A specialness is taking shape at 49ers’ stadium in Santa Clara

Here is my Friday column on Levi’s Stadium.

SANTA CLARA – You caravan into the Levi’s Stadium construction site, weave around cones and portable trailers, park your car and put on a hardhat and a uniform, like a player.

You see the stadium to the east. When you look at it, part of what you do is use your imagination. You imagine what it will look like when it’s done. Right now, it’s dirt and concrete and no color. When you use your imagination, the stadium lights up like the Emerald City in “The Wizard of Oz.”

A creek separates the stadium and the main parking lot to the west, the Great America parking lot, where you are. This will be the main parking lot on 49ers’ game day.

There’s a bridge over the creek. You walk over the bridge, and the tour guide tells you two more bridges will be built. It feels like you’re walking into a moated castle. On game days, you can imagine fans storming that castle.

Now the stadium is right in front of you and you’re facing the Suite Tower. It’s nine stories high. It does not have the feeling of Santa Clara or Silicon Valley. It does not feel like an extension of Great America, either. It looks like a stylish new apartment house of condos south of Market. San Francisco meets Santa Clara in that building. At least San Francisco is good for something.

The 49ers didn’t build their stadium in San Francisco, so they brought San Francisco to them. The new high rise is more San Francisco than Candlestick ever was.

The tour guide leads you into a construction elevator and takes you up to the first level of the stadium. He leads you to the northwest corner, which is hollowed out like a birthday cake missing a piece. Actually, Levi’s stadium is missing two pieces, one in the southwest corner, too. This opens up the stadium, the tour guide says. Candlestick was closed. But Levi’s Stadium can fill in the missing pieces with an extra 10,000 seats when it hosts the Super Bowl in 2016 and needs to accommodate 75,000 fans.

You look down at the field and you see dirt and a 325-foot crane and concrete seats. But then you use your imagination and you see the grass, you see the red seats, you see the two Jumbotrons over the end zones.

And you see the teams on the field. The 49ers are on the west sideline under the shade of the Suite Tower. Smart. The opposing team is on the east sideline baking in the sun as the sun dips west after halftime. Jim Harbaugh specifically requested the west side for his team, told the architects what he wanted even though they put the 49ers’ locker room under the east stands.

It’s halftime. The 49ers run through the opposition to the east locker room. The opposition runs through the 49ers to the west locker room. You imagine two teams bumping into each other at halftime and after the game.

You hear the tour guide say there are two locker rooms on the east side, one for the 49ers and one for another team, like, say, the Raiders if they ever become tenants. You make a note of that.

You look at the field again. It’s condensed and compact. It is not wide enough to fit a FIFA soccer match. No World Cup for Levi’s Stadium. That’s one of the sacrifices the 49ers made. It is a football-first venue, although it will host other events, like concerts and Wrestlemania. Levi’s Stadium is a finalist for Wrestlemania. You make a note of that.

There hardly is any room from the back of the end zone to Row 1, says the tour guide. Only a golf cart and an ambulance can fit. This place is the ultimate in football friendly.

You notice the stands are condensed, too. Most stadiums fan out like a giant bowl, and upper level seats seem miles away from the field. Not here. Each level is built on top of the other. It’s terraced. Call it the stacking concept. Call it good.

It’s extremely generous for the fans. Every person has a good seat. Every person is right on top of the action. It’s an intimate stadium. It is an homage to football the way AT&T Park is an homage to baseball.

People who attend games at Levi’s Stadium will feel like the stadium is as special as the franchise. For a long time, the 49ers had a practice facility that represented the franchise’s specialness, and then they went slumming in Candlestick. They were embarrassed to call it home – this is our home, but we’ll do better someday.

Aside from the location, which is controversial – it’s not San Francisco – Levi’s stadium captures the specialness of the franchise. You feel proud to be there instead of full of regret and embarrassment.

The tour guide says it will take an hour to drive from San Francisco to Santa Clara on game days when it opens for the 2014 season, and a half hour to park and walk to the stadium. He leads you back down the elevator, over the walking bride and to the parking lot.

You surrender the uniform and go home. The game is over.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for the Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at grantcohn@gmail.com

  1. eh, it’s still in Santa Clara.

    I hear that once you enter into Santa Clara, they make you wear khakis and a polo shirt (men and women).

    1. Yeah most of us are happy they’re not playing in San Francisco as it’s much more accessible in Santa Clara. Not to mention Santa Clara is a very nice town.

      1. i agree that it’s far more accessible. I’ll bet that when I lived in the city that I could get to a game in Santa Clara and park easier than I could get to Candlestick and park. And at least the Santa Clara site has that sterile silicon valley feel. The bay on Candlestick point is nice but the land itself is just an ugly muddy landfill mess.

        but good lord is Santa Clara devoid of anything resembling culture and entertainment (aside from the Niners and the Sharks if you include San Jose).

