In 1922, the San Francisco Park Commission accepted funds from the estate of Mary A. Kezar who left $100,000 to erect a memorial to her mother, Nancey H. Kezar, and her uncles Bartlett, John and Charles F. Doe, all pioneer residents of San Francisco.
The City and County of San Francisco appropriated an additional $200,000 and with the total, Kezar Stadium was erected. Stadium Architect was Willis Polk. Dedication ceremonies were held on May 2, 1925.
Kezar Stadium was constructed on the site of the old Park nursery and stable yard, built in 1873-74. Also on the site was John McLaren's beloved Rhododendron Dell.
The Kezar Veterans' Shelter was built in October 1954, for crippled veterans from various hospitals in the Bay Area. This shelter provided space for approximately 30 wheelchairs, with room for crutch and cast patients.
First event - 2 mile race between Willie Ratola and Pavo Nurmi of Finland, (world's greatest distance runner), on May 2, 1925.
Last event - November 10, 1988, Frosh Football between Sacred Heart and Mitty High Schools.
Two world championship fights - Jackie Fields vs. Young Corbett (of San Francisco), welterweight championship in 1932; and Rocky Marciano vs. Don Cockell (from England), welterweight championship in 1955.
The Forty-Niners first game at Kezar Stadium was against the New York Yankees on September 8, 1946 (Yankees won 21-7). The Forty-Niners last event at Kezar Stadium was the NFL Championship game against the Dallas Cowboys on January 3, 1970 (Cowboys won 17-10).
The Stadium, over the years, accommodated many events; Forty Niners football games, college and high school sports events, Shrine Hospital East West game, motorcycle races, track and field, rugby, soccer, Lacrosse, Donkey baseball, and auto races (in the 1930's).
||Frederick Street between Arguello Blvd. and Willard Street
|| 7.75 acres - 17.5 acres including parking space & pavilion
||59,942 spectators may be accommodated plus approximately 320 in the press box and approximately 30 wheel chairs in the Veterans' Shelter.
Kezar Stadium was demolished in 1989. The Stadium was reconstructed, providing seating for approximately 10,000 spectators. The new stadium's features include a new all-weather track eight lanes wide, a new soccer field 72 yards wide and 110 yards long which will accommodate F.I.F.A. World Cup Competitions, and two new scoreboards, as well as other additions. Primary funding came from Prop. D, a 1987 Park Bond.
Seagulls and Brawls
Dwight Chapin, Chronicle Senior Writer
Wednesday, January 3, 2001
The enduring picture of Dick Nolan is that of a man in pain, a grimace on his face, and the weight of the world on his shoulders.
It was different though on Sunday, Jan. 3, 1971. Nolan started that day, 30 years ago today, with a bounce and an uncharacteristic smile.
After he struggled in his first two seasons as head coach of the 49ers, things had clicked for Nolan. His team had gone 10-3-1 in the 1970 regular season, and it was on a three-game winning streak.
The last two wins had been particularly notable.
First, the 49ers went over to Oakland, forced nine turnovers on a wet, sloppy field, and throttled the Raiders 38-7 in the initial regular-season meeting between the Bay Area rivals. Then the 49ers traveled to frigid Minnesota and beat the Vikings 17-14 for their first playoff victory.
This was a team virtually without a postseason history. The only other time the 49ers had made the postseason resulted in a 31-27 Western Conference playoff loss to the Detroit Lions in 1957.
But Nolan was optimistic on that Sunday three decades ago, heading into an NFC Championship Game against the Dallas Cowboys in the final professional football game at old Kezar Stadium -- the 49ers' home since 1946.
"There was real excitement about the whole thing," Nolan said. "We went in thinking we could win. We knew we had to play an exceptional game, because they had all the experience, especially in pressure games, and this was the first time this had happened to us. But we had really good players, and they'd worked hard to get there."
The 49ers had the NFL's highest-scoring offense, directed by quarterback John Brodie, the league's MVP, and a tough defense led by the likes of future Hall of Famers Dave Wilcox and Jimmy Johnson.
And they seemingly had a unique insight into how to attack the Cowboys' "flex" defense, because Nolan had helped install and run it, as a Dallas assistant in the early 1960s under head coach Tom Landry, an old friend and former defensive backfield teammate with the New York Giants.
As it turned out, however, Nolan's knowledge didn't help much as the Cowboys -- struggling to exorcise their own playoff demons -- flexed their muscles at cold and windy Kezar.
