by Paul R. Spitzzeri
As has been often mentioned on this blog, another significant development boom burst forth in greater Los Angeles during the early years of the Roaring Twenties, culminating in the peak of frenzied and frenetic activity during 1923. Among the many notable landmarks of that year and of which we are now commemorating their centennials are the: Angelus Temple of Aimee Semple McPherson’s Foursquare Gospel Church; Automobile Club of Southern California headquarters; Biltmore Hotel (which opened on 1 October); Coliseum; El Cholo Café; Hollywoodland and its sign now associated with Hollywood; and Mulholland Highway’s construction beginning.
It was also the year that Walter P. Temple, flush with funds derived from royalties on oil unearthed starting in summer 1917 on his Montebello-area ranch and who dove headlong into oil and real estate development, established his largest project in the latter realm, this being the establishment of the Town of Temple, officially renamed Temple City in 1928. In 1923, he was also busy with construction projects in Alhambra, El Monte and San Gabriel, as well as working with a syndicate of investors on the planning and construction of two height-limit (11 story) office buildings in Los Angeles.
This heavy push into development was not unlike what Temple’s father, F.P.F., and, by association through invested funds, grandfather William Workman, undertook almost exactly a half-century prior during the region’s first boom, which spanned from the late 1860s through the mid-1870s. The aim, of course, for anyone riding a wave during a period of intense growth is, hopefully, to catch the rising tide before it crests and then subsides or, worse, crashes as the inevitable bust comes.
Speculation, of course, is inherently risky and no one, in the heady days of 1923 (much less 1873—at least not locally, even as a national depression erupted that year) could foresee what was to come later. Rather, most people participating in these booms tend to get caught up in the ferment and believe that the good times will last at least long enough for them to reap the dividends in whatever they are developing.
When it comes to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, so named because it was dedicated to those who served their country and lost their lives during the recent world war, there wasn’t any direct speculation, per se, although the building of this massive venue for community events, sports and other purposes certainly represented the pride of a city that felt it was securely in that elite class of major American cities.
This post features, from the Museum’s collection, a pair of aerial photographs, taken by Spence Air Photos and dated 10 October 1925, taken of the Coliseum and showing the venue from the east and south during the football game between the University of Southern California and the University of Utah. The images show 18,000 fans clustered towards the center on the northern and southern sides of the field, though the capacity was then around 75,000 (for the 1932 Olympic Games, seating was increased by nearly 30% to over 101,000, though it is back down to north of 77,000.)
Because of the elevation and, in the case of the image taken from the east, distance, the action on the field can barely be discerned, but it is also striking to see the landscape around the stadium including the main entrance off Figueroa Street (including a palm tree that was moved to the site it still occupies from an old railroad station in downtown) with driveways that branch off to the northern and southern sides, expansive lawns and walks, and other elements, such as the iconic arched entry.
The southern roadway curves into Hoover Street after crossing Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, known then as Santa Barbara Avenue, while the northern route, denoted as Exposition Park terminated at what long known as Menlo Avenue, bordering the west end of the stadium, and which is today Bill Robertson Lane. Large expanses of open land next to Figueroa are now occupied by, to the north, a parking lot, and, on the south, the BMO soccer stadium, formerly the location, from 1959 to 2016, of the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena.
With the photo taken from the east, there is also a small portion of what was then the State Exhibition Building and is now the California Science Center campus. The bottom right of the image includes a section where the California African-American Museum is today. Just out of the view to the upper right is the county’s Museum of History, Science and Art, now the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
Beyond that, Exposition Park Drive crossed Menlo and terminated at Vermont Avenue, but that entrance area is now where the ultra-modern Lucas Museum of Narrative Art is being built, with its opening date said to be sometime in 2025. Towards the upper left is where the LA84Foundation/John C. Argue Swim Stadium and the Friends of EXPO Center facilities are, while on either side of the drive turning into Hooper are parking lots.
On the image that was made from the south, it is interesting to note the sloping driveway and tunnel at the southwest part of the stadium that are still with us, while, where the South Lawn is next to the Natural History Museum, there was an amphitheater and other developed areas. Most of the museum is in view as well as almost all of the rose garden that was once the location of a horse-racing track that was a central part of what was founded in the early 1870s as Agricultural Park.
At the upper portion right of center is the current Wallis Annenberg Building, an event space for the science center but which is a radically remade iteration of a 1912 building that was an armory for the Army’s 160th Infantry Regiment. Near the top right corner is the area where the African-American Museum is today. Because the Spence plane was closer to the stadium and at a lower altitude, we can make out a little more detail of the game, such as the position of the goalposts on the goal line. Notably, while these were relocated 10 yards to the back of the zone for college games in 1927, with the National Football League doing the same, the NFL reverted back to the goal line in 1933 and it remained that way until 1974.
With regard to the contest, the Trojans, who are ranked #10 currently and have a 6-0 record with narrow recent victories over Arizona and Colorado, but have five top-20 teams to face in the second half of the season (including #21 Notre Dame this Saturday), the 1925 squad played an unusual 13 games and also not typical was the fact that all but one were played at the Coliseum, the lone road game being at Idaho. Before the Utah contest, the Men of Troy played three games, albeit against the local small schools of Whittier College (score, 74-0), Cal Tech (surprisingly, the tally there was just 32-0), and Pomona College (a Trojan walloping of 80-0.)
While there was no expectation that Utah would win the game, the odds being 5-1 in USC’s favor, it was noted that the squad was a veteran one. The Utes, however, had not yet played a game in the young season, so the Trojans’ legendary coach Howard Jones, who was in his first year, had no reports, scouting or otherwise, to go on in preparation for the contest. The captain of the Utah team, whose first-year coach Ike Armstrong was away because of his mother’s illness, was halfback George Livingston, who was widely known in his home state for scoring 10 (count ’em,10) touchdowns in 1919 when with Salt Lake’s East High School.
