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9 days until LAFC open their stadium: The Banc in a local context

On novelty vs. history, and where claiming to be a cathedral is meaningful.

Los Angeles FC Hosts Banc Of Califorina Stadium Ribbon Cutting And Stadium Tour Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

In a city whose ethos is “new” as much as Los Angeles’, there is at least one notable exception, when it comes to major sporting venues.

Yes, Los Angeles is one of the older cities in California, but if you move to Southern California from somewhere else, you run across “old” houses from the 1980s, towns that were incorporated after you were born, and entire neighborhoods that go through transformations in the span of a generation. It’s surreal, to be honest.

And while the glue of history sticks to relatively more in Los Angeles, even with new, cutting-edge changes coming in various ways to the city, the same has not happened for sports, surprisingly.

The Rose Bowl opened in 1922, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum opened a few months later. These are two venues that are institutions, places where major sporting events still take place — an NFL team specifically moved here to play in the Coliseum! Yes, I know they plan to build the stadium to end all stadiums at Hollywood Park one day, but if it’s good enough for the ultra-modern NFL, then the spartan accommodations carry something special for the community.

Dodger Stadium opened in 1962. It’s the oldest Major League Baseball stadium west of the Mississippi, the third oldest overall behind only Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. Another institution, Dodger Stadium is as LA as tacos and Hollywood.

Even the newer facilities are, by current American standards, not entirely new at this point. The multi-team, multi-sport Staples Center opened in 1999, and the StubHub Center opened in 2003. At the time, both venues were state of the art, in the meantime, they’ve been surpassed. That said, each venue still offers plenty of cachet — Staples Center helped transform downtown to being an entertainment destination once again, notably revitalizing the local area, and StubHub is a multi-sport facility that also serves as a home base for not only the LA Galaxy but the U.S. National Teams. These places remain relevant on the map and pull people in.

Into all of this comes Los Angeles Football Club’s venue, Banc of California Stadium. Following the ribbon cutting ceremony on Wednesday, the newest venue in LA will open for the first game on April 29 against the Seattle Sounders. While even getting it built at all is an accomplishment of some sort, the fact that number one, LA is a busy, expensive city and available land isn’t just lying around and number two, the city appreciates older venues and doesn’t automatically want to jump to the next shiny new thing means this is a novel achievement. The last major open-air sporting venue built in the city was Dodger Stadium, which again, opened way back in 1962.

LAFC promised with this stadium, built in Exposition Park, they would be working to revitalize the neighborhood surrounding the park, being good neighbors and making sure the benefits were not solely collected in the pockets of the wealthy owners. Will that vision come to pass, or will it turn out to be empty talk? It’s a complicated question, to be sure. You can’t find a team in this day and age that does not make promises of serving the local community (in fact, teams are often required to sign pledges to make their promises more binding in order to secure government approval, given how many times teams have skipped this mission after they get what they want). The proof will be in the pudding. And yet, there are still people bitter (understandably so) about Chavez Ravine being razed and the Mexican-American families who lived there being kicked out so the new baseball stadium could be built. Some scars never truly heal.

The other question concerning Banc of California Stadium is if it can, and will, earn the iconic status of the other venues in the area. Honestly, few get teary-eyed talking about Staples Center like they do the Coliseum or Dodger Stadium, but Staples Center is but a baby compared to the veteran venues, still. Will the Banc earn the veneration over a period of decades? Can it age into a place that earns respect well after the novelty wears off? Is it a venue that can stand the test of time?

Again, questions that we can’t answer today. Time will tell us if that is the destiny of the newest venue.

The club has continually pushed the narrative that the stadium will be a “Cathedral of Soccer.” Hear it once, it’s novel, but hear it hundreds of times over the years and it sounds like a talking point. Still, in considering the place of sporting venues in Los Angeles, the likes of the Rose Bowl, the Coliseum and Dodger Stadium really can be considered secular grounds of worship, to pay homage, have collective experiences, and witness the sometimes miraculous events that happen in sports. In that respect, aiming to build a Cathedral of Soccer has meaning, a way to connect the new stadium to those that have come before and still stand in Los Angeles’ consciousness, and an invitation to those who wish to worship the sport and find a community in the city that there is a new parish opening up in Expo Park. In that light, the talking point finds meaning once more.

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