      2. “but good lord is Santa Clara devoid of anything resembling culture and entertainment”

        OK, but you are 15 minutes away from Santana Row or Downtown Palo Alto.

      3. The city of San Francisco swung and missed. As a city they sat back and did nothing in attempts to keep the Niners in San Francisco.

        I’ve traveled around the country to other football venues. The cities that do it right surround their stadiums with restaurants, retail, bars, movie theaters. They create an experience. To try to attempt to put something together once they heard that the team was going to leave was pure lazy.

        Candlestick point butts up to one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in California. I had my business there for 13 years before I moved it to the east bay. I witnessed a full drive by shooting there. I saw the aftermath of a fire bombed house that was gang retaliation. I once had lunch at the famous “Pinch hit” and heard firecrackers outside. When I went out to see what the noise was, I saw five or six cars that had been sprayed with gunfire. Just for fun.
        Lets not forget the party bus that stopped at the stadium and forgot one of their female passengers accidentally. She was gang raped in this iconic San Francisco neighborhood. I for one am extremely happy that they decided to move the stadium to a neighborhood that I safely feel that I can bring my kids.
        If Oakland doesn’t pull their heads out of their azz the same will happen to them. The Warriors already cut bait…..

      1. As I was raised in Santa Clara, maybe a mile and a half from the site of the stadium, I can tell you this city doesn’t have much, if any, of a gang problem. However, just up the road in Alviso… just east down the road to Milpitas and east side San Jose… them’s different animals, to be sure.

      1. uhm…you do realize that most of the Niner’s fans that came to Candlestick came from other areas and not the City itself?

        So unless those thugs are priced out of the new stadium, they’ll be traveling to Santa Clara to watch games there too.

      2. have you seen how elaborate and tricked out some of the thug’s cars and trucks are? drugs and guns ain’t cheap! nah, a lot of them have enough money to spend on Niners tickets. it’s not like it’s going towards and education!

    2. You say its devoid of entertainment…well yeah, but it shares a border with San Jose. You could get from the stadium to downtown San Jose faster than you could Candlestick to Chinatown/Union Square/etc. Now granted, San Francisco does have more to do, but its not as if San Jose is devoid of art’s and entertainment, bars and clubs, or other forms of nightime life. You basically have to think of it as “Santa Clara is to San Jose” as “Hunters Point is to San Francisco” (all be it Santa Clara is immensely more safe). You dont go to Hunters Point after niners games, you go to those other areas of SF…same here.

  2. Grant,

    Seeing how much of an advantage the “12th man” is in Seattle, is Levi’s stadium designed to also amplify fan noise? With such an open design, it doesn’t sound like it, pun intended.

    1. Levi’s stadium will be loud, but it won’t be like the one in Seattle. That’s built like an airplane hangar. All that noise bounces around and the focal point is the middle of the field.

      1. Yup. Levis will be louder then the Stick, but Seattle’s has those two noise amplifying flaps that look like beetle wings. It ain’t the 12th man, its the 2 sound amplifying flaps.

        Due to the higher ticket costs, many of the noisier fans will be replaced by CEOs entertaining clients. That will cut back on the sound a little.

        My main gripe… I’m in Healdsburg. Too dang long to get there.

      2. I’d like to see the impact of our lower bowl on decibel levels especially with the Tower as a sounding board reverberating the sonic waves back toward the field. I understand the concept of Seattle’s “Wings”, but the sheer volume of voices focusing at a single point of reference, the field, from the “lower bowl” only magnifies because of the stadium design. We don’t need “wings” to amplify our voices because our voices will be right there “in your face”! I love it!

        I enjoyed your POV and imagination in this piece, Mr. Cohen. You do have that ability to present a story much like your father. This one appealed to me and I thank you.

        We will not find out just how well the architects designed the acoustics of the lower bowl, but I’ve heard the sheer volume and mass far outweigh an amplification to do so… just sayin’.

    2. I was thinking the same thing. Everybody right up on top of the field should make for some improved homefield advantage

  3. No soccer in Levi’s Stadium? YES!!!!
    Soccer is the world’s most popular sport(?) because it’s the least expensive to play! All you need is 5 softball size rocks to have a game, 4 rocks for the goals and 1 rock for the ball.

    1. It’s a much better sport than American football. As to admit it since I’ve been a Niner fan for 30 years. I had a negative impression of soccer until I had a chance to attend the 1994 World Cup games at Stanford. The sport can’t be beat in terms of purity. American football on the other hand has a billion freaking rules. Don’t hit a guy here, don’t hit a guy below when engaged with another player, hands off but incidental contact is okay. Special rules on punts and kick offs. Establishing yourself in bounds after incidentally running out of bounds. I could go on and on for hours. The sport has lost all the purity of what made it fun in the first place.

      1. i watched a game at AT&T Park once. I had a blast. The game itself was boring but the fans are just so into it.

