Despite their perceived extinction thousands of years before America was even discovered, the United States continues to have a fascination with "modern pyramids." Some of the more notable ones include Pyramid Arena in Memphis, Tennessee or the Luxor Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. A third pyramid is found south of Los Angeles in Long Beach, known as the Walter Pyramid.
The Pyramid was opened in 1994 at a cost of approximately $22 million. It was originally known as the Long Beach Pyramid, but later became the "Walter Pyramid" on March 5, 2005 as Mike and Arlene gave the athletics program a donation that significantly surpassed all others in school history.
If you are a "mathlete," you can appreciate this "true" pyramid as each side measures 345 feet. Driving past, you'll quickly notice the cobalt blue exterior made from aluminum. Locals can notice it from the 405 freeway and many points in Long Beach as it rises 18 stories beyond the skyline. It is said that the building uses 18,000 steel tubes and connection modules, held together by over 160,000 three-quarter inch bolts.
Once inside, fans will find 5,000 permanent seats, although some games have spilled over that mark. The interior is a sharp contrast from the exterior, with colors of black and gold rather than the dark blue.
The Pyramid is home to the California State University, Long Beach 49ers. As you walk through the venue, the nickname of 49ers is not so apparent as is the nickname "The Beach" or "Long Beach State."
At one end of the arena, you'll find the retired numbers from the program. While the school has produced over 15 NBA players, only three jerseys are retired for Men's Basketball: Ed Ratleff (42), Bryon Russell (32), and Lucious Harris (30).
As of 2010, the 49ers had eight NCAA Tournament appearances, winning seven games over that span. Prior to playing in the Walter Pyramid, the 49ers played in the downtown Long Beach Arena and at an on-campus venue known as the "Gold Mine," which had a capacity of less than 2,000.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The Walter Pyramid offered only two concession areas, one at the north end and one at the south.
The stand at the north end focused on Domino's Pizza and offered cheese pizza ($3.50), pepperoni pizza ($3.75), salad ($7), king size candy ($2.50), soda (24 oz for $2.50, 32 oz for $3.50), Go Beach Water ($2), Powerade ($2.50), and Red Bull ($3.50).
The south end had the same beverage options as the north end and also offered coffee ($2.50). Pizza was also available here, but the menu also included Nathan's hot dogs ($4.50), chili dog ($5), nachos ($4 or $5 with chili), peanuts ($4), chips ($2.50), popcorn ($2 for small, $3.50 for large), hot pretzel ($3 or $3.50 with cheese). The dessert menu included items such as frozen lemonade ($4), cookie sandwich ($3.25), drumstick ($3), