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

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