Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Dix Stadium

It's no secret that I love local history, but I also love history of sports, stadiums and arenas in particular. So it's of no surprise that I have studied the athletic facilities in this area, especially those at Kent State University. Thank goodness for the abundance of records available digitally that I can access, and also for the Kent State University Special Collections and Archives on the 12th floor of the library, where I spent quite a bit of time poring over old blueprints, athletic programs, and other documents!

Dix Stadium is the football stadium at Kent State University and is a place where I have spent a lot of time. My grandparents took my siblings and me to games as kids and I have attended games on my own every year that I have lived in Kent. Not only have I gone to dozens and dozens of games over the years, but I grew up all of a half mile from the stadium. Growing up, we could easily hear announcements from the stadium in our back yard. Even now, I drive past the stadium almost every day for various commutes to the southern and eastern parts of Portage County.

In just the past 10-15 years I've seen quite a few changes made to the stadium, but only recently have I really dug into its origins and early years. Some of what I've found is surprising, while other information is either confusing or not totally clear.

One of the great things about having my grandparents around is I can get a lot of first-hand information from them about the early years of the stadium. My grandpa is 89 and still has a very sharp memory. He served as the assistant dean the KSU College of Business until 1985 and was a season ticket holder for football and men's basketball for many years, so he spent a lot of time at Dix Stadium over the years until he was simply no longer able to come to games and stay comfortable.

Dix Stadium in 1969, with only the first few rows installed on the
new west stands
(Kent State University Libraries. Special Collections and Archives)
My grandpa was one of the 8,172 fans who were on hand for the very first game at Dix Stadium in 1969. At the time the stadium wasn't even completed yet. On the west ("home") stands, only 16 of 58 rows of seats had been installed and the locker rooms and press box were also not complete. In doing some research, there was apparently a construction accident earlier in the year that put work back several months. The stadium itself wasn't done until after the 1969 season, finished in either December 1969 or early 1970.

The most bizarre aspect of Dix Stadium is that it wasn't regarded as a new stadium, but rather as an "expansion and relocation" of the old Memorial Stadium. Memorial Stadium was located where the parking lot is for the KSU Student Center now. It was built in phases, the oldest of which opened in 1950, though the field had been used since 1941. Rather than just build an entirely new stadium in the late 60s, instead KSU dismantled all the main seating sections of Memorial Stadium and moved them about a mile down Summit Street to the new stadium site. The construction at Dix Stadium was to build a 12,772-seat grandstand on the west side of the field that had a new press box and locker rooms, along with 4 free-standing restroom facilities on each corner of the field. The seating sections from Memorial Stadium were used on the other three sides. Memorial Stadium's sideline grandstands became the new end zone seats at Dix Stadium while the 4 auxiliary bleacher sections became the new east stands, known mostly as the "visitor's section" (visitor fans no longer sit on that side of the stadium, however, as it is now the student section). Because Dix Stadium incorporated virtually all of Memorial Stadium's seats, obviously the university couldn't use the old stadium after the new stadium wasn't totally ready in time.

Memorial Stadium ca. 1968. All seating visible in this photo except the end zone bleachers
was moved to Dix Stadium in 1969. The buildings adjacent to the stadium from left are:
Bowman Hall, Lake-Olson Halls, and the Memorial Athletic & Convocation Center. This area is now
mainly occupied by the visitor parking lot for the Student Center
(Kent State University Libraries. Special Collections and Archives)
Top photo is of Memorial Stadium when it was new in 1950. Bottom photo is the same
grandstand in 2008, but now in the north end zone of Dix Stadium. The old press box was
removed in 2007.
(Top photo from 1951 Chestnut Burr; Kent State University Libraries. Special Collections and Archives)

Those Who Fail to Plan...

Document outlining the future plans for what is now
Dix Stadium. 
The most surprising aspect of Dix Stadium that I discovered were the original long-range plans for its development, most of which were never followed. The most disappointing one to me is the plan for the east side seating area. As I mentioned above, the east side seating, which up until about 2000 was where fans from the visiting team sat, was actually made up of four separate stands of wooden bleacher seats. In the original plans for Dix Stadium, those were considered temporary seats and were supposed to have been removed by 1973 and replaced with an 18-row section of concrete seating. Eventually, that would have been extended to 58 rows to duplicate the west side stands, bringing the seating capacity to around 35,000. The last phase of expansion would have been to add an upper deck on each side of the stadium, bringing total capacity to around 50,000. I would love to see an architectural rendering of what that would've looked like as it's hard to imagine an upper deck at Dix Stadium.

Those "temporary" wooden bleachers ended up being removed, but not for over 30 years. After the 2001 season they were condemned and torn down. During the 2002 season, that area was left empty before a new, smaller section of aluminium bleachers were built on that site for the student section.

