The first decade of the Roddy Burdine Orange Bowl stadium was a time of constant change and reconfiguration. The next ten years were no different. A reconfiguration of the official name, a consideration for an entirely new name, and several additional enlargement projects highlighted the evolution of the venue during its second decade.
As a city owned stadium, the municipality was responsible for raising the funds and overseeing the expansion projects. Bond issuances were sometimes controversial, but the city officials, along with the stadium’s advocates, were generally successful in acquiring the funds to grow the stadium over time.
College football bowl games brought in a lot of revenue for their host cities, and it created an arms race of sorts to ensure each of the municipalities that hosted a major bowl game had a state-of-the-art facility and enough seating capacity to attract the optimal matchup for their annual gridiron classic. This is the story of the second decade of the Orange Bowl Stadium when its namesake bowl game was still the seminal event hosted in the venue from 1948 through 1957.
Stadium Officially Renamed in 1949
Over the course of the stadium’s first twelve years, the official name of the venue and how it was referred were slightly different monikers. While the city intended to honor Roddy Burdine for all he had done as a civic leader by naming the stadium after him after his untimely passing, it wasn’t long until everyone, both locally and nationally, began referring to it simply as the ‘Orange Bowl’ for simplicity. Given that Roddy had passed away more than a decade earlier, by the late 1940s Miami had grown considerably and residents, as well as visitors traveling to Miami for the venue’s New Year’s Day event, had never heard of Roddy Burdine and were confused when the stadium was referenced by both Roddy Burdine Stadium and the Orange Bowl Stadium.
Following the Orange Bowl game played on January 1, 1949, when the underdog Texas Longhorns defeated the heavily favored Georgia Bulldogs by a score of 41 – 28, the Miami city commission voted on a resolution to officially change the name from ‘Roddy Burdine Orange Bowl Stadium’ to just ‘Orange Bowl Stadium’ on January 19, 1949. The commission vote count was three to one to pass the resolution, with only Perrine Palmer Jr. as the dissenting vote. Perrine had been the mayor when the city considered building a new stadium a few years earlier, but had transitioned to a city commission seat after his term as mayor ended on January 1, 1949. There was a vacant commission seat at that time which is why only four votes were cast.
The resolution to change the name was presented by Commissioner William W. Charles who explained the need for the change in a Miami News article dated January 20, 1949: “The stadium now is known by many names, which results in much confusion, and that detracts from its publicity value.” The Orange Bowl Game was a big business venture and anything that detracted from ‘its publicity value’ needed to be addressed, which is what the commissioners used as justification for the name change.
Expansion in 1949
A few months after the announcement of the name change of the stadium, the city made available a bond issue in the hopes of raising $250,000 for capital improvements to the stadium. Given the popularity of tickets for the Orange Bowl game, the city offered $50 bonds which entitled the bondholder to a ticket for the seat that would be added as part of the stadium enlargement plan.
The bond issue was made public in June of 1949 in hopes that enough money would be raised to begin a reconfiguration that would add 5,000 seats to the venue. The extension plan called for the addition of seats in the lower sections of the north and south stands, providing for 2,500 seats on each side of the field. Room for the seats will be made available by extending the corners of the sideline stands westward and curving them towards the west end zone section.
During a Miami city commission meeting on December 6, 1949, Arthur A Unger, representing the Orange Bowl Stadium Advisory Committee, got the commissioners to review an assessment of properties on the grounds of the Orange Bowl stadium which were still privately owned. There were an apartment building and a single-family residence that were in very close proximity to the northwest section of the stadium which the city would need to acquire, either via a direct sale or eminent domain, in order to accommodate future growth. At the time of this meeting, the assessed value of these properties was a combined $65,000, but it was conceded that the purchase or condemnation would require a far larger investment.
By December of 1949, the stadium expansion was nearing completion which brought the stadium’s seating capacity from 59,578 to 64,552 in time for the Orange Bowl game played on January 2, 1950. The cost of the expansion was reported as $124,000. While the expansion plan called for adding seats to both the north and south sidelines, a comparison of an aerial view from January 1, 1949, to an aerial view from January 2, 1950, the additional 4,974 seats appear to have only been added on the south side of the stadium. This may have been due to the aforementioned buildings, located on the north side of the stadium property, which provided an obstacle to the expansion of seats along that section of the stadium.
