Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn and Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard took to the stage at a Hawthorne community center Saturday to mobilize more veterans against a $69-million deal to let United Airlines put its name on the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum — and to pitch a compromise.
“Removing ‘Los Angeles’ and replacing it with a corporate sponsor’s name is an insult to the veterans the Coliseum was built to honor,” Hahn told more than 100 people in the Hawthorne Memorial Center auditorium. “The Coliseum is hallowed ground. It should not be a marquee for sale.”
The appearance by Hahn and Rep. Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who is vying for the 2020 presidential nomination, came two weeks after United Airlines threatened to back out of the agreement with USC that has outraged critics including veterans groups and political leaders.
In an interview, Hahn said that a compromise she suggested, in which the field was renamed but the stadium retained its historic title, was gaining traction “in ongoing discussions among members of the Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission,” which oversees the structure.
“I’m hopeful that a compromise can be reached,” said Hahn, president of the commission. “I also know that there is talk of other possible corporate sponsors expressing an interest.”
The corporate rebranding was a centerpiece of USC’s $270-million renovation of the nearly century-old gray structure, a national historic monument. The new name, United Airlines Memorial Coliseum, was scheduled to go up on the stadium’s distinctive row of archways and columns in August, before the start of the Trojans fall football season.
The opposition gained strength earlier this month when Hahn presented a forceful rebuke of the name change in an opinion piece published in The Times.
In a county that an estimated 500,000 veterans call home, she also launched an online petition intended to pressure USC’s incoming president, Carol L. Folt, to consider an alternative, such as “United Airlines Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.”
United Airlines California President Janet Lamkin responded in a letter to USC saying the airline regarded the name change as “a key provision of our sponsorship agreement.” United was careful, she wrote, to keep “Memorial Coliseum” in the new name as as way to honor the memory of veterans.
The letter also offered a blunt option. “If USC is not in a position to honor the terms of the agreement, including in particular the name change,” she wrote,” United would be amenable to abiding by the wishes of the community, stepping away from the partnership with USC.”
On Saturday, Gabbard, one of the first female combat veterans elected to Congress, made the standoff a part of her stump speeches.
“How do you put a price on sacrificing one’s life for our country? You can’t,” she said. “I will do everything I can to bring this issue to the national forefront.”
At stake are jobs, tax dollars and civic identity. Completed in 1923, the Coliseum is an immense concrete bowl of shared bold moments, fiery personalities and raucous crowds that have exceeded 100,000.
Before Los Angeles had a major sports franchise, or TV, civic pride ran rampant during the 1920s and ‘30s, when football became the Coliseum’s mainstay in an outdoor sports stadium designed to resemble the arenas of ancient Greece and Rome.
It is where, on a sweltering summer evening in 1960, Sen. John F. Kennedy accepted the Democratic nomination for president. The largest crowd ever, 134,254 people, saw Billy Graham in 1963. Later, Bruce Springsteen, The Who and U2 came to perform. Pope John Paul II drew 100,000 worshipers in 1987.
Hahn embraces a personal recollection. In 1968, her father, Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, then chairman of veterans and military affairs for the county, led Memorial Day services at the sports venue originally built to honor local soldiers who fought in World War I.
That day, she said, “my father helped rededicate it to all American World War I veterans.”