1968: How Our Stadium Saved Hilton’s Ego … and Other Chuckles To Cry Over

by on September 22, 2015 · 0 comments

in Culture, Economy, History, Media, Politics, San Diego

san diego stadium 1968 sdfp-edAs published by the original San Diego Free Press (circa 1968), we reprint the rundown on the Stadium in Mission Valley. Outside of the names and a few little details, you’ll be surprised how little has changed.

(The original was published as a 3 part series, but we republish it in only two parts. Here is our Part 1.)

Transcribed by John Lawrence

Original byline “By Jim Knastick”

1960-Los-Angeles-Chargers-Ticket-PlacardHi sports fans. Big Jim, again.

Well, fans, last issue – – when we looked into that great muskmelon in Mission Valley – – we found a bill for $52 million addressed for the little taxpayer in San Diego and nothing but profits for local sports czars (your druggist knows them as merchants, financiers and industrialists).

Current vignette, fans: Taking Care of Barron.

The Boys Club

The story of our stadium goes back to late 1959 when Lamar Hunt, son of the right-wing zealot billionaire H.L. Hunt, Bud Adams, Jr., son of the chairman of the Phillips Petroleum company, and Barron Hilton, son of the hotel magnate Conrad, pitched together several million dollars to create the American Football League.

Hunt was suffering a rebuff by the National Football League that had just refused to grant him an NFL franchise for Dallas. So he threw in with Adams to form his own league.

Hunt took a Dallas franchise, Adams took one for Houston and they set up six others. The Los Angeles franchise went to Barron Hilton.

As head of the Carte Blanche credit card company, Hilton decided to call his team the Los Angeles Chargers in hope of stimulating business.

In its first year of operation the AFL had a combined loss of $4.5 million. Hunt bore the heaviest losses – – $1 million, and Hilton ran a close second at $900,000.

sdfp stadium 1It took Hilton less than a season [Transcription issue?] to draw only 11,000 people in the LA Coliseum, which holds 101,000. The day they won the AFL’s Western Divisional Championship they drew 9,900.

It took Hilton less than that year to decide that his AFL Chargers were no competition for the LA Rams. He found it very embarrassing to draw only 11,000.

Hilton knew he had to do something. His old man couldn’t bail him out; he was too busy trying to keep Castro from taking over the Havana Hilton.

Then young Hilton smelled a fish to the south: San Diego. The local sports czars (though still would-be) also smelled a fish: the public. The “civic leaders” of San Diego fell all over themselves to get the Chargers to move to San Diego, which they eventually did – – but not before Hilton got a promise from the City government to make some improvements in the Chargers’ future home, the Balboa Stadium.

Hilton wanted the Balboa Stadium’s seating accommodations increased from 22,000 to 34,500 seats at the City’s expense.

The City followed Hilton’s bidding. The cost was estimated at $800,000 originally. By the time the work was done the cost was $1.5 million. Then the Chargers’ rent was waived for the first year and only a pittance was paid in successive years.

During a series of preseason exhibition games, the largest audience the Chargers could draw was 13,000 paid admissions. Charger stock, which had sold at $3 a share when the team first moved to San Diego, dropped to $2.25. It slowly inched back up to its original price after the Chargers had a winning streak during the regular season. Even then their games did little better than draw an average of 30,000 spectators, and Hilton began to feverishly look for buyers.

Enter Sports Czars

sdfp stadium 3As Hilton was trying to find himself (or whatever else he was trying to find in San Diego), a group of 200 San Diego “sportsmen” organized the Greater San Diego Sports Association (GSDSA).

These men, heads of banks, bottling companies, contracting and construction firms, stated the aims of the Association as: 1. seeking a major league baseball franchise for San Diego. 2. boosting the Chargers, and 3. getting an all-purpose stadium built.

George Kirksey, the man who ramrodded a $22 million bond issue in Houston for the Astrodome, was the keynote speaker at the GSDSA organizational meeting. A. B. Polinsky, the head of the San Diego Coca- Cola Bottling Company was named as the acting president.

From the time of its inception the GSDSA had been bucking for a multi-purpose stadium. It came as no surprise in December, 1963, when Mayor Curran appointed GSDSA president, Paul Carter, to preside over The Mayor’s All-American Stadium Committee, another group of “sportsmen” that was delegated the responsibility of determining the feasibility of the stadium.

The Committee was authorized by the City to spend $100,000 on the study. When the announcement was made, City officials said that they hoped private funds would be used. Apparently almost the whole amount came from the public’s purse.

Other members of the All-American Stadium Committee included William Black, president of the Bank of La Jolla; William Elser, president of the Elser Elevator Company; Kenneth H. Golden, head of the Kenneth H. Golden Construction Company and a director of the City Bank of San Diego; A. B. Polinsky, head of Coca-Cola here; and Harry Sugarman, who ran his own investment company. (These are among others about whose sports interests Big Jim wonders.)

Bailing Out Barron

Rumors have it that by 1964, Barron Hilton was spending more time knocking on the doors of prospective buyers for his team and franchise than he was with his team. He was also threatening to move the team to another city.

