Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium

A post card from about 1950 shows Razorback Stadium looking south with a track, bleachers and a press box above the west side.
University of Arkansas

A post card from about 1950 shows Razorback Stadium looking south with a track, bleachers and a press box above the west side.

The history of Razorback Stadium, or the home of University of Arkansas football, must begin with the first Razorback football fields on top of the hill and behind the first three men's dorms. The university's administration had plans for more outdoor recreational space for students and for intercollegiate competition early in the last century. The Board of Trustees in 1902 requested that all the farm buildings be moved west of Garland Avenue and asked that the Athletic Association be allowed to extend into the area occupied by those buildings. Recreational space does not coexist very well with pasture and farm buildings, for many reasons. This area east of Garland would be occupied by the university's athletics for the next 35 years.

The first football field ran east and west and was about where the Fine Arts Building is today. The grandstands were on the south side of the field that also doubled for baseball. In 1927 the football field was moved slightly to the north and was changed to one where the goal posts were on either end of a north-south field. At this same time new steel bleachers seating 3,000 spectators were erected on the west side of the field and a new wire fence put around the area, replacing an old wooden one. A few years later wooden bleachers were placed on the east side of the new football field.

Two years earlier, in 1925, a "100-Year Plan" had been designed by an architectural firm in St. Louis that had identified the natural amphitheater in the valley to the west as being an ideal location for a football stadium. The stated plans in 1927 were for the bleachers to be moved eventually to the "dream location" in the valley west. A drive to raise $150,000 to build that new stadium in the natural amphitheater was started but was not successful. The Depression would put a damper on money for a new stadium for the next ten years.

In 1936 a $307,000 PWA grant/loan was approved for the men's dormitory (now Gibson Hall), a field house (now University Museum), and additional steel stands for the east side of Razorback field that would replace the "doddering" wooden ones. These seats would be identical to those on the west side that seated 3,000. The erection of these new steel stands had hardly been started in late 1936 when the university administration received word that a PWA grant and loan of approximately $50,000 was forthcoming (with a $4,000 match from the university) for a new football stadium in the natural bowl in the 60-acre valley to the west.

This valley in the western part of the campus was part of part of the 160 acres purchased from William Mcllroy for the beginning of the university in 1871. It was described as a pretty little valley, a typical Ozark hollow. However, it had not been considered useful to the university because it was a rock strewn gully of rabbits, weeds, and grass. Running through the valley from north to south was Mullins Creek. In 1936 more talk of making this valley into a football stadium prompted the Buildings and Grounds Department to look seriously into the prospects. Two civil engineering students, R. Lee Fraser and Harley Walker, began making a survey of the possible building site and drawing plans for buildings and grounds. Fraser and Walker drew a topographic map and with it they determined the "cuts" and "fills" for making the valley fit the stadium. These plans were turned over to Thompson, Sanders, and Ginnochio of Little Rock and they completed the plans that were part of the proposal submitted to the federal government that year for a PWA loan.

Construction Begins

Construction on the new stadium was well underway by mid-1937 and by October concrete was being poured that formed the seats and stands. The initial part of the construction had occurred earlier which had transformed the bottom of the valley into a 1,200-foot conduit for a near perfect drainage system. A three-foot by three-foot concrete culvert was constructed, starting at the north side of Maple Street. Down the valley 500 feet it was enlarged to a four-foot-square culvert. It was designed to take care of the runoff from the watershed north of Maple Street, the parking lot, and the playing field. Over the culvert and beneath the field were 6" drain tiles laid in gravel-filled ditches running across the field at 30-foot intervals. A quarter-mile cinder track was designed to encircle the playing field, between the field and the stands. Drop inlets were placed around the outer edges of the track to take care of the water runoff of the track and stands. This system of drains connected to the large culvert at the bottom, making this one of the best drained playing fields in the country.

The natural amphitheater of the valley did not quite form a perfect bowl for the stands. It was sufficient for supporting the concrete stands on the west side, but the east side required some earth fill. An earth fill also helped create the bowl effect at the north end of the field. The south end of the bowl was left open, partly for surface drainage, but more importantly, it afforded an outstanding view of the mountains to the south.