Why weren't the plans followed? Well, for one, they were contingent on the team continuing to win, which didn't happen much. Even so, the first few years at Dix Stadium, KSU football did very well and was drawing decent crowds. The two largest crowds in stadium history were both set in 1973 (27,363 and 25,137), though the first recorded sellout didn't occur until 2010 (with a smaller seating capacity). After that, though, attendance was pretty low and crowds above 20,000 were rare.

East side stands (student section) with Field House in the rear in 2010.
The north stands can be seen on the left.
The other factor was likely the effects of the 1970 Kent State shootings, which occurred just after the stadium was initially completed. The shootings caused a decline in enrollment at KSU, which in turn led to budget cuts across the university, so it is of no surprise to me that stadium expansion or upgrades may have been one of those casualties. The only major athletic-related capital project in the 1970s was the controversial construction of the Gym Annex in 1977, and that was more related to physical education than to athletics.  The plans that did largely come to pass are that Dix Stadium is the center of an athletic complex, though not quite as large as the original plans, which included a new basketball arena in the field across Summit Street from the stadium. The field house, built in 1989, was mentioned in the 1970s plans as well as including other athletic fields. As of 2014, field hockey, women's soccer, softball, and indoor track all have facilities in and around Dix Stadium along with football.

Personally I wish KSU would look back on those original plans and use them in their current upgrades to the stadium. I don't think anyone expects the 50,000 seat plan to be followed, but the original idea to have the east side and west side look similar would be quite an improvement over the current setup. The east side stands built in 2003 just don't look like something you'd expect to see at a Division I FBS school. It's made worse by the fact that television cameras are located on the much larger west stands, so TV audiences see the very small east stands in the background (which seats just 4,104), so the stadium looks even smaller than it actually is. Originally, the cameras were located at the top of the east stands, so the west stands were in the background. Aesthetically it's also bizarre that you have a section with almost 13,000 opposite a section with just 4,000, while the north end zone section between them has almost 6,000 seats.


Another interesting aspect of Dix Stadium is the name itself. The stadium is named for Robert C. Dix, who was a member of the Kent State Board of Trustees for some 30 years and also was editor of the Record-Courier newspaper. Locally, the Dix name is known for Dix Communications, which owns several media outlets, including the Record-Courier. Dix Communications is now partially headquartered in Kent while the rest of its headquarters is in Wooster, Ohio. Anyway, my aforementioned grandpa was part of a committee established in the early 1970s to name the stadium. When it opened in 1969, it was known as Memorial Stadium since it was regarded as an expansion and relocation of the existing Memorial Stadium, rather than a new facility.

My grandpa said there was no consensus in the committee (which included the likes of Jack Lambert) on who to name it for, but the various ideas floating around were all athletic-related such as former KSU players and coaches. He said no one even mentioned Robert C. Dix as an option. After the university announced that the stadium was to be named for Dix, my grandpa wrote a letter to the university letting them know to never again call him to be on such a committee that he felt was a complete waste of his time since they did not use any of the naming recommendations the committee gave. One of the suggestions from a committee member, though, was selling the naming rights to a company. While that is commonplace now, it wasn't the case in the early 1970s. In any case, the "Dix Stadium" name became official in 1973.

Just How Many?

Another sort of mystery or source of confusion for me is the actual seating capacity of the stadium. News articles from the time it opened list its capacity at 28,748. Later, the capacity was listed at 30,520 in media guides. This number is listed as the capacity until 2003 (it's even used in the 2002 guides even though the east stands weren't there the entire season). In 2003, with the opening of a newer and smaller east stand, the capacity was changed to 29,287, a loss of 1,233 seats. In 2008, after the south end zone seating was removed, the capacity was listed at a generic "25,000", until 2010, when the capacity suddenly "dropped" to 20,500. That was the official listed capacity until 2013, when, despite no new construction, the stadium got about 5,000 more seats to have a listed capacity of 25,319.

The one consistent number I have found is that the west stands have seating for 12,772. That number is present in the architectural plans and news reports from the late 1960s and in media guides over several decades, plus the west stands have had no major changes made beyond new paint. I could only find one game program that listed the seating capacities for each section, from the mid 1980s: 12,772 for the west stands, 5,976 for the original east stands, and 5,726 for both the north and south end zone sections (which were virtually identical). It also has a "Southeast Corner" section with 320 seats that isn't on the stadium seating diagram nor is it one I remember ever seeing in all my years going to games. All of that added together was where the 30,520 total comes from. The new east stands built in 2003 were listed in a 2008 media guide as having 4,104 seats, so that explains why capacity went down in 2003, though the new section is 1,872 seats smaller than its predecessor yet the overall stadium capacity only dropped by 1,233 even though there were no additional seats added elsewhere that I am aware of.