North West Section Expansion in 1953
Following the 1949 expansion, the Orange Bowl Committee began put together the next expansion plan in July of 1951 when they contracted with engineer O.J. Jorgensen to present a proposal to add 6,360 seats for permanent seating in the west end zone at an estimated cost of $695,000. However, due to the need to get the project approved by the National Production Agency (NPA), which was a federal government agency responsible for reviewing projects that required strategic construction materials during the Korean War, the initiative was not pursued beyond the proposal stage.
In April of 1952, Miami’s City Manager, Jack Watson, filed an application with the NPA for a more modest request to expand the Orange Bowl. While the Orange Bowl Committee preferred a long-term plan to expand the stadium to more than 80,000 seats, the request in 1952 was to add 3,000 additional seats to an area that was left untouched during the 1949 expansion. Whereas the prior project focused on adding seats to the south side, the current plan called for addressing the northwest corner of the stadium. This required that the city remove the single-story residence and apartment complex that presented obstacles to achieve that goal.
Within six weeks of the submission of the proposal, the city received approval by the NPA, and had purchased the residence, which stood to the west of the apartment building. In an article the Miami Herald published on June 29, 1952, Pete Roberts, the city recreation director and stadium manager, claimed that the removal of the single-family home would provide up to an additional 200 more parking spaces on the west side of the stadium.
However, it was the two-story apartment building that posed a bigger challenge. For years, the close proximity of this building to Entrance One for the Orange Bowl created a bottleneck of people trying to enter, and then later, leave through that gate. This chokepoint had created so much frustration for Earnie Seiler that he posed for a picture in the Miami Herald standing between the apartment building and the stadium to show that he could nearly touch both by extending his arms in each direction.
Other than just the slow progress of bureaucracy, one of the main contentions in removing the apartment building was the inability of the city to find a funding source to buy and raze the structure. Seiler met with city officials to emphasize the importance of the Orange Bowl to Miami by pointing out that, in the prior year, there were 981,373 paid admissions for various events hosted in the stadium. Of the total, 695,906 attended football games, and, of that number, 337,754 attended eight University of Miami games. Seiler’s point about the Orange Bowl’s importance to the city’s revenue coffers inspired the bureaucrats to find a way to buy and remove the apartment structure by the Fall of 1952.
After the removal of the obstacles on the northwest corner of the stadium, construction progressed through the 1953 football offseason allowing the expansion project to be completed by the fall. In total, there were an additional 2,577 seats added to the northwest section of the stadium to bring the seating capacity from 64,552 to 67,129. The cost to add the seats was $143,066 and was paid for with stadium enlargement certificates sold to the public. The investment was justified by the city manager when he said: “In addition to accommodating more fans, part of the added $18,000 revenue could be used in getting better teams,” which indicated the priority that the city placed on remaining competitive with other bowl game hosts as it pertained to attracting the best available teams.
While the stadium gained a marginal increase in attendance capacity during the 1949 and 1953 expansions, the Orange Bowl Committee was not satisfied with taking an incremental approach to enlargement and modernization of the venue. The other major bowl game stadiums continued to evolve to allow them to remain competitive in attracting the most competitive and high-profile college football postseason games, so it was an imperative to continue to invest in the Orange Bowl. The stadium’s biggest advocate was constructing a plan that would ensure the Orange Bowl would not only remain competitive in attracting bowl matchups for years to follow, but also would serve as a major attraction beyond just an event venue.
Memorial Stadium Idea in 1953
Earnie Seiler continued to be the chief visionary and driving force behind the evolution of the Orange Bowl Stadium through the first two decades of its existence. In June of 1953, Seiler outlined a plan to take the stadium to a capacity of 86,000 seats. His plan called for the replacement of the west end zone with permanent seats where the new section was elevated high enough to permit circulation of air into the stadium. He also called for the elimination of the east zone seating and replacing it with a memorial arch to honor all the Dade County residents who lost their lives during the recent wars fought around the world.
Earnie’s described his idea for the east end zone in an article published in the Miami Herald on June 21, 1953:
“There should be a beautiful garden with bronze plaques, one for each Dade County resident who was killed in the first two world wars, and the Korean battles. Hundreds of sightseers would visit the Orange Bowl Memorial Stadium and we could give them free postcards to mail back home. It would be a tremendous thing, and I don’t know of any one who would object to it being the Orange Bowl Memorial Stadium.”
