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UCLA

A Star Is Reborn: The New Pauley

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By Paul Feinberg '85

Published Oct 1, 2012 8:00 AM


UCLA’s most venerated venue is back in action after a two-and-a-half year, $130-million-plus renovation. The photos here are just teasers for what will greet visitors when the doors officially open in October. What they’ll see: a gleaming, open, modern facility with state-of-the-art technology and even a statue of John Wooden. No wonder Bruin coaches can’t wait for the doors to reopen.

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Photos taken by James Erin de Jauregui

Legends don't just live in our memories. Legends live in places. Legacies are not built, nurtured and expanded in a vacuum. They need a space in which to be seen and celebrated. On October 28, UCLA legend and legacy return to campus in spectacular fashion with the grand reopening of Edwin W. Pauley Pavilion — bigger, better, safer and more beautiful than ever.

On that day — 30 months after the $136-million makeover broke ground — the doors of “New Pauley” swing open for a week of celebratory events. Then, in early November, the game that first made Pauley a place of legend triumphantly returns to the pavilion: basketball.

First will be an evening celebration for donors who contributed to the “Campaign of Champions” — which is helping to fund the arena’s makeover — on October 28. That’s followed by an open house for faculty, staff and students on October 30; a student-geared open house that coincides with Parents’ Weekend and the Homecoming football game against Arizona on November 2; and an open house for the public on November 4.

There’s no doubt, though, that the most eagerly awaited aspect of Pauley’s grand reopening will be the first sporting events to be held in the new arena. The schedule tips off, of course, with men’s basketball on November 9 against Indiana State (the only other university at which John Wooden served as head coach), and then women’s basketball on November 10 against San Diego State University.

“We’re not Staples Center”

How do you commemorate the old, but create a buzzworthy platform for the new? That was the existential challenge facing the renovation project. The key was to merge the traditions established in Pauley Pavilion (named for former University of California Regent Edwin W. Pauley, whose gift was a major factor in the venue’s birth). Since its opening in 1965 and including memorable triumphs by iconic former Men’s Basketball Head Coach John Wooden’s squads and others, 39 national championships have been won by teams that play in Pauley. To honor that legacy, says Senior Associate Athletic Director Ken Weiner ’78, the first calls made had to go to the Wooden and Pauley families.

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Both families shared their belief that UCLA needed to “do what’s right for the school” Weiner says, meaning that some accommodation to Pauley’s history should be made. So input was gathered from many areas, including focus groups, donors and coaches, all of whom were solicited for their opinions before the designs were finalized.

One critical factor agreed upon was what the new facility should not be. “We asked (the focus groups) if they wanted suites in the building, and we heard a resounding ‘no,’ ” Weiner explains. “We’re not Staples Center.”

Instead, visitors to the new Pauley will experience a multipurpose facility that not only serves the needs of UCLA’s athletic department, but also those of the campus as a whole. As the largest assembly hall on campus, Pauley is the site for commencements, political debates, intramural sports and the school’s summer camps. Another tradition to be maintained has seen Pauley host events as diverse as a Grateful Dead concert; a presidential campaign rally with Michelle Obama, Caroline Kennedy and Oprah; a speech by the Dalai Lama; and, of course, the ever-popular annual Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards.

The Kids’ Choice Awards, in fact, are already on New Pauley’s jam-packed 2012-13 schedule. So is that venerable UCLA Alumni Association favorite, Spring Sing, on May 17. Sports shine in Pauley again with the 2013 NCAA championships for both women’s gymnastics (April 19-21) and men’s volleyball (May 2-4).

A Concourse, Coach Out Front, Organic Food and WAY MORE Restrooms

The first thing you’ll see when you walk into the new pavilion’s bowl is that the court is now centered, eliminating the infamous “abyss” beyond the baselines, so the seats behind the baskets are now much closer to the action. Except for the west bleachers, all of the seats in the building are now individual seats with cup holders, including the retractable seats in the lower sections. Access to seats — in fact, access to every part of New Pauley — was designed to conform to Americans with Disabilities Act regulations.

The new Pauley has five main entrances, but the orientation of the building, formerly facing east, is now north, where at the front door a familiar figure will welcome Bruin fans: a statue of Coach Wooden commissioned for the renovation. A student access — nicknamed the “Bruin Den” entrance — will be at the northwest corner, offering a dedicated entry to their seating section and a food concession with student pricing.