The 5,726 total for the north and south end zones is interesting because when Memorial Stadium opened in 1950, it consisted of one grandstand (which is now the Dix Stadium north end zone...pictured above) and some auxiliary bleachers on the opposite side of the field. The listed seating capacity for Memorial Stadium then was 5,600. Obviously that's an estimate, but it seems odd that the 1980s total for that section of seats is higher than the 1950 total without auxiliary seating in the count. Edit: turns out, the initial capacity for Memorial Stadium was actually about 7,000, which included the main grandstand and auxiliary seating, so the 5,726 for that section seems accurate!

If the totals from that 1980s game program are correct along with the 4,104 total for the current east stands, then the current seating capacity of Dix Stadium is 22,602. Now, there is a difference between seating capacity and total capacity too. Obviously since the stadium has a large plaza in the south end zone, smaller open areas on either side of the east stands, and virtually all of the seating is made of of bleachers, more people than the total seating capacity can be in the stadium, but still, I do wonder where the current 25,319 figure comes from and why there is so much discrepancy, especially in the last few years. Have they started counting seats that hadn't previously been counted? Has the university changed how they divide the bleacher seats in the various sections? Do they include the standing room only sections in the capacity? At this point, the latter is the only explanation I can find. The largest crowd since the most recent renovations was 24,221 in 2010. At the time, it was almost 4,000 over the listed capacity, but now it appears it was slightly below the listed capacity even though no changes to the seating have been made between 2008 and now. That game, however, was the first official sellout for Kent State football at Dix Stadium.

Location, Location, Location

The other aspect of Dix Stadium's history I've always wondered about is why the stadium was built where it is. In studying the contemporary news stories, there aren't any specific reasons given by those who were responsible for the stadium's development.  Based on reading those stories and what I know about developments that were going on around it at the time, though, I can make a fairly educated guess.

Dix Stadium in 1970. The rest of campus can be seen in the upper
right corner of the picture
(Kent State University Libraries. Special Collections and Archives)
First, the reason they needed to move the stadium away from the Memorial Stadium site was due to the growth of campus in the 1950s. When the athletic fields that later became Memorial Stadium were built, that was the edge of campus. By 1964, there were several more buildings and campus was starting to "pass" Memorial Stadium to the point that it was becoming more central to the campus instead of the edge. University officials wanted to build a new University Center (library and student center), and that location seemed to be best geographically based on the how campus was at the time and the long-range plans.

OK, but why did they choose a site that was, at the time, off-campus? That specific reason is never mentioned, but my guesses have to do first with cars. A big part of the Dix Stadium project was the parking lot for a few thousand cars, so they needed a very large area. The Dix Stadium site is about a mile from the edge of campus (at that time), though today it doesn't seem nearly as far as it did in 1969 as campus has expanded further east. I don't consider Dix Stadium to be "off-campus". It has plenty of space not only for ample parking, but has allowed for the other athletic facilities to be built there. The university did want an athletic complex at that site in time.

Another reason that may have played into the decision to locate there specifically was the proximity to what is now State Route 261. In the late 1960s, plans were in place to make what is now SR 261 a 4-lane limited access freeway that would have had an exit at Summit right near the stadium site (at the time, SR 261 entered Kent via Cherry Street, then followed South Water Street and SR 43 north to downtown Kent where it ended at the intersection of Main and Water Streets). The portion of 261 now that runs north-south from SR 59 to just past Summit Street was originally going to be part of a divided 4-lane limited access highway SR 435 going between SR 14 in the north and I-76 in the south. 261 was supposed to tie in to SR 435 just south of Summit. The overall project was only partially realized with 261 being built as a divided highway from just south of Summit to just east of the Kent-Tallmadge border, completed in the early 1970s. The property lines, though, still reflect where the on-ramps and interchanges would have been. It makes sense that having the stadium and its huge parking lot directly accessible to the highways would have been preferable, especially in the late 60s when the general planning mindset favored more highway construction.
1968 Land Use and Thoroughfare Plan for Kent and Franklin Township. I added a few labels.
Of these plans, part of SR 261 was built (without any highway interchanges) and Haymaker
Parkway, which can be seen on the left side. 435 was never built, though part of SR 261 follows
the SR 435 route between Summit Street and SR 59. 
Property map of the Dix Stadium area today. The location of the planned interchange of what would have been SRs 261 and 435 and the exit ramp to Summit Street (all visible in the bottom right of the picture above) can still be seen in the property lines even though the project was abandoned years ago.
(Portage County Auditor)
I haven't really touched on all the more recent changes made in 2007 and 2008, or the upcoming plans for the stadium and the entire athletic complex. To see more, be sure to visit

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