The grand vision of University of Washington athletic manager Darwin Meisnest, Husky Stadium underwent a number of remodels that preceded the new, $280 million renovation.
By David Eskenazi and Steve Rudman
Last week’s Wayback Machine, “Genesis Of Husky Stadium,” examined how an enterprising athletics executive named Darwin Meisnest (1896-92), a son of German immigrants, galvanized the Seattle business community into constructing the original Husky Stadium, dedicated Nov. 27, 1920. Meisnest even hand-picked the opponent for the inaugural, Dartmouth’s Hanover Horde.
As early as 1919, when he proposed construction of Washington Field at a UW assembly, Meisnest envisioned a 60,000-seat facility with upper decks on both the north and south sides. Due to a lack of funds, that didn’t happen in Meisnest’s lifetime. It did happen eventually.
The stadium Meisnest knew accommodated 30,000 spectators and was, for a number of years, the largest and finest in the United States. This is how it evolved in to the present facility, dedicated Saturday in front of 71,963 spectators.
It took hundreds of construction workers and student volunteers six months to the day to build Washington Field, later Husky Stadium.
Conceived as a 60,000-seat facility with a south-side upper deck, the first version came in at 30,000 seats sans deck. Even the scaled-down model went $70,000 over the budget established by Meisnest, the athletic manager most responsible for its construction.
Meisnest, Washington’s graduate manager (athletic director), didn’t seem overly concerned. In fact, in several newspaper interviews he expressed confidence that sooner rather than later he would see his original stadium dream (60,000 seats) realized, and paid for. The important thing for Meisnest was that the new stadium, even at 30,000 seats, would enable Washington to become one of the premier football programs on the West Coast, if not the nation.
That’s why Meisnest signed Dartmouth, a perennial power in the east, to face Washington in the stadium’s inaugural. Meisnest not only recognized the stadium’s unveiling would become a region-wide event, since there was nothing like it within thousands of miles, he attracted national publicity due to Dartmouth’s presence.
Fans began streaming to the Montlake area shortly before 9 a.m. for the scheduled 2:30 p.m. kickoff. Meisnest arranged for a pre-game procession of dignitaries, including UW president Henry Suzzallo, Gov. Louis F. Hart, Lt Gov. Wee Coyle (a former Gil Dobie quarterback) and numerous politicians from throughout the Northwest to enter the stadium through the players tunnel accompanied by the Washington band. Several, including Suzzallo and Hart, orated at length.
Meisnest’s special guests included former Dobie players Louis Seagrave, Walt Schiel and Dr. William Speidel, and Mrs. Verna Grimm, widow of Warren Grimm, the greatest end Dobie coached, and a member of the U.S. tug of war team (then an Olympic sport) that competed in the 1918 Allied Games in France. Grimm served overseas during World War I and was shot to death in a Centralia Armistice Day celebration in 1919.
Given the UW’s poor record (1-4), not even the most ardent rooter expected an upset, so Dartmouth’s 28-7 triumph didn’t come as much of a shock. On the other hand, UW officials were pleasantly surprised at taking in a record $30,000 in gate receipts.
“There is consolation in the thought that the outcome was not unexpected and the score was less one-sided than many observers had anticipated,” The Seattle Times reported. “Verily, college athletics have entered upon a new era here, as elsewhere throughout the country.
“It is estimated that 4,500 automobiles carried spectators to the opening game. Despite heavy rains Thursday and Friday, the field was dry as could be. This represents another engineering triumph. In the first place, the field is not perfectly level. The middle is a full foot higher than the lateral extremities. The slope is so gradual as not to be noticeable, yet it is sufficient to drain much of the surface water.
“28,000 people, the largest crowd that ever saw a football game in the Northwest, filled the big new stadium (actual attendance was later placed at 24,500) and were given their one big thrill of the game in the first quarter when quarterback Bob Abel blocked a drop kick by Dartmouth’s Jim Robertson on the 37-yard line, picked up the ball on the run and sprinted 63 yards for a touchdown.
“When Abel crossed the last chalk line for the first touchdown the crowd, except for a small band of loyal Dartmouth rooters, rose to its feet in a frenzy of joy. It cheered deliriously and the rooters cheered Abel until it seemed the whole city must hear. It was more than the first touchdown in the stadium. It was the first touchdown the Washington team had made in three games.
