On November 3, 2023, Memorial Stadium will celebrate its 100th anniversary.
On April 25, 1921, there was a mass meeting in the gym annex where athletic director George Huff announced plans for a “grand stadium” at the University of Illinois. Inspired by stadiums that were being erected at other universities around the country, he wanted to bring the idea to Urbana-Champaign.
“The Stadium will be many things—a memorial to Illini who have died in the war, a recreational field, and an imposing place for our varsity games,” Huff said. Undergraduate students pledged $700,000 that day. Ultimately more than 200,000 students, alumni, and friends of the university would pledge approximately $1.7 million to build the stadium. All of the funds were generated through pledge drives, led by Huff. He also supervised the design of the field and athletic facilities.
The location for the new stadium was a matter of some debate. The Board of Trustees, Campus Architect, and Project Architect (Holabird and Root) originally considered Illinois Field, north of Springfield and east of Wright Street, as well as a site between the Illinois Central Railroad and First Street, before settling on the final location between First and Fourth streets. It was determined that this location would encourage the development of a new south campus.
The stadium opened November 3, 1923 for the Homecoming game against Chicago. There were 60,000 fans in attendance when the Illini defeated their opponents 7-0.
Instantly recognizable for its Georgian-style architecture, Memorial Stadium features brick and limestone stands, limestone arches, sculptural friezes, and two colonnades.
The stadium was officially dedicated on October 18, 1924 as a memorial to those Illini who died in World War I. There are 200 columns memorializing 187 fallen Illini with the thirteen remaining columns dedicated to unknown dead and training corps.
Kelly, Mark. The Early History and Description of Memorial Stadium, 1984.
Memorial Stadium website, https://fightingillini.com/facilities/memorial-stadium/64, accessed 2 October 2023.
The Story of the Stadium. University of Illinois, c.1921.