Perhaps the most striking difference between old and new is the structure that surrounds the existing arena, finished with terracotta and glass. The edifice essentially creates a concourse that surrounds the exterior of Pauley that is more than 40 feet wide on the north side, 20 feet wide on the south and east sides, and nine feet on the west side. This eliminates the chaos created by the old, crammed, eight-foot-wide walkway in the old Pauley that made going to the restroom or the concession lines an exercise in endurance.

Speaking of which, the new Pauley includes less office space to enable a quadrupling of women’s restroom facilities and men’s rooms that are two-and-a-half times larger than in the old venue. Plus, there will be 25 percent more concession points of sale, including organic, gluten-free or kosher food. And instead of the old souvenir carts, the new Pauley now offers an actual merchandise store in which to shop for stuff to display your Bruin pride.

Take in the Tech and Join the Club

Nothing is newer in New Pauley than its technology. There’s a brand-new sound system; a state-of-the-art, high-definition scoreboard; and an LED system that winds around the top of the arena, highlighting game statistics in the four corners of the building.

“The new lighting system will allow us to take all the lights down or do spotlights or whatever we want to do for introductions,” Weiner says.

In addition, donors and club members can avail themselves of the new Pavilion Club, located below the concourse but above the court level on the north side. Open prior to games and at halftime, the Pavilion Club will be the only place in New Pauley where alcoholic beverages are served.

One thing that hasn’t changed: UCLA’s tribute to its triumphant past. The felt championship banners won by UCLA teams that hung in the old building will hang in the new. “We’re going to hang them from the rafters like in the Boston Garden,” Weiner says. “They’ll move with the air conditioning.”

The Coaches Claim A Win

For those who play and coach in the Pavilion, the new Pauley is a winner.

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Wall graphics will tell the story of 48-year-old Pauley Pavilion and the events that have taken place there.

Men’s Basketball Head Coach Ben Howland says, “I give the leadership all the credit and appreciate the courage Chancellor [Gene] Block has shown, getting this done during an economic downturn.”

For the women’s hoops team, which had to play games in the Wooden Center last season, “it’s a night-and-day difference,” adds Women’s Basketball Head Coach Cori Close Ed.M. ’95.

Both men’s and women’s basketball locker rooms now feature three-foot-wide lockers that include charging stations for computers, phones and other digital devices, all beneath a eucalyptus wood ceiling. Each locker room is connected to a student lounge where players can do homework, watch TV or unwind with a game on Playstation. There are also basketball training rooms, equipment rooms and weight rooms.

One element of the project will be visible to fans, although they might not realize what they’re looking at. The hardwood floor, still dubbed “Nell and John Wooden Court,” is a considerable upgrade. “The old floor was hard on knees and backs,” observes Howland. “The new floor has a lot more give to it and is much better for the players.”

The Competitive Advantage

Gymnastics Head Coach Valorie Kondos Field ’87, whose first home meet in the renovated facility will be January 6, 2013, has guided her teams to six of Pauley’s national titles. As a close friend of Coach Wooden’s, her interest in seeing New Pauley done right was more than professional; it was personal.

“This is one of the great buildings, one of the Seven Wonders of the World,” she contends. “Also, in gymnastics, it’s often difficult to figure out who’s winning. The new ribbon scoreboard allows us to publish the scores live, giving fans an education and up-to-the-second results.”

The new Pauley won’t just dazzle Bruins who come to campus, but also potential newcomers far from Westwood. Women’s Volleyball Head Coach Mike Sealy ’93, who notched his first national title last season, says he doesn’t sell the building when he’s out recruiting but concedes that New Pauley is “going to be amazing when we take recruits on campus visits.”

The renovated venue already has helped lure the best ballers, notes Howland, whose current squad features Shabazz Muhammad, the nation’s most coveted freshman. And Close proclaims New Pauley the best women’s basketball facility west of the Mississippi.

Pauley Pavilion was a venerable showcase, a palpable part of UCLA history. But the grand venue had gotten old and was no longer a glittering jewel on campus. Now, Pauley gleams anew.

“We’re going in there with the other coaches and creating a new legacy,” says Sealy. “It wasn’t the building; it was what John Wooden did in the building. We’re looking forward to opening the doors and adding new traditions.”

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