Historic Aztec Bowl Marker Turns Up After 15 Years
When Anthropology Department Chairman Seth Mallios put out a call for campus artifacts
last year, he heard from SDSU alumni everywhere. They brought or sent him all sorts of interesting items
to examine and catalog for a book he is writing about the university’s history.
A 1938 brass plaque from the Aztec Bowl turned up wrapped in masking tape with the words "HEAVY, CAUTION" written on the front.
One item, however, came to the professor less conventionally.
"I was contacted anonymously by somebody who was excited about the research we're doing who told me they had one of the WPA plaques from Aztec Bowl and asked whether I was interested,” Mallios remembers. “I said, 'Yes, definitely.' The person asked me where my office was and the very next day it was at my office."
What turned up at the professor’s office was a heavy brass marker bound in masking tape through which an inscription reads, 'Built by United States Works Progress Administration 1938.' It had gone missing in 1995 around the time Aztec Bowl was being partially demolished to make way for construction of the new student activity center, now known as Viejas Arena at Aztec Bowl.
“I had been told plaques across campus were stolen because brass, bronze and other metals are worth a lot and are being sold on the black market,” says Mallios. “But this person emphasized to me this was not any sort of vandalism done for the purpose of theft, but that this was done in protest of the decision to tear down part of Aztec Bowl to build the student activity center.
Aztec Bowl during construction of the student activities center circa 1996.
"This person took this plaque because they wanted to hold onto it. They wanted to make sure that San Diego State held onto it - that it wasn't taken by somebody else – and wait for the opportunity to return it."
THE EXACT SPOT
The old football stadium was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. When the proposal was made to demolish part of it for the new arena construction, many people were angry and upset. Mallios understands the emotion.
"I have seen first-hand that when things are destroyed at this university, they're usually devastated,” he says. “I don't think this plaque would have survived it. There are no other plaques inside of Aztec Bowl that were preserved during the construction. We've looked around within the bowl area and we don't see any of those."
The lower northeast corner of Aztec Bowl with a Viejas Arena walkway looming in the background.
Mallios says he was told by the person who, ostensibly, removed and returned the plaque that it had come from the lower northeast side of the stadium, but he says he can’t verify the location.
"I don't know where there is an empty plaque spot,” he says. “I don't know if that area was destroyed or not because the northeast corner of the stadium is still there. So I've been looking around trying to find it, but I don't know the exact spot for it.”
PROTECTING THE UNIVERSITY’S HERITAGE
Mallios ranks the plaque as “pretty high up” on the list of artifacts given to him by alumni. He would like to see it restored to a location in Aztec Bowl, which this year celebrates the 75th anniversary of its dedication.
WPA workers digging the Aztec Bowl on February 1, 1936.
"The bowl was dedicated in 1936,” Mallios says. “That's when they had their first football game there as well. Other WPA work was done on the stadium and this plaque, which is an Aztec Bowl plaque, was installed in 1938.
"What I would like is, in early October, as part of the homecoming celebration, that we are able to restore the WPA plaque to celebrate Aztec Bowl. It doesn't have to be a huge thing, but something to acknowledge the prominent role of Aztec Bowl in the school's history."
For his part, Mallios is thrilled to have received the plaque, which he says he won't unwrap until there is a reason to display it. He says he doesn't characterize the marker's disappearance more than 15 years ago as an act of either theft or vandalism.
"It's tough,” the professor reflects. “I'm not advocating that people go out there and tear parts off of the university. At the same time, Aztec Center is going down right now and I know first-hand there are things that should have been saved in Aztec Center that are not being saved.
"There's a warm spot in my heart for people who take things because the university means something to them. If you hold on to something for that long and then give it back to the university in terms of protecting its heritage, then I wouldn't criticize the vandalism, really. I guess the way to say it is I would never condone any acts of vandalism, but I do appreciate when someone's able to save part of the university's past."