The Landry defense held the 49ers to just 61 yards rushing. The Nolan defense, designed early in the action to retard receivers like the speedy Bob Hayes, couldn't handle the Cowboys' rushing game and rookie running back Duane Thomas, who would gain 143 of Dallas' 229 yards on the ground.
"You stop our run, we throw to Hayes," Cowboys quarterback Craig Morton said. "You stop Hayes, and we run."
Even with the big rushing disparity, the teams were tied 3-3 at halftime.
"We went in at the half pretty down," Landry said. "The players came in mumbling. They'd played terrible ball the last couple of minutes."
But then, early in the third quarter, Dallas got the break that turned the game. From deep in his own territory, Brodie tried to throw the ball away against a Dallas blitz, and Cowboys linebacker Lee Roy Jordan snatched it inches off the ground and returned it to the 49ers' 13-yard line.
"I was trying to dump the ball into the ground, but the guy made a hell of play," Brodie said.
On first down from the 13, Thomas momentarily misread his blocking, but then swung inside, broke two tackles, and scored as the Cowboys took a 10-3 lead. And Dallas went ahead 17-3 before Brodie finally connected with Dick Witcher on a 26-yard touchdown pass over Herb Adderley, to cut the advantage to 17-10.
Early in the fourth quarter, Brodie drove his team to the Dallas 44, and then passed accurately to Witcher at the 5, but Witcher was unable to hold the ball -- one of several crucial near-miss passes for the 49ers that day. Witcher protested that he had been interfered with by Cowboys' defensive back Charlie Waters, and replays seemed to confirm that. But no penalty was called, and there was no more scoring.
The 49ers had played creditably, but defeat didn't sit too well in some quarters. A number of fans were tearing Kezar apart.
Some were souvenir hunters, gouging out memories of the stadium's quarter-century of pro football. But others were gouging fellow fans. A group of more than 20 young men went on a postgame rampage near the west end zone, throwing bottles and cans and attacking spectators. Thirteen people were treated for cuts and bruises, and 22 arrests were made.
"They did a fandango through the stands," police sergeant Dan Howard said of the hooligans, "kicking people, dumping them between the aisles and doing a little dance on their heads. I don't know if it was camaraderie or disgust with the outcome of the game that started it."
Things were much quieter in the 49ers' locker room, where the players took stock and looked ahead. Some, like star linebacker Wilcox, had a rather wry view.
"At this moment," Wilcox said, "I'm only thinking about that mile and three-quarters we have to run next July when training camp opens."
The Super Bowl-bound Cowboys, meanwhile, were celebrating, quietly and thankfully.
Defensive tackle and Hall of Famer-to-be Bob Lilly said, "I feel about like when I was kid in Throckmorton, Texas, and went to Dallas for the first time. Boy, what a thrill that was."
Morton, recognizing the importance of the victory for a Cowboys team that had lost four straight times in the playoffs -- twice to the Packers and twice to the Browns -- said, "Now who's talking? I don't mean the 49ers. They kept their cool. But so many people said we couldn't win the big one, and man, today was big."
No one could know it at the time, but the 49ers would continue to feel a similar sort of pain, losing to the Cowboys each of the next two seasons in the playoffs.
For some, the memory of that first foray in 1971 has dimmed, even vanished.
"I don't remember anything about it at all," 49ers' cornerback Johnson said,
after searching for recollections.
Gene Washington, the 49ers' wide receiver who is now an NFL executive, admitted he was short on specifics, too.
"But I do remember the whole tone and excitement going into that game," Washington said. "I always loved playing at Kezar, with the mud and the seagulls and the intimate setting. We had a real home-field advantage there."
Former 49ers president Lou Spadia is anything but nostalgic about Kezar.
"I was glad to get out of there," said Spadia, noting that of the stadium's 59,000 seats, only 18,000 were between the goal lines. "People were not coming to Kezar simply because it was Kezar. In comparison, Candlestick Park was terrific."
All these years later, Nolan, now in retirement in Texas, has come to terms with the trio of defeats, with losing to his mentor, Landry, who is now gone.
"Dick Nolan against Tom Landry was like Tom Landry against Vince Lombardi," Nolan said. "Landry couldn't get past Lombardi, and I didn't get past Landry.
"But I'm still proud of what we did. At the end of that game in 1971, I told the team we'd be back again, and we were. We really worked well as a group. But we just didn't have enough experience to get over the hill."
It would be another decade before the 49ers could get over that almost-insurmountable hill, when The Catch finally put them into a Super Bowl.