Should he actually move the team to another city, all justification for building a stadium (replete with lots of tasty profits for the czars) would be lost. So once more Paul Carter made another unsurprising entrance. This time it was before the City Council in August, 1964.

Carter pleaded with the Council to put a $25 million “general obligation” bond issue on the November, 1964, general election ballot.

The deadline for putting issues on the ballot was drawing near, and Carter told the Council, “We have to place something on the ballot now or we are cooked for another year.” That Carter’s committee was still waiting on the $35,000 stadium feasibility study that wasn’t due until October, might make Big Jim think that Carter was in something of a hurry.

But the cooler heads prevailed, to both the chagrin of Paul Carter and Barron Hilton. A general obligation bond issue would have required approval by 2/3’s of San Diego’s registered voters.

William Quirk, president of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce at the time, told the Council that Carter’s proposal “reflected poor timing” because there wasn’t sufficient time to “mount a campaign that will guarantee passage of the bond issue.” If the bonds lost November, 1964, Quirk explained, the stadium measure would be set back for years. Besides, he added, the bond issue could jeopardize other ballot issues. (Other ballot issues included pay raises for Council members and the Mayor.)

Hilton was dejected when the Council announced that it wou1d not act to put the bond issue on the November ballot.

It was about then that Hilton, who knew little about the odd machinations of San Diego’s fine establishment, started to sell his team to C. Arnholt Smith, a local industrialist (and owner of the San Diego Padres) who knows plenty about the machinations of San Diego’s establishment. The sale price was set at a pitiful $750,000, which would just start to cover his first year losses in Los Angeles.

Then, apparently, someone put a bug in Hilton’s ear, and he dropped the idea like a hot football.

Super Campaign

All through 1965, San Diego “sportsmen” waged a super campaign. Their theme was that the stadium would be a boon for local tourism, which they stressed was some kind of panacea for the San Diego economy.

AFL-game-program_1964-San-Diego-Chargers_Boston-Patriots-copy-606x813Tourism’s appeal is based on the remembrances of the ’50s and the defense layoffs. Obviously, explained the “sportsmen,” the stadium would bolster tourism and take San Diego’s economic emphasis away from defense. (Well, fans, tourism accounted for about 6 percent of San Diego’ s gross income last year, while the 11th Naval District made up 25 percent. San Diego’s 5 largest corporations are General Dynamics Convair, Ryan, Rohr, Solar and National Steel and Shipbuilding Company. San Diego is the same old war baby it has always been.)

Despite the chest beating of stadium boosters, public support wasn’t really very strong during the campaign (or at the polling places for that matter).

The Citizens for a Stadium, the only campaign committee for the stadium, reported only receiving $932.25 in contributions of $10 or less (if each, of all those contributions in this category, gave only $1, that’s only 932 and 1/4 people.

The $11 to $25 contribution category amounted to $660. Considering that the total contributions were $39,617.09, small contributions only accounted for 4% of the committee’s backing.

All contributions over $25 were listed by the contributor at the City Clerk’s office, and, fans, let Big Jim tell you that they’re interesting. Surprisingly, the GSDSA was the second largest contributor. They only contributed $10,000. But what’s more interesting is the first and third highest contributors, The Associated General Contractors of San Diego County and The San Diego County Rock Producers Association, respectively.

The General Contractors describe their Association as an organization of local “heavy construction contractors, the builders of freeways, airports, dams and high rise structures.” They contributed $12,500.

The Rock Producers Association is an organization of 18 local transit mix concrete companies, cement and sand and gravel companies. They donated $4,000. Rancho Bernardo, Inc. contributed almost $3,000, and the San Diego Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company (then headed by the late Frank Alessio) put $500 on the line. A Schlitz-Burgie and Lucky Lager distributor put up $1,000. And the list goes on, with many $50 contributions from all sections of the White-Power-Structure.

By the registration deadline, September, 1965 there were over 244,000 registered voters in San Diego. Only 140,000 voters showed at the polls in November. According to Big Jim’s slide rule, that’s about 58 percent of the registered, and only 100,000 voted “Yes” on the stadium proposal – that’s 41 percent of the city’s registered voters.

But, then, the average fan is asking himself, how did the stadium get built?

Well, fans, the City wanted to simplify the administration of the bonds, according to the City. So it did an appendectomy on the “general obligation” bond (like Big Jim said, that would have required a 2/3’s vote of all registered voters) and changed it into a City charter amendment (which requires only a simple majority of people voting).

The charter amendment proposed to form a “joint power agreement” between the City and the County governments to administer the stadium, hold title to it and to issue bonds for its construction.

Magic Tally

After the election, all the City’s czars were beating their chests, bragging about the “72 percent landslide victory”. Home safe, a local sportswriter said that he wanted to “make it clear once and for all” that what the public voted on wasn’t a general obligation bond issue, but a charter amendment. Big Jim felt badly that the sportswriter (who has been described as the richest small town sportswriter in the country and was a member of the GSDSA) didn’t tell his readers that before the election.

The charter amendment’s bond wording leaves the so-called Stadium Authority an open-ended power to issue bonds. So the idea that they will only issue $27 million of bonds ain’t necessarily so. If they wanted to, they could issue bonds from now through the next 50 years.