As for USC, its captain was left end Hobbs Adams, while its starting quarterback was Morton “Devil May” Kaer, who normally played halfback. Manuel Laraneta, Jr, who also played halfback was also promoted as a potential standout for the game, though he wound up subbing. Bob Lee started at fullback, with Bill Cook also highlighted as a player at that position. It is worth noting that the heaviest player on either side was end Vic Taufer of Utah who was all of 190 pounds. While there are punters, kickers, wide receivers and defensive backfield players who are under 200 pounds today, there are also plenty of linemen who top 300 now.
The game actually began surprisingly contested, with Utah’s defense keeping the match scoreless through the end of the first period. It was reported, however, that the Utes squad were penalized for taking its time getting plays off and that an inordinate amount of piling took place when tackles were made, apparently as a delaying tactic. After Elliott came in, however, the Trojans were able to parlay some Utah penalties and an advantageous position after a punt to put up their first touchdown with Elliott punching through on a two-yard plunge over the left tackle.
The score remained 7-0 when the second half began and there was another notable penalty against Utah when 25 yards were assessed because “somebody on the Mormon side of the field tried to aid the team with a bit of coaching chatter, presumably. Elliott tossed off a pair of fine aerials, the latter to end Morris “Red” Badgro for a 22-yard score. When the final period opened, Utah posted its only points (there was a missed field goal) when Trojan center Jeff Cravath hiked the ball over Elliott’s head and into the end zone, but USC put up two more touchdowns, when Elliott connected with Newt Stark and then Kaer, who reentered at QB, hit Badgro for a long gain before running in for the final score, ending the contest at 28-2.
Still, it was expected that the Trojans would outscore Utah by five or six touchdowns and the Utes were praised by local press coverage for their toughness, along with the team’s punter sending booming kicks to keep USC from having more opportunities to score. Elliott was accounted the star of the game with his remarkable 9 out of 10 complete passes for 142 yards and the two TDs, while Kaer was 2-3 for 45 yards and Badgro and Stark were given kudos for hauling in passes from the two quarterbacks.
The USC victory ended the spotless defensive record for the team, but the schedule did, as the 2023 season might, become tougher. On the 17th, Stanford, which went on to a #8 national ranking and a 7-2 season, with a second place finish in the Pacific Coast Conference, came to town and, before 70,000 fans, handed the Trojans its first loss of the campaign, 13-9. This ruined USC’s chances at a conference championship and a Rose Bowl appearance, though it finished 11-2 and outscored its opponents 456-55.
The Men of Troy rebounded with wins over Arizona, Idaho, Santa Clara (where Thomas W. Temple II was a junior), Montana and Iowa, racking up 181 points and allowing just 23. A shocking 17-12 loss to Washington State, however, sent the team to third place behind Stanford and conference champion and 7th ranked Washington (which did not play USC), which finished 5-0 in the division (narrowly edging last-place Oregon 15-14 the last week) before losing to Alabama, 20-19, in the 1926 Rose Bowl game.
USC’s standout players included Adams, who was a late scratch for the Utah game, but was an all-conference selection and went on to be Jones’ assistant in the late 1930s and was a college coach for much of the subsequent decade before coaching at the high school level in San Diego; Cravath, who worked under Jones in 1927 and 1928 and from 1933-1940 before serving as head coach at USC from 1942-1950, winning four conference titles and two Rose Bowl games; and Morley Drury, denoted as “The Nobles Trojan of Them All,” who starred as quarterback for the 1927 team rushing for 1,163 yards (a record for 38 years) and was a first-team All-American selection.
Another stalwart for the 1925 Men of Troy, however, and the program’s first All-American was also USC football’s first Black player, Brice Taylor (1902-1974.) Born in Seattle and a descendant of the Shawnee Indian warrior and chief Tecumseh, Taylor was born without a left hand, but, despite this, and being orphaned at just five years of age, he was a standout on the gridiron at his high school, being named state player of the year for his championship squad. Receiving 25 scholarship offers, Taylor began in 1924 as a fullback for USC under coach Gus Henderson, when the team went 9-2 and 2-1 in the conference, finishing #7 in the nation, Taylor was moved by Jones to left guard and not only played on both sides of the line but was a kicker to boot.
Amazingly, Taylor played all but four minutes in the 1925 campaign and his stellar work opening up holes for running backs and protecting the quarterbacks led to his recognition as an All-American. Not only this, but he was a vital figure on the Trojan track and field team as a hurdler, sprinter and member of a word-record mile relay team and posted a 9.8 second 100-yard dash time. A sprained ankle kept Taylor from participating in the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris.
In 1927, Taylor was hired as coach at Claflin University, a Historically Black College in South Carolina, and then worked at Southern University in Louisiana for three years before returning to Claflin. After stints in Texas, coaching at Bishop and Samuel Huston colleges, he returned to Los Angeles and became the first African-American high school football coach in the city system with a long tenure at Jefferson High, where he also coached gymnastics and tennis.
Moreover, he earned a PhD in theology and was a long-time associate pastor at the prominent First African Methodist Episcopal Church and was appointed in 1969 by Governor Ronald Reagan to lead the state’s Head Start program and to the advisory board for Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty. A Los Angeles Unified School District teacher of the year, Taylor was admitted to the USC Athletic Hall of Fame in 1995 and an award in his name is presented to a Trojan alumnus for community service work. Finally, there is a plaque at the Coliseum that honors Taylor’s impressive legacy.
As we commemorate the centennial of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, these photos are not just illustrative of the venue’s importance as the home of the USC Trojans football team, but tied to a pioneering Black student-athlete who was on the field the day the images were taken.