On the east side of the stadium the concrete stands, supported by piers that extended through the fill, were the same height as those on the west. The steel stands moved from Razorback field on the hill formed the grandstand area above the concrete seats on both the east and west sides. The lower half of the old steel stands were used on the east side and the upper half of those stands were used on the west. On both sides the steel stands lacked a few feet reaching the length of the lower concrete stands on each end. Thus, part of the old Razorback field that had just experienced a Southwest Conference Championship in 1936, was a part of the new stadium.

The plans made provisions for the concrete stands to extend to the north and encircle the track on the north end zone, forming a large "U." This was never done, perhaps for lack of funds, but the earthen embankment was finished and in later years was utilized for overflow seating.

Construction, utilizing WPA workers (by then the PWA had become the WPA), was supervised by L. L. Browne, the supervising engineer for the university's buildings and grounds. The design work of the engineering students Fraser and Walker cannot be overemphasized. It is likely that the Little Rock architectural firm may have just put their name to the plans for the federal loan proposal. The plans seemed to have been redrawn from the buildings and grounds previous work and the architects were paid only $400.00 for their work by the Board, hardly what a design and complete set of plans should have been. During construction when there were some safety concerns about the support for the stands, highway department engineers helped solve the problems and appropriate changes were made. Attaching the steel stands to the concrete columns required a unique steel bracket that was designed by buildings and grounds personnel and fit the needs better than manufactured brackets. The mainly student designed, L. L. Browne supervised project, supplemented with WPA labor, created a beautiful well designed stadium at a bargain price. Also, changes required during the construction were much easier with the university/WPA arrangement than they would have been with a contractor. The university Board supplemented the initial money with $33,000 from the reserve fund, making the final cost of the new stadium about $90,000. At the time it was estimated that a comparable stadium elsewhere, built under conventional circumstances, would have cost close to $500,000.

Completed with the stadium were a scoreboard at the south end, a press box on the west side, concession stands, rooms for officials, and other utility structures. The "Half House," a building to be used by the teams between halves, was constructed at the south end of the east stands. This East Half House was, in early 1939, supplemented by a West Half House at the south end of the west stands. Bermuda grass, grown on the university farms, became the sod for the playing surface. The new stadium seated 13,500 fans and a parking lot north of the stadium held 2,000 cars.

First Game

The first game in the new stadium was played Sept. 24, 1938 when Arkansas defeated Oklahoma A&M 27-7. The stadium was dedicated Oct. 8 of that year, and the principal speaker was Harry Hopkins, administrator for the federal governments's WPA. In his remarks Hopkins, knowing the many jokes circulating about the WPA, said, "This stadium was not built by a group of men leaning on shovels." About 200 WPA workers, who had been admitted free, stood up and cheered loudly. Arkansas lost to Baylor that day 9-6.

The morning of that game and dedication, the Board of Trustees met and named the new structure Bailey Stadium in honor of Gov. Carl Bailey, a staunch supporter of the university — and it was Gov. Bailey's birthday. Two years later Homer Adkins defeated Carl Bailey for Arkansas governor. Adkins gained control of the university board in 1941, engineered the firing of university President J. W. Fulbright, and saw that the board renamed Bailey Stadium as Razorback Stadium.

The first enlargement of Razorback Stadium was made in 1947 by the Linebarger Construction Company when approximately 2,500 seats were added by extending the north ends of the east and west stands. The cost was about $36,000. Approximately 20,000 fans were expected for a game in November of 1948, according to the Traveler, so some temporary bleachers and seating on the ground in the elevated north end zone must have increased the capacity. In 1949 the storm sewer was extended south of the stadium, so that intramural fields could be built there.

In the summer of 1950 the west stands were extended higher to make 57 rows of seats, and the press box was more than doubled in size. The number of seats added was 5,100 and the total project cost was $150,000. The east side of the stadium in 1957 was extended in a $200,000 project that added 5,148 seats and an elevated, curved ramp to make the upper level accessible from the Stadium Drive street level. The next year, 1958, improvements were made to the dressing rooms, scoreboard, and south entrances to the stadium.

The largest expansion, up to that time, began in in November of 1964 when architect Paul Young was hired to design an 8,000-seat addition by adding two sections on the south end of both east and west stands and extending upward the sections previously added to the north end of both sides. Successful bidder for this project was the Brennan-Boyd Construction Co. at $414,000 in March of 1965. The total project also included rest rooms and concessions at the top of the north end, a new scoreboard with concessions and rest rooms beneath, and improvements to the press box. Islands were removed from the parking lot north of the stadium and the entire lot was black-topped. This expansion and remodeling, finished in time for the Arkansas-Texas game on October 16, brought the permanent seating capacity up to 33,204. Using the north end zone "ground" seats and chair seats, the capacity could be 40,000. The bond issue for the entire project was $600,000.