        I’m sure if you understand the strategic and tactical parts of the game; watching guys kick a ball around a field and occasionally try to kick a goal is entertaining. But I just don’t get it. But I’ve given a try.

        from a business/design perspective, I’m surprised they didn’t come to a solution to accommodate soccer. Removable seats/stands or maybe even a modular section of luxury boxes that could be removed? soccer is big business and there’s enough of an international community in the bay area to support a series of games during the football off season.

      2. Candy – The only thing I like about soccer is the theatrical fraud that takes place.
        You know, when these dudes exaggerate their non-injuries. They flop around in extreme agony and then 8 seconds later they’re sprinting full speed with joy!

      3. Crabs, the comment had me thinking about flopping in soccer and then I read your response and started cracking up. Those guys should be ashamed, it’s as bad as WWE.

      4. Well the funny thing here is that soccer is the most popular sport on the planet by far for a reason. Flopping aside, if it didn’t occur, I can only think that you would find some other excuse to fit your theory that it sucks. From a pure sporting perspective there really is no competition. Take helmets and pads off football players and we might have a better sport.

      5. Problem with soccer in Europe is the fans many of whom are thugs who riot and wreck havoc for their participation in the sport. Thugs over here? Small minority. Over there soccer is hardly family entertainment due to fan violence. So it’s been said.

        Which is why NFL American football in Europe grows in popularity: you can bring the whole family for a safe entertaining event. Just like over here. Fans ruins the sport in Europe. Plus our football is a whole lot more action packed

    2. I believe that san jose earthquakes are going to have a new stadium. the problem with soccer is it takes to long to score

  4. “At least San Francisco is good for something.”

    I’d like to know what you mean by that Grant. Are you not a fan of our city?

    1. You will need to take Caltrain from 4th and King down to the South Bay, then switch to VTA Light Rail into the stadium I believe.

  5. You mean to tell me that after playing in Seattle where it is impossible to hear yourself think the 49ers new stadium wasn’t configured to give them a taste of their own medicine? That is insane. Seattle’s stadium wins them several games a year. Please tell me that they are going to put in sound amplifiers.

    1. Nope they’ve resurrected Shakespere’s old Globe Theater. Noise like Seattle’s could bottle shock the Chardonnay. Horrors! We must be civilized after all.

  6. Been waiting for your picks for the final 53, Grant, or you’re opinion of the team at this moment. I like the pass rush though I’m concerned about the run defense with Haralson gone. Patton looks like Crabtree out there only a little faster.

  7. What a total load of freakin propaganda. This stadium should be on Hunter’s Point with all the glorious views, the wind, the fog, Th Cit. Instead it’s in a parking lot at great america and the desing is all angles and straight lines. In short, it blows. Even our beloved Stick has curves, you know the kind that scintillate..Don’t know if I’ll ever go to this tower of greed, even after 28 years at The Stick. My 2 tix would have cost almost $250.000 for the first year..what a load..rant, rant…I hate it, I hate it..

  8. “You feel proud to be there instead of full of regret and embarrassment.” If you are talking about The Stick then maybe you should go talk to your daddy and find out just how spectacle the old grey bunker was to 100′s of thousands of Niner fans over the years.. What you have to go down on Jed to keep your job?

  9. San Jose is totally carpetbagging – San Jose’s hotels, restaurants and bars downtown and at Santana Row will profit big time.

    The problem here is they paid zero toward the stadium!

    Same for Sunnyvale and Palo Alto! Santa Clara had to pay all the freight.
    Initially, there was a multi city coalition but it fell apart quickly when it came time to write checks.

    Congratulations Santa Clara! It took a lot to get past all the NIMBYs and naysayers (Santa Clara Plays Fair) to get measure J passed.

      1. Thanks for response. Interesting they’ll be able to do that. It will help everybody’s paint job in the parking lot. Landing planes routinely dump fuel. It settled as a fine sticky mist when I parked for Great America a few times. I used to work near Napa Airport and had to cover my car.
        As Brodie said, Santa Clara is a bit of a hike from the north Bay. Me and Crabs could leave our houses at the same time and arrive at the stadium at the same time, even though he lives in OC. I’d be driving from Petaluma and he could grab a direct flight to SJ and we’d pull into the parking lot together.

  10. A brand new, state-of-the-art stadium for a state-of-he-art team. I’ll take it. It might not be perfect, but even the Giants and the Jets don’t play in New York. The stick is a hole and needs to be put down. A new stadium means big revenue and big revenue means signing bonuses. That means extending and bringing in good players. Dallas won 3 Super Bowls on the back of it’s multi-million dollar deal with NIKE.

  11. I live in San Francisco and I’m pumped!!! Santa Clara is not that far people. Imagine going to a 49ers game where more than 10% of the seats are actually worth sitting in. This is going to be sweet!!!!

  12. Thanks for the great description. For someone like me who has little to zero chance of getting there anytime soon, it was nice to get a feel for the stadium.

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