Setting Sun and Soaring Suds
Pat Sullivan, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 3, 2001
By all accounts, the setting sun played a role in the 49ers' effort against the Cowboys that January day in 1971, but my memories also include a wind: The distinctly unsettling wind caused by a full can of beer whirling within inches of my left ear at game's end.
I was a paying customer that day, seated on one of the crowded, backless benches in Kezar's east end zone, near the Flying-A scoreboard. Newspaper accounts mention the near-riot in the west end zone at the end of the game, but I can attest that matters on the east side were definitely plenty hairy.
The can was aimed at the 49ers as they left the field and headed into the tunnel that connected the field to the small locker room at Kezar Pavilion. The can bounced off a chain-link screen that had been erected years previously to protect players from fans' wrath during the many losing years. At that moment, despite the 49ers' fine season, fan frustration erupted again.
The one play I have remembered over and over again occurred early in the third quarter. The game had started later than the usual 1 p.m., so even in the early third quarter, the afternoon was ending. From about midfield, quarterback John Brodie threw to a wide-open Ken Willard, the fullback. As the ball was in the air, one could see from the east end zone that Willard, coming at us, would have clear sailing if the pass was completed.
The long, cross-field pass seemed to take forever to get there, and the crowd in the end zone sensed that. Then Willard lost the ball in the sun, a drop. It was a "what-if?" play, one like San Francisco had experienced when Matty Alou was held up rounding third base in the 1962 World Series.
For years afterward, I wondered what Willard thought about that play. This New Year's Day, I called him up.
"I remember it very well," said Willard, reached at his home near Richmond, Va. "It was a play where John rolled right and I snuck out on the left side. The sun was lower. It was just sitting on the rim (of the stadium). I looked back and just didn't see the ball at all, until it was too late. That play stuck with me. I don't know if I would have made it (to the end zone), but I would have been down there a long way.
"The play did work, but I didn't see the ball. I just panicked . . . because I knew it was coming at me . . . and then it was there, instantaneously.
"I remember we were probably a better football team that day. (Cowboys running back) Duane Thomas was in his rookie year. Walt Garrison (the Cowboys' fullback) played with a bad foot . . . he took a shot to play that day. Of all the times we played them, that was our best chance to beat them."
Willard, out of North Carolina, was the 49ers' No. 1 draft choice in 1965. He was the 49ers' leading rusher each year from 1965 to 1971, earning Pro Bowl honors in 1966, '67, '69 and '70. He finished his NFL career with the St. Louis Cardinals. He has a successful insurance business in Virginia. "I've lived in the same house since 1975," Willard said.
Writer: Kezar Just Not My Type
David Bush, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 3, 2001
Kezar Stadium, home of the 49ers until that memorable afternoon 30 years ago, certainly was equipped with every amenity. Just not enough of them.
Rest rooms? Sure. The line formed down there. Way down there.
Concession stands? Cold hot dogs and warm beer were available, but you could either buy food or watch the second quarter. Your choice.
Parking? Plenty of room in Golden Gate Park; you just better not bring anything heavy because you were going to be walking awhile.
Seats? There were nearly 60,000. Oh, you wanted to sit between the goal lines. Room for only 18,000 there.
And many of those prime seats were in the press box, which like everything else in the old oval, was almost adequate. Some of the press boxes in current stadiums don't have as much room as did the drafty one atop Kezar. In fact on most days it could accommodate not only the working press, but also plenty of politicians and others with less respectable but equally impressive City Hall connections. They brought their wives and considered their Kezar press-box seats as not a privilege but a right, part of the payola process.
They even wondered why they had to share their quarters with the writers. In a memorable encounter, the Examiner's crusty Bob Brachman was tapped on the shoulder by a civic "dignitary" who demanded Brachman stop typing because it was bothering the man's wife.
I was not yet a sportswriter in 1971, but I was in the press box that January day at the behest of legendary statistician S. Dan Brodie to be part of his crew. S. Dan was truly a stat man: His favorite play was the incomplete pass. "Easiest thing for a statistician," he would say as he made one stroke after another John Brodie toss hit the turf. In many lean years, he seldom had to sharpen his pencil.
My assignment that day was to re-type the play-by-play onto a mimeograph form (remember those?) so it could be duplicated. I was able to watch the first quarter, as the 49ers moved to a 3-0 lead, but like the home team, my day soon fell apart. The cold and fog that rolled in would not only make it difficult for Gene Washington to catch passes, it made typing, especially on an unfamiliar and ultra-sensitive electric typewriter, almost impossible. By halftime I still hadn't completed re-typing the first-quarter stats, and that's when I noticed I had the paper in backwards. The 49ers' offense worked much the same way.
