Down in History: Stadium's Original Architect Says Goodbye to San Diego Landmark

San Diego's stadium in Mission Valley is slowly being demolished but one of the original architects behind the landmark, Ernie Lord, 90, isn't sad -- rather, he couldn't be more proud of what he helped build

NBC Universal, Inc.

San Diego's landmark stadium in Mission Valley is disappearing in front of our eyes. For one man, the pieces are a reminder of his past -- of the project he helped bring to life as the stadium's architect.

For many San Diegans, the stadium is a link to their past, too. And since it'll soon be nothing more than a memory, many San Diegans who watched games, concerts, and fireworks in the stands are feeling a healthy dose of nostalgia these days.

But one San Diegan’s stadium memories go back further than most.

Ernie Lord just turned 90 years old, and like the stadium, his body is also falling apart. He is long past his prime, quick to tell you about how he is “nearing the end of his life” and how his memory is “crap.”

Lord may battle dementia, but as “project architect” of the stadium which broke ground in 1965, he’ll take the memories of its creation with him to the grave.

Many of the details are still fresh in his mind.

"First of all, the light ring," he remembered. "There was no stadium that had floodlights that had a ring around the top of the stadium that lit the field."

As project architect, Lord helped turn the designer, Gary Allen’s vision into reality as construction crews turned a dairy farm into the state-of-the-art $27.5 million “San Diego Stadium.”

“You gotta give Gary Allen credit. He’s dead, unfortunately. I’m alive, so I’ll promote him,” Lord told NBC 7.

The stadium would end up with several names throughout the years and while Lord might have problems recalling them all now (Jack Murphy Stadium, aka "The Murph"; Qualcomm Stadium, aka "The Q"; SDCCU Stadium), he has no trouble remembering his colleagues who helped build the giant sports complex.

"The moveable stands were developed by our group, and it was on rubber tires, believe it or not,” said Lord, his face lighting up with the actual brand of the tires.


It was an award-winning innovative design with spiraling walkways.

As a key figure in the now-closed Hope Architectural Firm, Ernie recalls one of the unique challenges to the project: rerouting the San Diego River.

When the stadium was built we had to get rid of that particular thing because it went right through the stadium. It was a dairy farm!

Ernie Lord, Original Project Architect for the San Diego Stadium

"When the stadium was built we had to get rid of that particular thing because it went right through the stadium. It was a dairy farm!” said Lord.

Lord’s daughter recently took him to visit the stadium one final time before it disappears entirely. Surprisingly, he wasn't sad. Instead, Lord said he was extremely proud.

Ernie Lord
Architect Ernie Lord stands in front of Mission Valley Stadium

When she asked him how it made him feel to see his prized project now being destroyed, he simply called it “progress.”

An architect to the core, still excited about what's to come, while at the same time watching the crown jewel of his career go down in history.

Ernie Lord/NBC 7
San Diego-based architect Ernie Lord reflects on the crown jewel of his career: the stadium in Mission Valley.
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