Documenting and Preserving L.A.'s Olympic History

USC Libraries

Documenting and Preserving L.A.'s Olympic History

As Southern Californians tune into the infamously delayed coverage of London's 2012 Olympic games, many will inevitably think back to the Los Angeles games of 1984, and a few may even remember the games' first appearance here in 1932. Though short-lived, Los Angeles' two turns in the Olympic spotlight loom large in Southern California's history.

Los Angeles hosted the 1932 games amid the Great Depression. Difficult economic times may have dampened enthusiasm for the games, but Southern California's well-oiled booster machine nonetheless saw an opportunity to expand long-standing promotional efforts to a global scale. Drawing on the resources of the Hollywood film industry, Los Angeles turned the Olympics into a glitzy entertainment extravaganza.

The 1932 games left several tangible reminders. L.A.'s largest sporting venue, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, was enlarged to 105,000 seats and temporarily renamed Olympic Stadium, and L.A.'s Tenth Street forever became Olympic Boulevard. They also left their mark on Olympic history by introducing the concept of an Olympic village for visiting athletes.

When Los Angeles hosted the games again in 1984, it introduced another innovation to the Olympic tradition: corporate sponsorship. Envisioned as a way to mitigate costs, sponsorship deals actually helped the 1984 games turn a profit. The McDonald's Olympic Swim Stadium on the University of Southern California campus -- built with financing from the fast food giant -- is just one reminder of the games' corporate relationships.

In both cases, communities across Southern California hosted sporting competitions and other related events. Long Beach's Alamitos Bay was home to the 1932 rowing events, for instance, while the suburban Orange County community of Mission Viejo hosted cycling races in 1984.

Today, Southern Californians can re-experience the 1932 and 1984 Olympic games through the region's photographic archives, which document the events and Los Angeles' role as host city. Selected images contributed by L.A. as Subject member institutions appear below. You can also tour Los Angeles during the 1984 Olympics on Historypin through the photograph collections of the Metro Transportation Library and Archive, and several other L.A. as Subject members have previously featured their own materials from L.A.'s past Olympics in such publications such as the Huffington Post andWestways.

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