gatherings, in its completion, Husky Stadium represented a turning point in Seattle history: a Gold Rush town became an American metropolis.

The story of any stadium begins with the story of its team. On November 28, 1889, the very first University of Washington football game was played at Jefferson Park against a team of alumni from “Eastern College” (a generic name for various Ivy League schools). Four of the 11 UW players had never played football before, and the team, perhaps unsurprisingly, lost.

Despite a rough start, UW became the West Coast Champions in 1903 after defeating Nevada 2-0. This victory came 14 years after that first match against “Eastern College” ended in defeat and three years after the first Apple Cup match ended in a tie. Thousands of fans left Denny Field to celebrate this momentous victory, cheering and parading through the streets. The sheer volume of attendees demonstrated that there was a need, and a desire, for people to gather for larger-scale events, but it wasn’t until President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1911 visit that talks of a stadium began in earnest. However, the talks would remain just talk for next eight years.

Enter Darwin Meisnest, the 23-year-old athletic director for the university with a knack for finance. Meisnest realized, as 19,000 fans swarmed Denny Field at the UW-California game in 1919, that a stadium capable of holding the ever-growing fan base would earn back the income the team needed to meet its rising operating costs. Standing before a crowded assembly in front of Meany Hall, Meisnest proposed his bold plan for a stadium to the student body, who answered back in a resounding, booming “yes!”

When construction began, the site was chosen for three reasons: during the opening match on November 27, 2020, the sun’s rays would strike perpendicular to the sides of the stadium, meaning neither team would be at a disadvantage; the water and roads surrounding the plot would make it easy to transport materials to the site; and the view of Union Bay and surrounding waters was lovely.

The construction itself was of a grander scale than Seattle was used to. Hundreds visited daily just to marvel as dirt was cleared, materials were transported by boat, and the steel outline of a stadium emerged. Because of inclement weather, workers weren’t able to complete construction or affix any of the finishing touches until just 12 hours before the UW-Dartmouth kickoff match. Thankfully, the fans cheered as the “Sundodgers” (the team wouldn’t become the Huskies until 1922) entered the completed field. Even though UW ultimately lost the opening game, Mayor Hugh M. Caldwell declared the day an official city holiday, decreeing that any nonessential work could be suspended so that the city could support the team and the stadium.

A century later, in an unprecedented global situation, Husky Stadium continues to stand as a testament to growth, community, and sports’ ability to bring people together. Throughout every stage of Husky football history—from its shaky first years to becoming a West Coast establishment—University Book Store has outfitted its visitors and supplied them with officially licensed apparel, memorabilia, and souvenirs. Student-founded in 1900 to support the growing university community, a portion of every purchase of Husky gear, books, and supplies from University Book Store is given back to students and the UW community through scholarships and direct donations to help set the stage for the next century of greatness.

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