Arguably the spiritual center of the Washington State University campus for the past half century, Martin Stadium also is a rare example of a stadium situated at, or near, the geographical center of a university campus. Following an arson fire that destroyed the wooden grandstands marking the south side of what had been the site of Rogers Field in 1970, Martin Stadium has emerged gradually in its stead, its sunken playing surface, concrete superstructure, metal bleachers, and architectural additions today providing an increasingly tight-knit theater for the athletic drama of football unfolding on the stage—or artificial turf—below.
For legions of WSU alumni and students, the stadium seems to maintain a near-mythical grip on the imagination. Whether it does so for its architectural distinction or for the events and memories with which it is associated is a matter of some debate; either way, in books, articles, and online, there is more information readily available about Martin Stadium and its predecessors than any other building on campus. Perhaps unlike some universities where the stadium’s merit as a work of architecture is illuminated by a long legacy of football success, at WSU the importance of Martin Stadium seems to grow regardless of the team’s performance.
The stadium’s size, however, has seen little growth for the past 38 years. In fact, Martin Stadium’s current seating capacity of 32,952 is nearly 5,000 seats fewer than its 1979 total, and it is by far the smallest capacity football stadium in the Pacific 12 conference. Moreover, only since the Football Operations Building rose beyond the west end zone in 2014 has the stadium featured a distinct sense of architectural enclosure. With its south grandstand essentially resting upon an existing hillside that slopes downward from the central campus promenade, the stadium is mostly unobtrusive and, when viewed from the south, west, or east, occasionally difficult to distinguish from the academic buildings or athletic facilities that surround it. It is equally difficult to discuss as a single work of “architecture”: for over 125 years, athletic facilities at this site have undergone several processes of construction and replacement. Attempting to uncover, or envision, a state of completion for Martin Stadium is a difficult exercise.
Martin Stadium is nonetheless difficult to ignore, even if it is not always easy to envision—or to see. Beyond its importance as the setting for college football games against top-notch competition, its central campus location makes a disregard of the stadium nearly impossible—never mind one’s affinity for football or opinion about the contemporary role of big-time college athletics in university life. The stadium’s main entrance, for example, faces east onto Stadium Way, the principal road through campus, visible to thousands of motorists and pedestrians daily—as well as to faculty or graduate students working in plant science, veterinary science, or biomedical laboratories across the street. Visitors to the sparkling new galleries of the WSU Museum of Art to the south need only stroll across the restricted-access Wilson Road to enter the stadium. Students and the public who spill out from the east doors of the Compton Union Building—the campus student center—find themselves in a small, landscaped plaza leading towards the press box, club area, and luxury suites. The pale-brick, Stanley Smith–designed Bohler Gym (1928) and Hollingbery Fieldhouse (1929)—the latter whose pitched roof is visible just beyond the northwestern edge of the north stands—exist just to the northwest and north, respectively, of the stadium’s northern side. From the oft-visited landscaped rooftop above the Terrell Library, Martin Stadium unfolds to the east, just past an artificial surface practice facility that has assumed the name “Rogers Field” in recognition of the general area that included the older stadium once standing to its east. Underneath the grandstands at the southeastern corner, a building that originally housed the fledgling computer science department and today houses the university’s central communications and information technology headquarters is nearly inconspicuous. The stadium is deeply contained within the campus built environment; with the exception of Mooberry Track, which extends north of the stadium, and a parking lot across Stadium Way to the northeast, open space around the stadium is at a premium.
Large, open expanses were once the norm, not the exception. Martin Stadium technically began in 1892 as “Soldiers Field,” a facility for track and baseball, shortly after the college was founded. Little more than a grassy expanse cleared from the existing landscape, by 1900 Soldiers Field had hosted football games and featured wooden bleachers erected on the sloping hill to the southeast. In 1902, the growing stadium was named “Rogers Field” in honor of Governor John R. Rogers, and by the 1910s the field became a complex that included a golf course and tennis courts on eight overall acres of space on the northeastern edge of campus. Picturesque Silver Lake and the attendant “Tanglewood” of trees (since filled in to accommodate additional recreational facilities) extended to the north. Additional development of Rogers Field came in the 1920s, when wooden grandstands were erected both on the north side of the field and replaced what had been informal hillside seating on the south.
In 1936, the Rogers Field complex was thoroughly rebuilt. A new press box, an electronic scoreboard, and new wooden stands on the south, east, and north—the latter on concrete pilings—provided a new configuration and lent an air of permanence. Left open on the western edge, the new seating arrangement created a discernable horseshoe shape “capable of seating nearly 25,000,” according to the 1941 edition of Washington: A Guide to the Evergreen State, where Rogers Field was one of only four sites prominently featured in the description of the college as a whole. The stadium would remain mostly unchanged for the next 34 years.