The Orange Bowl Committee once again hired O.J. Jorgensen, who became the engineer for the proposed enlargement project, presented renderings of what the engineer described as ‘a complete saucer’ that will allow air to circulate beneath both end zone stands which were designed to allow for breezes to sweep the field at ground level. First row seats in the west end zone would begin at the equivalent of the 18th row of the existing grandstands, and those at the eastern end will be about 30 rows high with the war memorial garden and honor wall below the archway. There would be a separate entrance into the war memorial and garden for those who wanted to tour that portion of the facility during set hours when there were no events scheduled.
The cost of the project was estimated at $750,00 and would add 17,871 seats to bring the stadium’s seating capacity to 85,000, a thousand seats short of Seiler’s original idea. The enlargement plan was to be mostly financed by spreading the cost of construction over a five-year period. Contractors were asked to provide proposals based on adherence to the five-year payment schedule. Additional gate revenue collected over the five-year period would provide enough cashflow to meet the payment obligations, at least on paper, to the contractors who provided the work.
The Miami City Commission enthusiastically got behind this proposal. The Miami Herald reported on November 12, 1953, that the commissioners were planning on passing two resolutions, one for the approval of the project, and the other to officially rename the venue to the ‘Orange Bowl Memorial Stadium.’ However, the enlargement plan failed to consider one important calculation. Miami’s City Engineering Director, Arthur E. Darlow, pointed out that “the calculations of the increased capacity to 84,000 (which was actually 85,000), were made without regard to the removal of the 11,000 wooden and steel scaffold end zone seats now in the stadium. The net gain would only be 5,000 seats.”
When the commissioners considered this new revelation, they were concerned about investing $750,000 to only increase the capacity of the stadium to just 73,000 seats. Darlow offered a modified plan that would add 12,900 seats without removing the end zone sections by adding 2,500 new seats at the northeast corner of the stadium and extending the number of rows of the upper deck on both sides of the field. His plan had an estimated cost of $500,000, which made a lot more sense to the commissioners than Seiler and Jorgensen’s plan.
In addition, the Finance Director, George N. Shaw, had concerns about the practicality and legality of the financing plan to pay for the construction cost out of general revenue over a five-year period. Given the revelations about the seating capacity and concerns about financing the project, the city commissioners pivoted to explore Darlow’s ideas for the next big stadium expansion. Although Earnie Seiler’s plan had lost momentum, he believed that not adding the war memorial to the Orange Bowl was one of the biggest missed opportunities by the city and his committee. He would continue to advocate for the war remembrance and to rename the stadium to ‘Orange Bowl Memorial’ for the remainder of his time with the Orange Bowl Committee and well into his retirement.
Enlargement Again in 1955
The Korean War ended on July 27, 1953, which lifted many of the restrictions for non-military related infrastructure projects. Whereas municipalities had to get the approval of the National Production Agency (NPA), when requesting building materials such as steel and cement for local projects during the war, the post-war era provided a lot more freedom to pursue large projects without the restrictions of wartime regulation.
The City of Miami took advantage of this new found freedom to pursue larger infrastructure projects when the City Attorney, John Watson, announced, in March of 1954, a $14 million bond issue for capital improvement projects within the city. One of the big initiatives was to pursue the Darlow plan to enlarge the Orange Bowl Stadium.
While some construction related activity started in April, the stadium enlargement project officially got under way on June 10, 1954, when one of the largest cranes in the country was brought to Miami and used to hoist steel beams used to add rows to the upper deck level. When it was completed, the project added 8,933 new seats to bring the seating capacity of the stadium from 67,129 to 76,062. As per the plan Darlow conceived a year earlier, most of the seats were added by the extension of the double decks on both sides of the regular stands. In addition, the northeast corner of the stands, which was shorter than the other three corners prior to this project, was extended to equal length with the others.
The project was completed in early September in time for the October 7th game between University of Miami and Notre Dame, which was the first matchup that began a long and bitter rival between the two football programs. Notre Dame won this first match by a score of 14 – 0.
After the completion of the project, the Orange Bowl stadium became the third largest bowl in the country, ahead of Dallas’ Cotton Bowl, which had a seating capacity of 75,000 at the time, but behind New Orlean’s Sugar Bowl (81,000 seats), and Pasadena’s Rose Bowl (100,000 seats).