Barron Is Back In The Saddle

champ61After the new stadium was approved, Barron Hilton was a new man. During a half-time ceremony in Balboa Stadium, Hilton walked onto a platform before thousands of San Diegans and signed a ten-year occupancy agreement, saying that the Chargers would pay 10 per-cent gross of all ticket sales at the new stadium and receive a third of all concession and parking profits.

Less than a year later (to show his gratitude to San Diego), he sold the controlling interest of the Chargers to two Los Angeles tycoons for $10 million. Quite an improvement over $750,000 eh, fans? Well, fans, Big Jim is running out of newspaper faster than he’s running out of facts and other historical curiosities. So I guess Big Jim will stretch this out one more issue after this one so we can take a look at how the contracts were awarded and where those profitable bonds went.

Until next time, fans, this is Big Jim with a few late scores off the sports wire: $3.5 million to $329,000; $275,000 to $578,000; and $20.1 million to $1.95.

Big Jim Says: ‘Let’s Put the Lid on Her, Sportsfans.’

Part Three of a Two Part Series

[Editor’s Note: Big Jim was a little long winded, so the 1968 SDFP published a third part]

bolts canHi, sports fans. Big Jim, King of the Sport Freaks, here.

Everybody in the press box is getting upset with Big Jim taking up so much newspaper, so I’m going to wrap up the stadium thing, PDQ.

When construction bids were open for the stadium, the lowest bidder was from a group of three companies: Alex Robertson and W. D. Larsen companies of San Diego and the Donovan Construction Company of St. Paul.

Their bid was $14,082,240. The other two bids were about $15.4 million and $15.8 million, therefore the Robertson, Larsen and Donovan bid was accepted.

But, alas, the City Manager of that day, Tom Fletcher, exclaimed at what a bargain that was — such a bargain that he and the City Council approved an additional $1.5 million worth of keen ‘additions,’ including some extra elevators, escalators, a restaurant and such.

That put the final cost above the bid of the next highest bidder.

Not that the costs stopped there, either.

By the time the actual edifice was completed, the Robertson, Larsen and Donovan people had submitted about 50 changes in cost to the City Council for approval. The City was free with its approval. The cost changes amounted to $620,433 above the $15,546,891 figure – – totaling $16,167,324.

That is more than $2 million above the original bid and almost $400,000 above the highest of the three original bids. How does that grab you, sales tax fans?

Robertson-Larsen-Donovan wasn’t the only company submitting price changes. All in all there were probably several hundred cost changes by people who had one kind of contract or other on that silly stadium.

Then there is the question of the bonds that were issued to pay for the stadium.

The latter part of 1965 and early 1966 were excellent times for selling municipal bonds. People were looking around to jump on the next issuance of bonds and interest rates were low.

Today, tax-free municipal bonds are getting interest rates as high as 5.1 per cent. In the days of the stadium bonds, they were only getting about 4 per cent — that means there were a lot of people interested in getting hold of the bonds. So one might ask, “How do we assure ourselves that insiders involved in the issuance of the bonds don’t take unfair advantage of their knowledge in making a bid?”

Two Chicago bond houses submitted the lowest bid on the bonds: 3.969847 percent. That amounts to $24,672,203.74 of tax-free profit over a period of 35 years.

There are a lot of Chicago interests in San Diego and vice versa. So, Big Jim asked himself, “Where did that money go?”

Big Jim called the City Treasurer’s office and asked who received the bonds. The people there said they didn’t know. They thought it went to two Chicago bond houses. “Sure,” said Big Jim, “but they are only middle-men. Do you know where they went after that?”

“No,” said the City, “All we care about is that we got the money.”

Big Jim then learned that Southern California First National Bank (SCFN) was the trustee for the stadium authority. So Big Jim called their trust department and they were unaware (or so they said) as to where the bonds went.

jack-box_0(Little vignette, fans: You may already know that the Foodmaker Company – -Jack-in-the-Box – – owns a controlling interest in Southern California First National.) According to the recent Patman report on bank trust departments, SCFN has 73 percent of all San Diego’s trust funds and one of its directors, Richard T. Silberman, is head of the Stadium Authority, the people authorized to spend stadium money.

Rumor has it that SCFN branch drive-thru windows are serving Bonusburgers to anyone with one hundred or more dollars in their checking accounts.

That’s enough for now, sports fans. But remember, this week is International Eat the Rich Week, paying tribute to one of the fastest growing indoor sports in the world.


The original print version of the San Diego Free Press renamed itself the San Diego Street Journal in 1968. The paper’s facilities were destroyed by local vigilantes on more than one occasion, despite the fact that the offices and staff were under constant surveillance by assorted law enforcement agencies. The staff had to drive to Los Angeles to find a printer willing to print the paper.

Printed copies of the original SDFP were recently shown to us by Bud Sonka. Writer John Lawrence scanned and transcribed copies found at the San Diego Public Library.

Modern-day SDFP writers John Lawrence, Frank Gormlie and Doug Porter were associated with the original publication.


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