“Between halves, the students left their seats and paraded on the stadium field, where they formed a gigantic hook, representing one of Washington’s most sacred emblems. Throughout the game, Washington’s enthusiasm remained at high pitch, even after the tide of fortune had definitely set in favor of Dartmouth.
“Had Washington been able to produce a punter who could punt, a different story might have been written, for no eleven can hope to keep its advantage behind 10, 20 and 30-yard kicks. Robertson, the big Dartmouth halfback, made long and short passes and two of them were into the hands of Eddie Lynch, who scored two of the Hanover touchdowns.”
A Hoquaim High graduate, UW student body president and the star quarterback, Abel offered his perspective:
“Their line was fast and their backfield slow. I would say that the superior weight of the Dartmouth backfield, and their excellence in the aerial game, were the two factors that beat us. As to the style of football, both teams play the same. I do not think this Dartmouth team is any better.”
The construction of the stadium caused one notable break in tradition. Prior to 1920, Washington celebrated Homecoming in the spring. But Meisnest switched it in 1920 to coincide with the opening of the stadium; it has remained a fall celebration ever since.
The Dartmouth-Washington game or, rather, the traffic snarl that resulted from it, also provided the impetus to build the Montlake Bridge. Prior to stadium construction, Seattle voters twice rejected erecting a span over the Montlake Cut.
Meisnest recognized that the lack of a bridge would inconvenience fans attending the Dartmouth game, so he set up a makeshift walkway made from a series of barges to allow fans to cross. Even with that, such a traffic jam resulted that voters, egged on by dozens of newspaper editorials, opted to build a permanent span. Carl F. Gould, the stadium’s main architect, also designed the bridge, which was completed in 1925.
Meisnest lived long enough to see most of the stadium he originally envisioned, but not on the timeline he wanted. He was correct, however, about raising sufficient funds to pay off the $600,000 stadium debut in a timely manner. On Oct. 23, 1926, bonds issued in 1920 to cover the final cost of the stadium were burned at halftime of the Washington-Washington State game. After that, stadium milestones were few and far between.
April 23, 1936: Washington regents approved a 10,000-seat increase at Husky Stadium (the name Washington Field never stuck), bringing capacity to 40,000.
June 7, 1938: Husky Stadium underwent its first major facelift. Stadium capacity was bumped to 43,000 and a grass field was installed for the first time (for the facility’s first 18 years, games were played on dirt, mud and the ever-present rocks).
April 4, 1948: UW Regents announced the stadium would be rebuilt to seat between 60,000 and 75,000 spectators in time for the 1949 season (regents were off by a year).
Dec. 12, 1948: UW announced plans to install an upper deck (part of Meisnest’s original plan) on the south side of Husky Stadium in order to increase stadium capacity from 43,000 to 55,000. Regents said the $3.5 million expansion would be paid for through a $10,500 annual increase in student fees over a 25-year period.
Jan. 2, 1950: Strand & Sons received a general contract to add 15,000 seats to the south side of Husky Stadium. The new upper deck, with a cantilevered steel roof, was budgeted at $3.7 million. As part of the project, a two-level press box was constructed 165 feet above the field.
Sept. 23, 1950: Washington defeated Kansas State 33-7 in the first game played in 55,000-seat Husky Stadium. Despite the expansion, the game drew only 30,245 spectators as many fans refused to venture up into the south-side upper deck, nicknamed “Cassill’s Castle” (after athletic director Harvey Cassill, who pushed for the structure to be built), for fear that it might collapse. This was one of the last Husky games the 56-year-old Meisnest attended.
Sept. 24, 1965: UW Regents announced plans to construct a $3.6 million, 15,000-seat addition to the north side of Husky Stadium, increasing capacity to 70,000. Regents projected completion in time for the 1967 season.
Dec. 2, 1966: Citing prohibitive costs, UW regents voted 4-3 to reject a 15,000-seat expansion to the north side of Husky Stadium they had endorsed a year earlier.
March 12, 1968: UW officials said they would add 4,000 additional seats on the north side of the stadium, increasing capacity to 59,000. At the same time, the UW elected to remove the grass field and replace it with AstroTurf at a cost of $250,000.
July 12, 1982: UW officials announced plans to add 14,000 seats to the east end of Husky Stadium at a cost of $7 million.
April 20, 1985: The Board of Regents issued unanimous approval for a $13.7 million expansion of Husky Stadium scheduled to add 13,700 seats in a new deck on the north side of the facility. Regents awarded a construction contract to Lydig Construction of Spokane, and plans also called for the construction of a 500-seat Tyee Center (subsequently named the Don James Center) on the 50-yard line that offered four seats for 10 years at $50,000.