The horseshoe shape was far less discernable after April 4, 1970, when the south stands and press box were destroyed by a suspected arson fire. The track and field facilities were saved, but the fire compelled the university to seek an off-site location for WSU football games until a new structure was ready, and the team used Joe Albi Stadium in Spokane for this purpose during the 1970 and 1971 seasons. In the meantime, the south stands were demolished and money was raised and bids fielded for what would be a new multipurpose stadium that would include an academic building originally intended for the programs in architecture, interior design, and landscape architecture. To begin construction for what would become the “Clarence D. Martin Stadium and Academic Center,” university president Glenn Terrell gathered a starting commitment of $250,000 from Charlotte and Don Martin—the latter the son of former Washington governor Clarence D. Martin.
By early 1972, Spokane-based Vern W. Johnson and Sons, Inc. had begun driving concrete pilings for the $1.5 million stands of the new facility to the designs of the Seattle firm Naramore, Bain, Brady and Johanson (NBBJ). Construction proceeded rapidly and the new south stands, in conjunction with a new press box and lights, joined the still extant north and east stands. The stadium, along with a new “AstroTurf” surface, was finished in time for the 1972 football season. Upon completion, the name was shortened to Martin Stadium and the red brick academic “center” was ultimately dedicated to the computer science department—not the university’s design disciplines.
In 1975, the NBBJ-designed north grandstands replaced the existing stands, and in 1979 the stadium underwent another major reconstruction when the field was lowered 16 feet, the track was removed, and 13 new rows of seats were added, bringing fans closer to the field—changes overall that brought seating capacity from 27,600 to 37,600—its highest ever. Physical changes begun in 1972 and occurring throughout the 1970s are still integral to Martin Stadium’s overall configuration. With some minor exceptions (such as several upgrades to the artificial surface, the replacement of the last of the 1936-era wooden east end zone seats with aluminum bleachers in 1999, and an overall reduction in seats), changes since that time have worked within, or added to, the existing configuration. But they have not fundamentally altered it.
Among the changes include those in 2006, when the WSU Regents approved $26 million towards the construction of an entrance facade along Stadium Way; public circulation, restrooms, and concessions on the north and east sides; and a new video scoreboard on the west side. Noted sports facility architectural firm HOK Sport earned this commission, assisted by Spokane-based Madsen Mitchell Evenson and Conrad (MMEC). In anticipation of future expansion, the designers also provided structural changes to the east and south stands to permit additional seating layers and concourses if demand—and funding—permits it.
The addition of a large, five-story building containing a new press box, 1,183 outdoor club seats, 83 indoor club seats, 42 loge boxes, 21 luxury suites, and a 10,000-square-foot club room with high ceilings above the north grandstand in 2011 marked a significant (if more selective) seating upgrade. The $54 million structure, known originally as the “Southside Project,” was also the first building during the stadium’s lengthy construction history to be readily visible from the higher-elevation central campus area. Designed by Spokane-based Adkison Leigh Sims Cuppage (ALSC) Architects, the facility’s boxy glass, brick, and aluminum exterior is not altogether unlike surrounding campus buildings and matches them in scale. Hoffman Construction erected the building atop the structural base of the earlier press box, apparently saving $100,000 and two weeks of construction time. Several thousand seats were eliminated for the construction of this building.
ALSC’s five-story, 88,880-square foot, $61 million mostly glass, brick, and aluminum Football Operations Building rose in 2012–2014, effectively closing what had long been an open vista between the west end zone and the practice fields beyond. This facility provided a weight room, locker rooms, meeting rooms, offices, a dining hall for student athletes, a 150-seat auditorium, hydro and plunge pools, and a “heritage gallery” or “hall of fame” with commemorative displays of football history. The building overall was intended to enhance recruiting and permit the football program to maintain pace with similar facilities at other universities in major football conferences.
The use of red brick on portions of the western and eastern facades of the Football Operations Building helps tie it with the campus material palette, yet its equally heavy use of aluminum and glass, including large cantilevered roof edges, gives it an overall mechanistic feel and connects it to the press box. A walkway at the third level, partially enclosed by four-story brick and aluminum piers featuring images of former football players, provides views into the heritage gallery and offers a connecting pathway between the center of campus and the northside residence halls. A three-story-tall image of a WSU football player is visible just inside the building from the northwest side. Hoffman Construction served as contractor for this building as well; in both cases, the density of the tucked-in site made it difficult for Hoffman Construction to maneuver equipment and materials.
Should it become necessary, future construction may simultaneously expand and enclose the stadium, making it increasingly distinctive as a single work of architecture. So long as Martin Stadium continues to serve as the setting for WSU football, events held there likely also will expand it in legend and lore.