On January 2, 1956, the Oklahoma Sooners and Maryland Terrapins played in the Orange Bowl in the new configuration. Oklahoma won the game by a score of 20 – 6 which extended the Sooners winning streak to 30 straight games. The Orange Bowl game would continue to be the primary attraction at the Orange Bowl Stadium and would continue to be the main catalyst for investment in this most important sports venue.
World’s Greatest Baseball Party in 1956
On August 7, 1956, the Orange Bowl Stadium played host to a baseball game that had hoped to break the record for the largest crowd to watch a minor league baseball game. The current record, at the time, was recorded in Jersey City where 56,391 spectators watched the home town Giants lose to the Rochester Red Wings on April 17, 1941. Sid Salomon, the president of the Miami Marlins, a minor league baseball team that typically played their home games at the Miami Stadium from 1956 until 1962, and Bill Veeck, executive director of the Marlins, pushed the idea to play a game in the Orange Bowl to break the minor league baseball record and to raise money for charity.
The Marlin’s executives had hoped that this event would attract 80,000 spectators, but felt, at the very least, they could entice more than 50,000 fans to enjoy an evening full of entertainment. The Marlins organized the evening to include musical and sports entertainment for those who attended. The musicians who performed that evening included Martha Raye, Margaret Whiting, Russ Morgan and his orchestra, Cab Calloway, as well as several other notable acts. The concert preceded the baseball game which began at 8:30pm. Miami Herald sports writer, Eddie Storin, referred to the extravaganza as the “world’s greatest baseball party” in an article published on the day of the event.
The configuration of the stadium for baseball introduced a 12-foot-tall fence featuring a screen to provide a wall along the northern sideline stands, only 216 feet from home plate, in right field. The depth of the left field wall extended 250-feet from home plate toward the southwest corner of the stadium. It was decided that any balls that would bounce and end up between the left field foul line and the stadium’s west end zone bleachers would be declared a ground rule double.
The manager of the Miami Marlins, Don Osborn, selected Satchel Paige, the ageless wonder who made his reputation as a dominant hurler in the Negro Leagues prior to signing a contract with the Marlins, to be his starting pitcher that evening. Leading up to this game, Paige, at the reported age of 49, had the best-earned run average (ERA of 1.58), in the International League, and Osborn had confidence he would keep the Columbus hitters in the stadium. When he was first told he would be the starting pitcher, Paige was reluctant to take the mound for this matchup because he didn’t like the idea of pitching in a football stadium. However, he later changed his mind and ended up being the star of the game.
In the end, the Marlins defeated the Columbus Jets by a score of 6 – 2 before a reported crowd of 51,713 paid attendees. Satchel Paige pitched into the eighth inning and drove in three runs when he hit a double into left center field. While the attendance record announced by the Marlins was close to the record set in Jersey City, Miami’s city recreation director and manager of the stadium, Ernie Doering, reported that the turnstile count was only 33,921. Over the following days after the game, local reporters had a field day trying to get the Marlin’s organization to try to reconcile the difference between Doering’s count and the team’s reported attendance.
Regardless of the actual attendance, the Marlins were able to raise money for several very worthy charities including the Variety Children’s Hospital ($10,000), Histadrut Children of Israel ($10,000), Babe Zaharias Cancer Fund ($1,000), the Miami Community Chest Children’s agencies (total of $2,809.20), including $500 for Family Service. The team distributed 100% of the gate receipts from the game to each of the listed charities.
The Next Five Decades
While the first two decades of the stadium were eventful, the next five decades continued to highlight the importance of the venue to the City of Miami. In 1965, the Miami metropolitan region was awarded an American Football League franchise, the Miami Dolphins, that enjoyed tremendous early success playing in the majestic Orange Bowl. The team went to three Super Bowls in its first eight years, and celebrated the league’s only perfect season. In addition, the Dolphins enjoyed a 27-game home win streak from 1971 until 1974, where they played their home games from 1966 through 1987 before moving north to Joe Robbie Stadium in 1988. After years playing in Miami Gardens, Dolphin fans miss the home field advantage provided by the mystique of the fabled Orange Bowl Stadium.