My only memory of the game is looking up between keystrokes and seeing Duane Thomas running free in the 49ers' secondary. Looking back at the stats, that is probably as accurate an impression as any.
I remember walking out of Kezar in the winter darkness wondering what had happened to the 49ers and with no real sense of nostalgia for Kezar. I'll probably feel the same way when Candlestick is finally history.
A Special Day for a Young Fan
Steve Kroner, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 3, 2001
After 30 years, that last 49ers game at Kezar remains memorable to me for three reasons: glare, the Leopard Cafe and Wayne Tarr.
Longtime 49ers fans recognize Tarr as the team's unofficial cheerleader, and I mean that in the most flattering way possible. Tarr, with his distinctive beard and voice, did something cheerleaders of today rarely do: He actually led cheers.
The Sunday night prior to that Cowboys-49ers game, I was part of the crowd that greeted the 49ers at SFO on their return from Minnesota after beating the Vikings for the franchise's first NFL postseason win. That was the night after my 11th birthday, and I still can hear Tarr booming, "Beat Dallas," and the fans echoing his chant.
I'm sure Tarr was at Kezar for the game itself, but the electricity and enthusiasm of that Sunday night at the airport defined the man for me.
The Leopard Cafe was the downtown restaurant where my dad would attend 49ers booster-club meetings. My dad, mom and I went to the Leopard for breakfast with other fans, and then took a bus to Kezar. In some sense, it was more special for me to go to the Leopard that day than to go to Kezar; after all, I had been to probably a half-dozen 49ers games at Kezar, but I had not set foot in the famed Leopard.
At the Leopard, we watched some of the Raiders-Colts AFC title game on television. Somehow, I don't remember a huge buzz about the possibility of a Bay Area Super Bowl, but that was the closest we've come to it.
What I do recall was an almost instantaneous change in the public's perception of the 49ers. Until that 1970 season, the 49ers usually were considered entertaining but hardly ever considered contenders. Even after they thrashed the Raiders at the Coliseum in the final game of the regular season to clinch the NFC West, most people figured the 49ers had little chance in the Minnesota chill against a team that went to the Super Bowl the previous year.
Then the 49ers beat the Vikings. Now, suddenly, 49ers fans -- who for so long expected the worst -- assumed the best (or, at least I did). There was no way a Dallas team that didn't score a touchdown in its 5-0 (that score is no misprint) playoff victory over Detroit could beat the powerhouse 49ers at Kezar.
You know what happens when you assume something. I don't recall too many particulars from the game, except that the 49ers couldn't stop Duane Thomas.
We sat in the northeast part of Kezar, very near what normally was the "Christopher Milk" kids section for regular-season games. I remember trying to watch the second half with an almost unbearable glare coming from the setting sun. At age 11, my eyesight must have been a little better than that of some of the adults sitting near me. I recall some grown-ups thanking me for telling them what happened on a few plays.
What happened after the game was several fans sawed off parts of the benches at Kezar to bring home some very personal souvenirs.
Thirty years later, I have no trouble remembering the significance of Jan. 3. My wife knows why I never forget it's her birthday.
TOP OF THE SIXTH
Thursday, January 4, 2001
When nature called, the seagulls at Kezar Stadium weren't particular about where their droppings landed, even if they fell on the helmet of future Hall of Famer Bob St. Clair.
"I didn't know it most of the time," he said, "until the trainers said (with a look of disgust), 'Look at that!' And pointed to my helmet."
The great tackle was such a fixture at Kezar in his playing career that somebody finally thought of naming the field after him. And that's what the Board of Supervisors will do on Jan. 18. The Park and Rec Commission approved the idea Tuesday.
"I was shocked, flabbergasted," said St. Clair, 69. "This is like a scene out of 'Field of Dreams.' I thought being named to the Hall of Fame was the ultimate, but this adds a new dimension. To have the field that you loved named after you -- it doesn't get any better than that. I was extremely lucky to play my whole career in the city where I was born."
In fact, he played 17 seasons and 189 home games at Kezar -- two years at Polytechnic High, three at USF and 12 for the 49ers. The only home games he didn't play there in his entire football career came in 1952, when he played at Tulsa after USF dropped football. There can't be another football player in the country who put as much mud on his uniforms from one field.
Besides, if we're going to honor something that stood the test of time at Kezar, Bob St. Clair Field sounds so much better than Seagull Excrement Field.
References: Recreation and Park Department Historical Files, Progress - article by Dick Brill, The Making of Golden Gate Park by Raymond Clary