For decades, the Achilles’ heel of the USC basketball program was that it lacked an on-campus arena. It always seemed like USC did nothing, content with playing in subpar facilities (Shrine Auditorium, Pan-Pacific Auditorium, the Sports Arena).
But I recently came across an actual effort for a state-of-the-art fieldhouse that would be built on campus.
In 1946, some boosters started a drive and drew support from administrators and coaches in 1947.
The “Howard Jones Memoral Fieldhouse” would seat 10,000 and cost $1,000,000. It included “training and dressing quarters,” a trophy room/entrance hall and an armory for the ROTC programs.
The fieldhouse was to be located on 35th Street and McClintock Ave., which was the edge of the campus in those days. The George Lucas School of Cinematic Arts and McKay Center currently take that space.
Howard Jones, who won four national championships and five Rose Bowls at USC, died in 1940 and the fieldhouse was seen as a fitting tribute to his memory.
“I think very definitely that the future holds a field house for the university,” USC athletic director Willis O. Hunter said. “Its advantages would be countless. First of all, a field house would be the hub around which all the athletics that make up the school could revolve.
“At present, there is no central point where athletes who have made sports history and are making it now can meet.
“There is more, to an athletic program than winning games. The character, the fellowship that develops from association among athletes, is probably the highest goal in any such program as we have at ‘SC. A central meeting place, such as a field house, would individually contribute a great deal toward furthering a campus-wide sports program.”
Then-USC basketball coach Sam Barry wanted the fieldhouse capacity to be 12,000.
“Whenever a sport has the following that basketball is now enjoying, it only seems natural to have auditorium that is large enough to give every loyal fan a chance to go to the games,” Barry said.
So what happened? Booster groups had raised around $38,000 by April, 1947 and then it seemed like the talk disappeared. It never got further than the rendering below.
The demand for a fieldhouse probably was hurt by the fact the state of California started exploring construction of an arena in Exposition Park around this time. That led to the opening of the Sports Arena in 1959.
Below is a 1956 rendering version of the Los Angeles Sports Arena designed by the firm of Stiles and Robert Clements, which looks similar to the Howard Jones Fieldhouse.