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Aztec Bowl Turns 75

A rededication ceremony is planned for Oct. 3.
Works Progress Administration workers digging the Aztec Bowl on February 1, 1936.
Works Progress Administration workers digging the Aztec Bowl on February 1, 1936.

Long before Qualcomm Stadium was even a dream, San Diego State’s football team fought to victory in Aztec Bowl. 

The historic venue was dedicated Oct. 3, 1936, and celebrates its 75th anniversary with a rededication ceremony at the start of homecoming week at noon, Monday, Oct. 3. The event is free and open to the public.

The ceremony will take place north of Viejas Arena in the northeast corner of lot L. It will center around the unveiling of a restored brass plaque recently returned to the office of Department of Anthropology Chairman Seth Mallios.

Perfect start to Homecoming Week

“We wanted to reinstall the plaque on that anniversary date because we thought it would be the perfect way to help kick off homecoming week,” Mallios said.

“This will be a fun thing just to remind folks of the prominent role that Aztec Bowl played in San Diego State history."

The heavy brass marker, which turned up bound in masking tape, bears an inscription that reads, 'Built by United States Works Progress Administration 1938.' According to Mallios, it commemorates additional work that was done on the stadium in the years following its opening in 1936.

Lost and found

The plaque had gone missing in 1995, around the time Aztec Bowl was being partially demolished to make way for construction of the facility now known as Viejas Arena at Aztec Bowl. Mallios said the person who took the marker and returned it to his office years later feared it would be lost forever if someone failed to protect it.

In fact, the returned plaque is one of the few original markers from Aztec Bowl that has ever been rediscovered. A few years ago, a bronze plaque commemorating President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 commencement speech at the stadium was taken and has never been found.

A rich history

Aztec Bowl has a rich history. The old football stadium was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. In addition to President Kennedy’s appearance there, the venue has played host to all sorts of memorable occasions.

“We have every kind of event,” Mallios said. “The (San Diego County) fair was there one year. (Former San Diego mayor and U.S. senator) Pete Wilson's birthday was there. Aztec Bowl really occupied just about every cornerstone of San Diego life including football.” 

But, clearly, football was the main purpose of Aztec Bowl. The 1937 Del Sudoeste yearbook describes the stadium and its dedication in detail:

“Amid speeches delivered by leading citizens, and flowers strewn from an airplane, the bowl was dedicated on Oct. 3, 1936, as our football team won its first game of the season.

“Planned under Dr. E. L. Hardy, president of State until last year when he retired, the dreams of many were realized when the stadium became an entity under President Walter R. Hepner.  

“Besides its newness, the Aztec Bowl has other distinctive features. It is the only campus stadium south of Palo Alto, it boasts of one of the finest electric time-clocks on the Pacific coast, and the press box is the finest of any college stadium. At present, the stadium seats 11,000, but eventually 45,000 people will be able to witness future Aztec victories.”

After defeating Occidental College, 7-0, in the first game ever played at Aztec Bowl, the Aztecs completed a 6-1-1 season and were the Southern California Conference champions.

It’s always good to remember history. Sometimes, it’s good to repeat it.

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