Total Pageviews

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Los Angeles' Moment: the 1984 Summer Olympics

photo credit:

Every four years, I'm reminded of that very special summer in 1984 when Los Angeles hosted the Summer Olympic Games. For anyone who was here at that time, it was an incredible experience, arguably the best two weeks in the city's history. 

And it almost didn't happen. 

photo credit:

Los Angeles had hosted the Summer Olympics in 1932 (above), introducing the first ever Olympic Village, limiting the events to just 16 days, and - for the first time ever - finishing in the black financially.

photo credit: Rich Clarkson

Fifty two years later, the eyes of the world would again be on Los Angeles.

As hard as it might be to envision today, by the late 1970's, the Olympics had fallen on hard times:

Mexico City 1968 saw government troops opening fire and killing 300 student demonstrators ten days before the opening ceremonies.

Munich 1972 was marred by the tragic murder of 11 Israeli athletes by terrorists.

Montreal 1976 nearly bankrupt the city on costly infrastructure.

The whole concept of the modern Olympic Games was being called into question. By the time the International Olympic Committee met in May of 1978 to decide who would host the 1984 Summer Olympics, Los Angeles was the only city in the world willing to host them. 

Could Los Angeles save the modern Olympic Games?

For the first time ever, a private corporation - the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee - would oversee and be responsible for financing the Olympics. The existing stadium and infrastructure would be used. Los Angeles proved it could be done.

photo credit:

Peter Ueberroth, who would become Time Magazine's "Man of the Year" pulled off an incredible event, costing the tax-payers of Los Angeles nothing, and making an unheard of $215 million profit - the majority of which endowed inner city sports programs in the city.

photo credit: Joe Payne

Tickets for the opening ceremonies went on sale almost two years ahead of time with prices pegged at $50, $100, $200 - which seemed pricey at the time. Lack of vision (and a very tight budget as a college student) kept me from considering buying a couple of tickets. By the day of the opening ceremonies, people were offering $1500 for tickets - if they could find them. I - along with everyone else I knew - simply enjoyed the event a few miles away on TV.

photo credit: Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times

The opening ceremonies were nothing less than amazing. From the opening "Welcome" song, to the "Rocketman" flying across the stadium, to the dozens of pianos playing George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," to the flags of the nations card show, to composer John Williams stirring Olympic theme ... it was incredible and primarily staffed by volunteers. (In contrast, 75% of those who participated in the opening ceremonies four years ago in Beijing were members of the Chinese military. It was said that in terms of "precision" only North Korea could have done a better job than China.)

Unfortunately, thanks to Cold War politics, the Soviet Union and their Eastern European allies decided to stayed home. What can we say? Their loss.

photo credit: 

What no one in Los Angeles could miss was the dazzling color scheme, dubbed by designer Deborah Sussman as "festive Federalism." 

photo credit:

It was fantastic just walking around the different venues.

photo credit:

I love what Michael Bierut said on "Trust Los Angeles to finally understand how to stage a modern Olympics: design it to be seen on television. 

photo credit:  

"So out with the costly white elephants of permanent venues built of steel and concrete: Deborah Susman and Jon Jerde, working on a tight schedule and a tighter budget, led a team of designers that created one of the most cohesive Olympic design schemes ever. 

photo credit:

"It was all Hollywood stagecraft, including fabric banners, painted cardboard shipping tubes and what was reportedly all the aluminum scaffolding west of the Mississippi.

photo credit:

"Dubbed 'festive Federalism' [it] was purportedly based on the hot pinks and oranges of Southern California  . . . . And why not? It was the ultimate California moment."

Here's a link to more 'festive Federalism' photos I posted.

Festive Federalism at the Forum: this the only personal photo I have from the Los Angeles Olympics: my sister and me in front of the basketball venue at the Forum in Inglewood. Unfortunately, all my other photos from that summer are lost (stolen when I was living out-of-state, actually). 

photo credit:

Los Angeles hosted the Olympics in both 1932 and 1984. Like London, I hope they're able to host the Games a third time. Why not twenty years from now - in 2032? 

photo credit:

Which would be the 100th anniversary of the the first time the city served as host. 

Like 1984, I'm sure the city can figure out a way to deal with the traffic. 

And the summer weather forecast twenty years from now calls for 72 degrees, sunny skies, low humidity, and a light breeze coming in off the ocean. 

So why not?

Here's a link to a second post on the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics, with additional photos and information. 

© 2012 - originally posted 8/14/2008, 7/28/2009


Anonymous said...

Good post. Technically, New York City also wanted to host the 1984 Olympics. The US Olympic Committee choose Los Angeles, rather than New York, as the one "candidate" city from the US in 1978. But, yes, in 1978 - NO other city in the world was willing to host the Olympics. When the International Olympic Organizing Committee met in May of 1978, they didn't even vote. They just awarded the Games to Los Angeles. So, in that sense, L.A. really did save the Olympics - and now every city in the world wants to host them.

Anonymous said...

Great article and pictures, but you didn't mention that it was David L. Wolper who produced the opening and (I believe) closing ceremonies. Leave it to a top TV producer to create the greatest Olympics opening and closing ceremonies the world has ever seen. If you doubt that, get a copy of the ceremonies and see for yourself. You'll be convinced. I'm so proud of my city for this accomplishment!

Unknown said...

Los Angeles 2024 Summer Olympics!