By Greg Johnson
In November, UCLA welcomed back a dear old friend when the renovated Pauley Pavilion re-opened its doors.
Fans who have attended events in the arena over the past 45 years were introduced to the new Pauley, whose makeover provided a combination of a modern feel without losing the traditional atmosphere the Bruins were accustomed to. In so doing, officials may have created a new prototype for schools that want to modernize historically significant facilities.
“We wanted to move into the 21st century but still be able to preserve the greatness that was Pauley Pavilion,” said Bruins Director of Athletics Dan Guerrero, a 1974 alum and former second baseman on the baseball team. “To a person, there has been extraordinary praise for the outcome. For those who have been going to Pauley for years, they know it is Pauley, but it is not the same building by any stretch of the imagination.”
Today, Pauley Pavilion has a concourse that rings the arena-bowl, a stark contrast to the original design that had patrons enter the building and literally walk down the stairs to their seats.
The east part of the concourse is called “Wooden Way” after the late-legendary coach John Wooden, who guided the Bruins to 10 NCAA Division I men’s basketball championships from 1964-75. The grand entrance of the facility features a blue and gold welcome wall headlined “Champions Are Made Here” and featuring all of UCLA’s 108 national championship teams, 38 of which played home games in Pauley.
Other refurbishments include a state-of-the-art scoreboard, new ribbon boards, a 150 percent increase in restrooms, new locker rooms, a weight room and 1,000 additional seats for fans to cheer the Bruins’ basketball, gymnastics and volleyball teams.
Those amenities and more than 65,000 square feet of new space make this new Pauley far different than the building that in 1965 was christened by a stunning victory from the freshmen team led by Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) over the two-time defending NCAA champion and No.1-ranked varsity squad.
But getting to this point wasn’t easy. UCLA teams were without their home in the 2011-12 academic year while the $136 million renovation took place.
Guerrero remembers the day in 2008 when the facilities staff brought the bad news. One of the most iconic venues in intercollegiate sports was suffering from failures in its mechanical engineering and plumbing systems. Through the years, these problems had been creatively repaired, but the current issues were beyond a quick fix.
Instead, Guerrero was told that Pauley’s original infrastructure had outlived its usefulness.
“They said they had been putting Band-Aids on these systems for many years, and they didn’t feel confident that they could continue to do that and preserve a functioning arena,” Guerrero said. “They said we could lose either of those systems in three years … or three months.”
Something had to give. Actually, someone had to give. The first estimates UCLA received on replacing the systems came in at $55 million.
“At that point, I knew I couldn’t go forward and conduct a fundraising campaign for pipes,” Guerrero said.
His next step was to meet with two of the grandsons of Edwin W. Pauley, who was the principal donor to the building fund when the facility was originally constructed.
After receiving the blessings from the Pauley family to move forward with a plan, Guerrero met with John Wooden himself to discuss whether Pauley Pavilion should be renovated or torn down for a brand new building. As was customary with Wooden, the legendary mentor wanted Guerrero to make his own decision rather than feel obligated to please an old coach.
“He was never one to give me advice, but he would walk you through the conversation and get you to the answer by asking questions,” Guerrero said. “He was always grateful about what Edwin Pauley had done. I knew if we could somehow renovate and preserve it, Coach would support that.”
The decision was complicated by – or perhaps saved by – Pauley’s iconic status. Without it, Guerrero said, people may have argued that it was more financially prudent just to start over.
“There was some discussion and some individuals who wanted to go that direction (building a new arena) because they felt the building has served its time,” he said. “We always felt that we wanted to preserve the traditions of the past and the legacy that made it such an iconic venue and still move into the 21st century. Over time, everyone affiliated felt that this was the best way to go.”
With that decision made, UCLA put together an 18-person leadership group that included former Bruin stars Anne Myers Drysdale and Mike Warren.
The next steps were choosing NBBJ, and international architectural design firm with a Los Angeles office, to draw up the plans for the renovation, and most importantly, setting a fundraising strategy to pay for the project.
UCLA set a goal to raise $100 million for the Pauley makeover. The only way to get that done was for the director of athletics to work closely with the development staff.
“It takes a village to get something like this done,” Guerrero said.
Members of the leadership group not only helped solicit funds but donated to the project.
UCLA received one donation that the school considered “major,” along with several gifts that well exceeded $1 million. Others ranged from $30,000-$500,000. UCLA still hasn’t fully reached the $100 million goal, but Guerrero said it’s close.
The other long-term debt is backed by ticket sales, sponsorships, existing student fees and other revenues generated by UCLA athletics that will be used to pay for the project.
Robert Mankin, the NBBJ partner in charge of the Pauley Pavilion design, knew this would be a unique venture. It took two years to finalize the design. Construction began in February 2010, although the official groundbreaking ceremony took place in May of that year, a month before Wooden died.
Mankin toured the UCLA campus to get a sense of what Pauley Pavilion meant to the UCLA community.
“For me it is important to get an understanding of what the original architect intended to do and get a history of the building to see what it means to the people who use it,” Mankin said.
After doing his research, the challenge of the Pauley renovation became clear.
“I wanted to bring it up to modern standards but not lose all the history,” Mankin said. “You don’t want to cover it with a new skin and make it into something that people don’t recognize.”
Adding the concourse at the top of the building so people can walk around and see all the displays was a key part to the design. In the mid-1960s, those types of concepts were not as readily considered as they are today. The concourse completely changes how people enter and interact in the building.
The south side of the concourse tested Mankin’s creativity in expanding the walls of the building.
“We couldn’t push the building out too far, because the football practice field is on that side of Pauley,” said Mankin, who oversees NBBJ’s international sports practice. “We created an indoor/outdoor space. There are four large doors that can open to have an outdoor concourse space. We took advantage of the Southern California climate to be able to do that.”
Mankin has received the kind of feedback he had hoped for after the doors opened last fall.
“Many of the former players said they could see that the building was newer and functioned better, but it still felt like Pauley Pavilion,” he said. “That was gratifying for me. It is a delicate balance to pull that off in a renovation.”
Photos by Tim Griffith and Sean Airhart at NBBJ.