Feb. 25, 1987: Due to what the general contractor called “a construction error,” the north-side framework at Husky Stadium collapsed in a heap of twisted steel.
Sept. 1, 1987: Work is completed on the “New Husky Stadium,” making the 72,500-seat facility the largest in the Pacific Northwest and the 15th largest on-campus football facility in the U.S.
Sept. 5, 1987: Washington celebrated the completion of the New Husky Stadium by thrashing Stanford 31-21 in front of 73,676, the largest crowd in the facility’s history.
Aug. 20, 1989: Major reconstruction of Husky Stadium is completed with the replacement of the west stands at a cost of $3.7 million.
July 20, 1989: In preparation for the 1990 Goodwill Games, a new, eight-lane synthetic track is installed in Husky Stadium.
Sept. 19, 1992: A crowd of 73,333 watched the No. 2-ranked Huskies batter the No. 12 Nebraska Cornhuskers 29-14 in the first night game in Husky Stadium history. During the contest, ESPN measured the noise level at 130 decibels.
Aug. 4, 2000: In preparation for the Seahawks’ two-year stay at Husky Stadium, synthetic Field Turf is installed at a cost of $1.075 million to replace the artificial turf installed in 1968 and replaced in 1972, 1977, 1987 and 1995.
March 8, 2005: The UW athletic department launched a facility planning study aimed at coming up with ideas to completely renovate 85-year-old Husky Stadium.
Nov. 30, 2006: UW athletic director Todd Turner outlined his wish list for Husky Stadium, which included a renovated facility, a new football operations center, a relocated track and renovated baseball and soccer stadiums and locker rooms.
Aug. 6, 2010: UW selected Wright Runstad & Co. of Seattle as the developer for the Husky Stadium renovation, with a projected cost of $250 million (finally tally: $280 million).
Nov. 18, 2010: The UW Board of Regents approved a plan to pay for part of the renovation with $50 million in private donations and an increase in ticket prices. The project would draw on a $200 million loan from the school’s internal lending program.
Nov. 7, 2011: Athletic department and other UW officials gathered in the west end zone for a groundbreaking ceremony signifying the start of renovation. The stadium would reopen Aug. 31, 2013, when the Huskies hosted Boise State.
In addition to leading the fundraising drive for Washington Field in 1920, Meisnest spearheaded the effort to construct the Washington Pavilion (now Hec Edmundson Pavilion, which includes Alaska Airlines Arena), dedicated in 1927. With that effort completed, Meisnest felt he had run his course as athletic manager. He resigned in 1928 to become sales manager (and later vice-president) of the Pacific Coast Cement Co.
In 1931, Meisnest joined the new Washington Athletic Club as executive vice president and made the nearly insolvent organization profitable. He threw the WAC’s support behind numerous Olympic hopefuls, making it possible, for example, for Seattle’s Helene Madison to compete in numerous swimming competitions in her run up to the 1932 Summer Olympic Games, where she won three freestyle gold medals.
Meisnest stayed at the WAC until 1942, when he entered active service with the U.S. Navy. For a year, he was stationed at Sand Point as chief staff officer to the Naval Air Center commandant. He later saw duty overseas as a member of Fleet Adm. Ernest J. King’s inspector-general staff. The Navy discharged Meisnest in 1945 with the rank of captain.
After the war, Meisnest served as vice president of the Olympic Steam Ship Co., was chairman of the state March of Dimes (1950-51), and chairman of the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii Committee, which successfully negotiated the first Seattle-to-Honolulu air route, and vice-president of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.
In his late 50s, Meisnest formed his own company, Darwin Meisnest Inc., an investment-securities firm. Meisnest was operating that concern when, on Aug. 12, 1952, he died following a long illness at the age of 58.
After Meisnest’s death, L.H. Gregory, sports editor of The Oregonian, suggested that Washington re-name Husky Stadium “Darwin Meisnest Stadium” to honor the man who, more than any other, made it possible. It obviously didn’t happen, but it certainly would have been appropriate.
Many of the historic images published on Sportspress Northwest are provided by resident Northwest sports history aficionado David Eskenazi. Check out David’s Wayback Machine Archive. David can be reached at (206) 441-1900, or at firstname.lastname@example.org