End of an Era as Councilmember Victor Gordo Steps Down from Rose Bowl Operating Company Board Presidency

Published : Tuesday, September 24, 2019 | 5:21 AM

Councilmember Victor Gordo

District 5 Councilman Victor Gordo has had a lifetime association with the Rose Bowl. When he was 12 years old he sold stuffed football in the historic stadium. Three years later Gordo played in the annual Turkey Tussle while a student at Pasadena High School.

But his association did not stop there. Gordo is the longest reigning president of the Rose Bowl Operating Company.

During that time he helped lead the stadium through a $187 million rehabilitation and helped strike the final blow against the NFL’s chances of playing in the stadium by leading the RBOC towards musical concerts as the third tenant besides UCLA and the Tournament of Roses.

But now, Gordo has decided to step down from the position.

Pasadena Now obtained a copy of the above email from Councilmember Victor Gordo sent to his fellow Rose Bowl Operating Committee Board Members Monday night.

“Councilman Gordo has provided incredible leadership for the RBOC,” said Rose Bowl General Manager Darryl Dunn. “The role he has had on the RBOC has been pivotal as our historic landmark prepares for its centennial in 2022.”

Gordo has been president of the RBOC since 2010 serving as the liaison between the council and the management of the stadium.

Even as a boy, Gordo was curious about the stadium, but his family could not afford to attend events there.

Eventually though, he did end up at the stadium when he was recruited to sell souvenirs at the Rose Bowl during a football game — but it wasn’t just any game. Gordo’s first day at work was at the 1983 Superbowl game when the Washington Redskins defeated the Miami Dolphins.

“Walking in at age 12 to the Rose Bowl for a Super Bowl was spectacular,” Gordo said. “The job seemed secondary at that moment, you know, selling stuffed footballs was what I was there to do, but certainly soaking it in, and having the opportunity to see the crowd and the people was an incredible experience.”

That experience came full circle several years later when Gordo ran through the tunnel and out onto the field to as a member of the Pasadena High School Bulldogs in the cross-town rivalry between Pasadena and John Muir high schools that is just as important as any college game to the school’s alumnus.

Those experiences along with Gordo’s lifelong residency in Pasadena drove Gordo after his colleagues elected him to the RBOC years later.

“The Rose Bowl is intended to be an economic engine. It’s the heart and soul of the city and always remains that,” Gordo said. “When our generation of Pasadenans inherited the Rose Bowl from past generations of Pasadenans, we did inherit a burden and a responsibility, but we also inherited one of sport’s greatest architectural treasures. The sports world’s greatest piece of architecture and one of the most storied athletic venues in the country, if not the world.”

The Rose Bowl was built in 1922 as a place to hold Pasadena’s annual east-west football game. The game had been played annually for 20 years old in Tournament Park, now part of Caltech.

The big attraction at that time was not the game but the chariot races, one plodding contest even featured an elephant against a camel.

That all changed in 1923, when USC met Penn State in the first annual football game played in the Rose Bowl.
Architects around the country began constructing similar stadiums.

“In a lot of ways, this has become America’s stadium,” Gordo said in 2009. “We have a responsibility to preserve it without allowing it to become a drain on the city’s budget.”

Shortly before Gordo took up the mantle, the council turned down the National Football League after the stadium proposed placing a team in the Rose Bowl as part of a deal that would have given the league control of the stadium and decimated the Arroyo Seco. The league wanted to place a strip mall and more parking for the stadium.

Gordo voted against the deal, and voters handily defeated it at the ballot box after supporters gathered enough signatures to bring it back.

The NFL threat did highlight an issue that local residents and city officials had to come to grips with: the stadium was losing about $2 million every year, and millions more was needed to renovate historic stadium.

Although it was not dilapidated, city officials were aware that of the original big four college bowl games — the Rose Bowl was the only one still being played in its original stadium.

The Sugar Bowl [Tulane Field] was torn down in 1980. The Orange Bowl Stadium was demolished in 2008 and the Cotton Bowl left its namesake stadium and moved to Arlington Stadium in 2010.

“If you look at other stadiums like the Orange Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the failure of those communities to invest in those stadiums met their demise,” Gordo said. “You know, the Orange Bowl, the Sugar Bowl they’re no longer there. They are great American stories, but that’s all that they are. The Rose Bowl was intended to be an economic engine for Pasadena in 1922 when it was constructed, it was intended to attract people to our city.”

The RBOC okayed a $160 million renovation of the iconic stadium, a far cry from the half a billion dollars the NFL offered for renovations.

The project upgraded the stadium’s outdated electrical system and problems with the foundation at the facility, which was built in 1922 and widened the stadium tunnels, which did not meet modern earthquake codes, deficits and unexpected difficulties increased the project cost to over $180 million.

According to Gordo, the remodel was very challenging, but the City Council had to move swiftly in order to take advantage of Build America bonds put out by the Obama Administration.

After City Manager Michael Beck declared the city couldn’t afford not to do it, in part because the Tournament of Roses was asking for upgrades based on requests from the college football conferences, the RBOC had to come up with a plan.

“We said no to plan A, the NFL, we now had a responsibility to find a plan B.”

Plan B turned out to be a community-driven effort financed by the city that protected the integrity of the stadium and positioned it for coming competition and future success.

But Plan B didn’t just end with the renovation of the stadium. The Bowl still needed a third tenant to go along with UCLA and the Tournament of Roses and chose to bring music events to the stadium instead of negotiating with the NFL, which expressed interest in playing in the iconic stadium as a temporary tenant.

“Darryl Dunn, our General Manager and the staff have done a tremendous job of attracting, different types of events from the music industry to soccer and other types of events.”

But Gordo knows there is still competition. The new state of the art stadium that will house the Los Angeles Rams will open soon, and just about every venue big and small including Dodger Stadium now has plans for concerts, that could attract some of the big names that have appeared at the Rose Bowl, including mega stars like Beyoncé and the Rolling Stones.

“It’s difficult to predict year over year who will be touring, who will be interested in holding a concert at the stadium and how UCLA in the Rose Bowl game will perform,” Gordo said. “That’s one of the challenges of managing a municipal stadium. We’re not only at the mercy of a market, we’re at the mercy of various markets — football, music, entertainment.”

Still Gordo feels good about the stadium position.
“It’s been a tremendous honor, to serve on the board and serve as president as we sought to reposition the stadium, for competition and for its future. The Rose Bowl is almost a hundred years old and a big part of working to reposition the stadium is to launch its next hundred years. That’s very important, not just for past generations of Pasadenans, but for future generations of Pasadenans. It’s very important that the Rose Bowl remain a thriving economic engine and a big part of Pasadena and what we love about Pasadena.”