The place on campus best known for holding football fans once housed a group of University men who made a habit of keeping turtles in their community showers and throwing water-filled condoms from their windows.
The stadium dormitories, built in the early 1930s and closed during the late 1980s, stand empty underneath a stadium surrounded by construction. But many of the men who lived there prefer to remember their five-story concrete kingdom — a lively campus dorm where there was usually plenty of trouble to be gotten into.
Former Gov. Huey P. Long played a role in constructing the stadium. Long, who was not a University alumnus but a great advocate of University football, requested money from the state to build the stadium. When they refused, Long discovered that a large sum of state money had been set aside for new dormitories.
He put it to use in constructing the stadium dorms — which happened to be in the shape of a stadium — completing the east side in 1932 and the west in 1935. Long’s dream of having a place for University football was finished in 1937 with the completion of the north side. The south side of the stadium was later added in 1953.
Until 1969, University students were required to be members of ROTC, and the stadium dormitories served as their “barracks.”
“It was very Spartan when we were there,” said Gary Baker, a south stadium dormitory resident during the 1978-’79 school year. “It had a military feeling, but it was a good experience.”
Bobby Matherne, a resident of North Stadium from 1958 to 1961, remembers a similar atmosphere.
“It was like being in basic training almost. The beds were like the ones in Army barracks,” he said. “In 1958, all the guys had to have their heads shaved and wear beanies and be in ROTC. Only a few foreign students didn’t.”
Multiple modernizations to the all-male dorms — which once held 4,904 students — happened during the time students lived in the stadium, but modern-day luxuries were never installed.
“There were no elevators, and every flight was bigger than the average flight of stairs,” Baker said. “[We] maintained pretty good shape going up and down. If you weren’t in good shape, you were by the end of the semester.”
The stairwell to the hallways was completely open.
“If it was raining, the rain would just keep on blowing at you,” Baker said. “By the time you got into your dorm-room hallway, you were soaked.”
Telephones were also a luxury in the dorms. There was only one phone per hallway until the late 1970s.
“The only phone was the pay phone. Imagine no cell-phone, no phones in the rooms, no Internet,” Matherne said. “Long distance calls were outrageous. It would seem expensive today at 30 to 40 cents a minute.”
Having one phone was a small price inconvenience in comparison to not having other amenities.
“It sucked in the sense that there was no air [conditioning], Baker said. “And the bathrooms were community with no stalls.”
Other alumni shared Baker’s feeling about the rough shower and bathroom conditions.
“The showers were terrible — it was a trickle of water,” said Frank Milazzo, a 1975 stadium resident. “Once or twice I’d walk over to Hatcher or Johnson just to get a good shower.”
Some former residents said that the Residential Assistants, which occupy each floor of every dorm on campus today, were practically nonexistent in the stadium dorms.
“There was only four RAs total,” said Pope. “I remember [the RA] telling us the first day, ‘As long as I don’t smell it or hear it, I don’t care.’”
But during different decades, some students did not have the same freedoms.
“I was in a more liberal section,” Milazzo said. “Some other sections like the west had curfews. They had to be in by 11 p.m., and they locked the doors.”
No matter what section of the dorm they lived in, the men found ways to occupy their time — and sometimes cause a little trouble.
“We managed to keep pet turtles in a guy’s room,” Baker said. “We would stop up all the drains and let them swim in the showers.”
After he left, his fellow turtle-owners released them to the campus lakes.
Baker and his fifth-floor buddies also tried to heat the dorms with shower steam.
“There was a cold snap one day, and we were walking around inside in jogging suits, so we asked for the heat to be turned on,” Baker said. “They said they couldn’t turn it on until a certain date, so this one guy went to work trying to create heat.”
But the plan backfired on them, Baker said.
“He turned on all the hot water from the showers and sinks, and it created this tremendous amount of humid fog that we had to fan out the windows when the walls started peeling and posters were coming off,” he said. “Someone had called campus security, and they came to check if it was a fire.”
Shower incidents were only part of the camaraderie that developed in the stadium dorms.
Opportunities for mischief included throwing things from the third-floor window.
“We would take the fluorescent lights, the kind that explode, and condom-water-balloons and then try to bomb people below,” Milazzo said. “It was the lower echelon of LSU that stayed there.”
GONE WITH THE TIMES
The University continued to expand its campus, but by the late 1980s, enrollment had dropped.
“[The dorm] required more upkeep than the newer dorms that had developed on campus,” said Steve Waller, associate director of Residential Life. “We didn’t need them anymore.”
Opening the dorms again would be nearly impossible because of the cost to meet fire and safety codes, the east and west sides have been modified so the ability to use them as dorms is unlikely, Waller said.
Some students today said they wouldn’t want to live there.
“I doubt [students] would want to because they have a pest problem in the stadium,” said Justin Vincent, a communications sophomore and a running back for the University football team. “I haven’t walked down the hallways or anything, but when we run [up and down the stairs] it smells really bad. I don’t think anybody would want to live there now.”
But even if current students do not appreciate the stadium dorms, the men who used to live there say they would not change their campus living experiences.
“Living in the stadium helped enhance camaraderie because you had such an interesting living situation and you came together through it,” Baker said. “It’s just something to say that you’ve lived in the Tiger Stadium dorms.”