Ask Penn State fans to describe the architectural style of Beaver Stadium circa 2017, and they’ll probably tell you something like Neo-Gothic Erector Set, or something like that.
For good reason, too. The current structure was built in stages beginning in 1960, when the university moved the pieces of Beaver Field from near Old Main to the stadium’s current location on the east end of campus. At no point did the original architects imagine the 107,000-thousand seat behemoth the building has become. Each stage of the stadium’s expansion was just plopped on top of — or next to — the previous one.
Is it a testament to American ingenuity that engineers somehow created a monster that’s served many fans practically for a long time? Sure.
Is it pretty to look at? Not at all.
That’s what’s most striking about the renderings of the planned renovation, unveiled Monday along with the university’s long-awaited facilities master plan for athletic venues. This thing looks nice. Unified. Homogeneous with the rest of Penn State’s red-brick campus thanks to the proposed new “skin” of brick along the outside.
And, at least at first blush, somewhat uncanny.
Of course, the renovation is intended to accomplish more than build something visually pleasing. The practical purposes are what’s driving this thing.
Seats appear to take the place of the bleachers that dominate the galleries now. Penn State says it will improve the concession options. And let’s hope that the bathrooms get some attention, too. (Let’s really, really hope.)
It’s hard to imagine too many Penn Staters will get nostalgic about those things changing. As someone who spent years sitting in the north end zone with some loud guy’s knees in my back, I certainly won’t.
Ditching “the Beav’s” dumpish look, though? That will take some getting used to for longtime tailgaters and former East Halls residents who’ve spent years and decades gazing off at a hap-hazard mass of steel and concrete. It might be a weird jumble, but it’s Penn State’s weird jumble, full of warm memories. (Well, and cold ones if you’ve been to enough November games.)
College football’s charm, which Penn State trades on heavily, is that it’s not the pros. Part of that is playing games in historic, grungy buildings such as the Horseshoe at Ohio State or the Big House at Michigan as opposed to the antiseptic palaces of the NFL.
Penn State will be walking a fine line in this renovation of maintaining that feel while upgrading the interior infrastructure to better serve fans who spend a lot of money to attend games those seven or eight weekends per year.
A lot has been made of plans to reduce the capacity slightly, but 4,000 or so fans won’t change the game day experience all that much. What will make this a success is maintaining that sense of homecoming alums get when the stadium peaks into view coming down the hill on Interstate-99.
Let’s see if Penn State can do it right.