Los Angeles lifts the global gloom
When the 1932 Olympic Games were officially awarded to Los Angeles nine years earlier, little did anyone know the state the world would be in once they came around. In 1929, a Wall Street stock market crash heralded a global economic depression that bore a devastat-ing effect on countries around the world.
The financial hardship brought on by the Depression left grave doubts over whether the Los Angeles Games would even take place. This was only the second time that the Games were due to be held outside of Europe, which in the days before transatlantic flights entailed travelling a vast distance for many of those competing. Just six months before the scheduled Opening Ceremony, not a single country had responded to the official invitations, nor had many spectator tickets been sold. It seemed that the expense of travelling to California had deterred both athletes and fans alike.
But slowly the entrants began trickling in, while the agreement of several Hollywood stars – including Charlie Chaplin – to entertain the Olympic crowds helped to boost ticket sales. The Games had come back from the brink, and for the organisers it was now all hands to the pump to complete the final preparations.
One of the most notable features of Los Angeles 1932 was the creation of the first ever Olympic Village, a vast complex comprising portable bungalows where all of the male ath-letes would be housed for the duration of the Games (female athletes would stay at a down-town hotel). Sensitive to the cost for participants travelling from all corners of the globe, the Local Organising Committee devised a scheme to sell each of the bungalows at the end of the Games, allowing them to charge athletes a reasonable two dollars a night inclusive of housing, dining service, local transportation, entertainment and general care.
However the original concept for the Village envisaged more than simply fiscal benefits; indeed it set out an aspiration that remains at the heart of the Olympic vision today. As the Official Report of the 1932 Games notes, “It was hoped that in the Olympic Village the sons of many lands, a true cross-section of the nations, could find a common ground of under-standing, in a manner divorced from political internationalism, as men among men, leading a common life under a single roof: that here would be a crucible of inherited emotions in which the barriers of race or creed could not be distinguished.”
Other than the Olympic Village, which had to be assembled from scratch, Los Angeles re-quired relatively little in terms of fresh infrastructure (only the swimming and rowing events required the construction of new facilities). Several existing sports facilities located in the city were already fit for purpose, with only minor structural work required to bring them up to standard. Among these was the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, soon to become known as the Olympic Stadium, which was expanded to accommodate 105,000 spectators.
In addition to the Olympic Village, Los Angeles 1932 featured several other new concepts that went on to become enshrined in Olympic tradition, not least the podium on which gold, silver and bronze medallists would receive their medals and laurel wreaths. Furthermore, Los Angeles was also the first Games to see the gold medallists honoured with the raising of the victor’s national flag and the playing of their national anthem during the presentation.