The Miami Hurricane’s football team continued to call the Orange Bowl home until just prior to the stadium’s demolition on May 14, 2008. The team enjoyed a 58-game home win streak from 1985 to 1994, and won five collegiate national championships from the 1983 through the 2001 seasons while playing their home games in the Orange Bowl. The university’s football program followed the Dolphins to Hard Rock Stadium (formerly Joe Robbie Stadium), beginning in the 2008 season. Like the Dolphin faithful, Miami Hurricane football fans also miss the dominance exhibited by their favorite team while playing within the confines of the Orange Bowl.
The venue was the host to countless concerts and other big events. President John F Kennedy hosted a reception in the Orange Bowl on December 29, 1962, to welcome back the freed prisoners of Brigade 2506 following the failed Bay of Pigs’ invasion. The stadium was the host of five Super Bowl games from 1968 until 1979, and continued to host the signature Orange Bowl Game until 1996, when it was also moved to today’s Hard Rock Stadium.
Maybe the best statement to sum up the loss of the historic Orange Bowl was made by former Miami Dolphin’s tight end, and radio broadcasting legend, the late Jim Mandich, when he said:
“We don’t have that many historical edifices down here, but in Dade County you can point to the Orange Bowl and say that’s our building. So many great things, not just sporting things, happened in that Orange Bowl. I think it is a travesty that that building is lost to us, and it will never be replaced.”
Mad Dog Mandich, as he was known, summed up the feelings of so many long-time Miami residents who held the Orange Bowl in such high regard. In a city of rapidly disappearing history, there may not be a more special place that has been lost than that of the Orange Bowl Stadium. Mad Dog was right, its mystique will never be replaced.Click Here to Subscribe
- Article: Orange Bowl Stadium (1937 – 1947)
- Book: “Fifty Years on the Fifty: The Orange Bowl Story”, by the Orange Bowl Committee, 1983
- Miami News: “Miami Officially Changes Name of Orange Bowl”, January 20, 1949.
- Miami Herald: “Orange Bowl Enlargement Plan Studied”, June 5, 1949.
- Miami News: “City Commission Deadlock Continues”, December 6, 1950.
- Miami News: “Orange Bowl Getting Its Yearly Scrubbing”, June 3, 1951.
- Miami News: “$695,000 Bowl Expansion Asked”, July 23, 1951.
- Miami Herald: “3,000 More Seats Seen for OB Game Pending Federal Okay”, April 3, 1952.
- Miami Herald: “Bowl Gate 1 Bottleneck Now No. 1 Headache”, June 29, 1952.
- Miami Herald: “84,000-Seat Stadium Seen Imperative to Put Miami Ahead in New Year’s Picture”, December 3, 1952.
- Miami Herald: “Early Action Seen in Expansion of Orange Bowl to 85,000”, December 11, 1952.
- Miami Herald: “86,000 Seats Ultimate Goal”, June 21, 1953.
- Miami Herald: “Orange Bowl Enlargement to 85,000 Planned”, November 12, 1953.
- Miami Herald: “Seiler Seeking War Dead Names for OB Memorial”, November 19, 1953.
- Miami Herald: “Expansion of Stadium Hits Snag”, December 8, 1953.
- Miami Herald: “OB Enlargement to 84,000 Sought”, January 3, 1954.
- Miami News: “$14,000,000 Improvements in Offing Here”, March 31, 1954.
- Miami News: “Orange Bowl Expansion Aided by Monster Crane”, June 10, 1955.
- Cover: Orange Bowl Game on January 2, 1950. Courtesy of Florida State Archives.
- Figure 1: Headline in the Miami Herald on January 20, 1949, announcing the stadium name change. Courtesy of the Miami Herald.
- Figure 2: Halftime show from the Orange Bowl game played on January 2, 1950. Courtesy of Florida State Archives.
- Figure 3: Aerial view of the Orange Bowl Stadium and Miami Field in 1950. Courtesy of Florida State Archives.
- Figure 4: Earnie Seiler between apartment building and stadium on June 29, 1952. Courtesy of the Miami Herald.
- Figure 5: Orange Bowl Memorial Stadium renderings in 1953. Courtesy of Florida State Archives.
- Figure 6: Halftime show of the Orange Bowl Game played on January 1, 1955. Courtesy of Florida State Archives.
- Figure 7: Baseball game played in the Orange Bowl between the Miami Marlins and the Columbus Jets on August 7, 1956. Postcard courtesy of Casey M. Piket.
- Figure 8: Crowd leaving the Orange Bowl Stadium in the 1950s. Courtesy of HistoryMiami Museum.