Architect Paul Young was asked again to prepare plans for another expansion and he brought a very interesting and ambitious plan to the Board in November, 1967. It completely enclosed the north end and connected it to both the west and east side stands, creating a bowl open at the south. It added 11,200 permanent seats. One very unusual part of the design called for the north end of the cinder track to extend up under the stands, in a tunnel. There were some engineering problems and this plan was never used. It was the last time that a plan to enclose the north end was proposed, much like the "100-Year Plan" stadium of 1924.

Paul Young was again asked to design an expansion of stadium seating in early 1969, this time on the east side, between the goal lines. In the summer of 1969, before the expansion plans were complete, Astroturf was installed on the playing surface, the first such artificial surface in the Southwest Conference. In September of 1969 the Board approved Young's plans for adding 3,500 seats to the east side that also included replacing the wooden seats with aluminum on that side. In January of 1970 Nabholz Construction Company was the low bidder for this expansion at $247, 900. In April the Board decided to have the wooden seats on the west side also replaced with aluminum at an additional cost of $130,000, making all the stadium seating uniform. The expansion and rehabilitation work were completed before the first home game in September, 1970.

North End Complex

Plans were started in 1972 and 1973 to erect an administrative building in the north end of Razorback Stadium that would negate any future plans to enclose that end with seating. This building, completed and occupied in 1975, was named the Frank Broyles Athletic Complex in 1982. Architects were Nelson, Laser and Cheyne of Fort Smith with the consulting firm of McCarty, Bullock, Church and Holsaple of Knoxville, Tennessee. Contractors were Brennan-Boyd Construction Co. It contained the offices for the Men's Athletic Department, the football staff, and team dressing rooms. In connection with Razorback Stadium, there was in the complex an extension of the stadium's artificial turf which continued up inside the new building. This gave the football team and some other teams a valuable indoor practice area in inclement weather. The construction of this building required the removal of the cinder track that had encircled the football field since the creation of the stadium in 1938. New track and field facilities were constructed south on Razorback Road.

Lighting from the west side of the stadium was installed in 1977, but only for late evening practices. It was not used for the lighting of games. In 1979 the Board gave the Washington County Razorback Club permission to raise funds to erect lighting for football games when needed for telecasts of games that extended into the late afternoons.

In 1983 extensive remodeling work was done on the 1950 press box and an elevator was installed on the west side. In addition the rest rooms were completely reworked, In 1985 a weight room was added to the west of Broyles Athletic Complex.

Plans for the next much larger expansion of Razorback Stadium began in May of 1984 when the Board employed the firm of Heery Fabrap, Architects, Engineers & Planners of Atlanta, along with the local firm of Laser, Knight, Hendrix and Guest to design the additions. Finished and approved plans resulted in adding 11,000 seats in an upper deck on the west side, including seats for 1,000 in enclosed skybox suites between the two decks. The press box, in the middle of the row of skyboxes, would also be renovated and expanded. Construction started on the $7,164,650 project in November of 1984 by Kan-Ark Industries. The expansion was completed for use in October of 1985 and a new scoreboard was part of the stadium improvements before it was all done. Stadium seating capacity was then listed as 51,000. A few years later the lower rows of aluminum bench seats were replaced by concrete and chair back seats added.

The first games were played under the lights of Razorback Stadium in the fall of 1990. The lights had been installed by Beaver Electric of Fayetteville under a $400,000 contract, and paid for by funds from the Razorback Foundation.

The Broyles Athletic Center (name changed from Broyles Complex) was completely renovated in 1994 and as part of that work the West Half House at the stadium was demolished. In 1995 the Astroturf on the playing field was changed back to natural grass.

