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Penn State Diary: Writing the Book on Beaver Stadium

by on December 01, 2017 11:47 AM

Lair of the Lion, a History of Beaver Stadium “hit the streets” this past August, much to the delight of Penn State football fans and to the co-authors as well. Professor Emeritus of Civil Engineering Harry H. West and I have worked on this book since 2013 and it seems like it’s been a long time coming. Readers are telling us how much they are enjoying it. They like the stories we tell and the many photos and diagrams that illustrate them.

Now that we’ve been out talking about it in bookstore signings, formal presentations, and radio and television interviews, we’re beginning to see a pattern to the questions people ask, as well as the occasional unexpected comment.

Frequent interviewer questions for both of us have been “what is your favorite story from the book?” and “what is the most surprising thing you discovered in your research?” I think we each have favorite stories in our own contributions and surprises in the stories that the other has brought to the book.

Harry West, an engineer, has written the parts of the book that concern the design and construction of the stadium and its predecessor Beaver Fields. Probably his favorite chapters concern the unique challenges of two major expansions. The first was the extraordinary raising of the steel grandstands in 1978-79 to add almost 16,000 new seats on concrete rows at the base of the stadium, along with filling in the south end of the horseshoe to make it a bowl. This is an amazing tale of engineering ingenuity, and a procedure that had never been done to any stadium, before or since. 

Likewise, fixing the cracks in the concrete structures that support the walkways to reach the new north deck in 1990-91 was a challenge that tested the collaboration of engineers and contractors alike. Assessing causes had to be set aside to solve the cracking problem so that the fans who would occupy those 10,000 new seats could safely enjoy the game. Suffice it to say, the problem was resolved, and the game went on as scheduled.

As a historian, I have written the parts of the book that explain the significance of football for Penn State as an institution, and how the sport has fit into the evolution of the university and the campus. I have also tried to describe how the football experience has evolved over the last 130 years for students, alumni, and fans alike. That experience is important to their everyday lives. It impacts the sense of community, self-image, and the emotions of many.

Some of our presentations include pictures of then and now. For example, tailgating and how students dress for games both past and present give the audience a chuckle. For senior citizens, the simple tailgating and more formal dress from the early 1960s strike familiar memories. Students and young alumni, however, are amazed at how much those things have changed. And that is our hope – that readers will enjoy what they learn as well as what they didn’t know or understand.

But then, what surprised us in our research and writing? On my part, the fact that struck me the most came from looking more carefully at a picture of the site preparation for Beaver Stadium in 1959-60. I knew about the move of the Beaver Field grandstands to the new east campus location. However, I now realized how odd it was to see the 16,000 newly-constructed seats up in the air, awaiting the insertion of the nearly 28,000 seats of the New Beaver Field grandstands below them.

Professor West often talks about his surprise at discovering that our steel stands used the patented Lambert grandstand, beginning in 1934 right up until 1978-79 when the new stands began to be built using concrete. Byron J. Lambert, the inventor of this product, was an engineering professor at the University of Iowa. His unique design allowed sections of grandstand to be bolted together to make any height or length that was desired. This enabled Penn State to later disassemble the grandstands and move them to become part of Beaver Stadium.

Perhaps our most unique moment came when a Blue Band alum looked at the book’s cover illustration of the stadium and realized that it was the Homecoming, whiteout evening game against Michigan, that took place on October 12, 2013. He knew he had played with the Alumni Blue Band that night and, as he examined the photo more closely, he realized he could place himself right on the 30-yard line. He was on the cover, and he had to have the book. We hope you’ll want one too.


Lee Stout is librarian emeritus, special collections, for Penn State.



Lee Stout is Librarian Emeritus, Special Collections for Penn State.
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