Lately I’ve been doing some research on a little UNM history for a new job and came across some magnificent photos of Zimmerman Field, a now long demolished UNM stadium. I had heard of a stadium once in the middle of the main campus, but I had never seen up-close pictures of it and certainly nothing on the internet. So I thought I’d take a leaf out of Johnny Mango’s
book and share what I found with the history-loving members of Duke City Fix.
Prior to the construction of Zimmerman Field, the site was called University Field and had been the home to the Lobos football team since their founding in 1892. University Field was little more than just that – a field. It was a very bare set-up that lacked grass for most of its history and had a small set of bleachers on one side.
In 1938, that all changed. With Public Works Administration funding, UNM built its first proper stadium, named for the university’s then-president James Zimmerman. The field was now grass and a large grandstand on the west side of the field gave the stadium a peak capacity of 16,000. Across the street (for it was an actual street back then, with automobile traffic) from the grandstand, just to the west, was Carlisle Gymnasium, then only 10 years old and the home of Lobo basketball. Before this was the site of the “Center of the Universe” sculpture, this was the Center of UNM Sports.
The grandstand itself was designed by then-university architect John Gaw Meem. From a distance to the east, it would have looked like an ordinary set of bleachers; but as one drew closer they could begin to see the Pueblo Revival style that continues to define Meem’s work – the brown stucco, the soft corners, and the vigas protruding out the sides. A small wooden structure at the top held the press box, which was apparently later expanded and adorned with a written cheer for the Lobos, as can be seen in the pictures below.
The west side of the building was another matter – here the grandstand is easy to spot as a Meem work – the recessed windows, the vigas, and the portal all are reminiscent of the main library just to the north. Save for the sign declaring “RESERVED BOX SEATS ONLY” over the entrance and the growling Lobo statue (which has since been moved to the intersection of Stanford and Redondo), there was nothing to indicate that this wasn’t just another campus classroom or office building. A ships wheel from the USS New Mexico
adorned the wall above the front door.
The grandstand also has a strange claim to fame as the first home of the UNM Law School. When founded it 1947, the school and its then-tiny library occupied four rooms on the second floor. Naturally, such a situation did not suit a school for future lawyers and five years later it moved to a newly built structure just east of the President’s House. It would remain there until 1971, when it moved to its current location on North Campus.
The east side of the field held a set of bleachers. Behind these, on the current site of the Student Union Building, was a practice field. These were demolished in the 50s to make way for the SUB, as can be seen in the aerial shot below (which is looking southwest, with the SUB in the foreground). I can only suppose Johnson Field was used as the practice field afterwards.
Eventually Zimmerman Field would come to an end. In the late 50s, then-university president Thomas Popejoy had a vision for an even larger football stadium to the south. In 1960, that football stadium was completed and the Lobo football team has stayed there since. Zimmerman Field remained a little longer, used for intramural sports, but the demand for new classrooms and academic facilities was rapidly growing and the stadium was demolished in 1969. In the 70s, on what was once a field, the Humanities building, Ortega Hall, and Woodward Hall were constructed. The site where the grandstand once stood became the CERIA building, though it was the campus bookstore when first built.
Today, no trace of Zimmerman Field remains, save for a box of photos and documents tucked away inside Zimmerman Library. Before the stadium was demolished, university leaders at the time wanted to still have a campus structure named after the former university president, so the main library next door was renamed. Only a few UNM buildings have been demolished in the university’s 121-year history, which I consider a fortunate fact; UNM doesn’t have the demolition streak of, say, Downtown Albuquerque – buildings on campus generally get renovated or expanded, not torn down. Still, it feels a shame that this one is gone, even if it outlived practical use for such a central location. It’s hard to believe that where there is now a concrete tunnel there was once a grassy field. Where skateboarders now do tricks there were big dudes punting pigskin high in the air. And where there now is a concrete structure with generators humming on one side there once was an adobe stadium.
All pictures on this post are courtesy of the Center for Southwest Research in Zimmerman Library. Inventory of the University of New Mexico Dept. of Facility Planning Records (Athletics, Zimmerman Stadium – PWA, ACC #028, Box 15), Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico. If you reuse any of these photos, be sure to give credit and copy this info down.