In the early fall of 1998 plans were underway to expand Razorback Stadium as the board approved the general idea, and on November 6 the board selected the architectural firm of Heery International of Atlanta, Georgia, to do the design work on the expansion. They were assisted by the firm of Wittenberg, Deloney & Davidson. By August of 1999 the cost of the expansion of the stadium to seat 70,000 was estimated at $75 million. Most of the project involved improvements of the east stands and south end zone, and to a lesser extent the west side. Another way to look at the redesign and expansion was that all the area under the east and west stands would be gutted — rest rooms, concessions, etc. — and rebuilt anew. Only the steel supporting structure would remain. The new design would completely enclose the stadium on the east, south, and west sides — unlike the concept followed in the past to retain the fans' view of the mountains to the south.

The initial phase of the construction was demolition, utility relocation, and the drilling of large footings for the new structure on the east side which must support a much larger stands and a brick and precast concrete outside covering. The contract for this initial phase went to DiCarlo Construction Company at $842,834 in early August of 1999. Demolition of some structures in the south end zone included the tearing down of the East Half House, which had become, in recent years, the Wilson Matthews Lettermen's Club. Contracts for structural steel and precast concrete went to AFCO Steel and Arkansas Precast Corporation for a total of $10.7 million.

The project was staying within budget until the low bids for the general contract work came in at $51.8 million, nearly $14 million more than the $38 million estimated. In March of 2000 the university gave the go ahead to Beers Construction Company, the low bidder, to commence work. The cost continued to go up after that, partly because of overtime pay to advance the completion date, and partly to include things that were planned to be added at a later time. The addition of a 30-foot by 107-foot SACO Smartvision television screen and scoreboard was one such addition, and the price tag for it was $7.45 million.

All these cost overruns and additions were tempered by a $20 million donation by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation which was announced in December of 1999. The Board of Trustees voted the next month to rename the stadium the Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Altogether, $60.5 million in private funds were used for the stadium expansion, including $46 million in major gifts.

During the 2000 football season the new east stands were partially completed and the steel structure was going up in the south end. The Smartvision was operating in the north end zone for the 2000 season and it was the largest video board at any sports venue in the world. The original target date for completion was before the first home game in 2000. However, delays, changes, and additions moved the date to August, 2001. The first game played in the new Reynolds Razorback Stadium was the Arkansas-Tennessee contest September 8, 2001.

When the new stadium was christened in the rain and lightning of the Arkansas-Tennessee game Sept. 8, the completed structure could seat 72,140 fans and the price tag for the improvements had risen to $110.2 million. There were 68 new sky boxes, bringing the total to 132, and there were 8,950 comfortable club seats, some inside out of the weather. The press box was again expanded and amenities added. On the exterior, the most noticeable changes were the upper deck added to the east and the enclosure of the south end. Inside, the additions are more numerous and more impressive. The main concourse on the entrance level is connected all the way around on the east, south, and west sides. There are 28 concessions on that level and in the south end there is a food court with five speciality fast food vendors. Behind the lower club seat area on the east side is the 15,000 square foot Bob and Marilyn Bogle Academic Center for all athletes and the 3,800 square foot Wilson Matthews "A" Club for all lettermen. Throughout the stadium there are 400 TV monitors so that no one will be far away from the action. In spite of the stormy weather, everything went well on opening night except the Razorbacks lost to Tennessee 13-3.

A $1.6 million privately financed job to complete a facade on the west side of the stadium was started late in 2002. It was designed by Wittenberg, Deloney & Davidson and the contract was awarded to Kinco Inc. Constructors. On the west side the lower level was closed in by brick and the northwest comer of the stadium was faced with steel, precast concrete panels, with an entrance to match the northeast comer. This was completed in August of 2003.

Architect rendering of expanded stadium
An architectural rendering of the north end zone renovation and expansion that finished in 2018.

The Board of Trustees, in a rare split vote of 8-2, approved a $160 million bond issue for renovation and expansion of the Broyles Athletic Center on the north end of the stadium in 2016. Former U.S. Sen. and then-trustee David Pryor questioned whether such a large bond issue made sense for such a small number of seats during deliberations by the board. But the board approved the project, including 4,000 new seats, tiered level lounges and club suites, and a new spacious football-shaped locker room for the football team. The expansion was funded by general-obligation bonds, with an expectation that debt would be paid off over a 20-year period. The expansion enclosed the north end and was finished in 2018.

All of this beautiful, expanded stadium still sits on a site located by, and with an almost perfect drainage system designed by those two civil engineering students and the Buildings and Grounds Department back in 1936.


Charlie Alison, executive editor
University Relations


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