Nowadays, paying millions for state-of-the-art athletic facilities means everything to the future success of sports programs from high school up to the professional ranks. Places like Cypress, Texas and Canton, Ohio invested tens of millions of dollars to construct the biggest and best fields in America, offering those high school districts opportunities for decades of financial gain and national attention.
But take a trip to the Pacific Northwest and visit Tacoma, Washington’s Stadium High School, and you’ll find a tradition dating back before World War I that’s only getting stronger with time.
History of Tacoma’s Stadium High School
In 1890, the Northern Pacific Railroad Company and Tacoma Land Company purchased a bluff sitting high above Commencement Bay. The original plan was to build a French Renaissance-style castle that would be called the Olympic/Tourist Hotel — The idea was to construct the premier luxury hotel destination on the West Coast. Multiple issues, including financial strains and a devastating fire, forced the company to abandon its plans and the building.
City of Tacoma residents had other ideas.
Tacoma School District board members tasked architect Frederick Heath with turning the abandoned fortress — its construction is so solid that it’s rumored to be “earthquake-proof” — into a school for the area’s students. The $500,000 renovation took several years to complete before it officially opened in September 1906, according to an essay compiled by David Lind Perry.
The Stadium Bowl
Below Stadium High School, there was “Old Woman’s Gulch.” The absurdly-named, wooded area collected a mini-community of the widows of fishermen and loggers, many of whom built shacks and lived there. But when Charles Cutter returned from touring the amphitheaters of ancient Greece, the Tacoma Boosters member suggested turning Old Woman’s Gulch into the high school’s athletic stadium.
It’s believed the original capacity of the Stadium Bowl was around 32,000 people. At first, the concrete stands formed a horseshoe around the entire field, and the largest crowd ever apparently reached 70,000.
Decades of flooding, drainage issues and earthquakes plagued the stadium and required numerous rebuilding phases. However, it didn’t stop drawing massive crowds to everything from plays, reenactments, Fourth of July fireworks, concerts and speaking engagements from icons like Louis Armstrong, Babe Ruth, Rev. Billy Sunday, William Jennings Bryan, and three presidents — Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Warren Harding.
Today, the 15,000-seat stadium and turf field hosts Friday night football games in the fall and multiple spring sporting events for Woodrow Wilson High School and Stadium High School.
The ’10 Things I Hate About You’ School
If presidents and college football wasn’t enough to solidify Stadium High among the nation’s elite, Hollywood even made a stop in Tacoma.
Starring Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger, 10 Things I Hate About You told a coming-of-age love story at “Padua High School,” which was actually Stadium High School. The cult classic film’s climax, when Ledger embarrassingly sings Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” was shot on the Stadium Bowl’s football field and many scenes were filmed inside the school.
The school aired a screening of the film for its 20th anniversary down on the Stadium Bowl’s field, according to HouseBeautiful.com.
When it comes to the coolest high school football stadiums in the United States, Tacoma’s Stadium Bowl definitely ranks high on the list and isn’t moving any time soon.