Kezar: The History and Present of a Vital SF Sports Icon

On September 14, 2014, the 49ers played their first home game at sparkling 1.3 billion-dollar Levis Stadium in Santa Clara, California. As the 49ers adjust to their new cozy confines, many believe they have alienated their San Francisco-based fans. In a growing trend, they are the most recent major sports franchise to target ticketholders to move away from a large city to the suburbs. However, this is not the first time the 49ers moved away from a fanbase.

Original Kezar Stadium in 1955 as seen from Mount Olympus, San Francisco Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

Original Kezar Stadium in 1955 as seen from Mount Olympus, San Francisco
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

In 1971, The 49ers left behind Kezar Stadium.

In the wake of the retirement of Candlestick, some have forgotten that the original home of the 49ers was in fact Kezar Stadium, here in Golden Gate Park. Kezar was built in 1922, $100,000 was accepted from the estate of Mary A. Kezar to erect a memorial to her mother and relatives, who were pioneers in the area. The San Francisco Parks Commission pitched in another $200,000, and Kezar Stadium was born. Dedication ceremonies were held at Kezar Stadium on May 2, 1925, when a two mile race was held at the venue.

In 1946, the 49ers franchise was founded by Tony Morabito, connecting the west coast to the world of professional football. However, the franchise lacked one crucial element: a field. Kezar was never originally designed to host a NFL team; only one tier of bleachers that held 59,942 fans circled the entire field. But nevertheless the 49ers adopted Kezar as their home field. Many 49er veterans like Gene Washington, a former 49ers receiver who played at Kezar express deep nostalgia when recollecting their playing days.

“It was a throwback,” Washington told The New York Times. “You think of Papa Halas and the Bears and Green Bay—that old-style football. Kezar was old-style, throwback football. You were in a neighborhood, between Golden Gate Park and a bunch of houses. It had a real homey feeling to it. Nothing like the big huge stadiums with the big huge parking lots that came after.”

The 49ers played 25 seasons at Kezar Stadium before moving into Candlestick Park in 1971. Their last game at Kezar Stadium on January 3, 1971 against the Dallas Cowboys signaled the end of an historic era in football history. After the 49ers left Kezar, their was little need for a large football stadium in San Francisco, with most high schools in possession of their own fields. Kezar Stadium hosted many other events before being demolished in 1989 after suffering extensive earthquake damage. However, Kezar Stadium was reconstructed providing seating for 10,000 fans. The reconstructed stadium features an all-weather track eight lanes wide, a soccer field and two scoreboards.

Kezar Stadium’s history is an overlooked facet of San Francisco sports lore. At the prime of it’s youth, Kezar was buzzing; it was a center of attraction and full of energy and life. These days, the stadium occasionally flashes it’s former brilliance from time to time, but most of the fanfare and hoopla have drifted away, along with the 49ers.

Kezar Today: A Facelift

Recently, Kezar has gotten a bit of a makeover. SF Park & Rec has embarked on a full maintenance project to replace the existing running track with a new rubberized surface. Other additions include new shot put fines, a new drinking fountain, and a new slot drain. “It’s great that they’re resurfacing it because it’s the most popular track in the city,”  says Jeffrey Gardiner, the Lick-Wilmerding track and field coach. “Hundreds of people work out on that track.”

“Kezar is a place that is rich in history. In terms of the spirit of the track, running there is really special,” said Stephen Page ’15, a Lick-Wilmerding track and field member. “However in terms of the track quality, it might be the worst I’ve ever run on. It’s no different than running on the street—it’s basically running on cement.”

You can follow the project’s progress on SF Park & Rec’s Kezar Track Improvements News page.

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About Franklin Lewis

Frankie is a senior at Lick-Wilmerding High School. He lives in San Francisco with both his parents in North Beach. Frankie runs cross-country and plays baseball for Lick. He wrote and edited his elementary/middle school paper from 5th to 8th grade. This is his second year on the Paper Tiger staff. Frankie manages the sports section in the Paper Tiger.

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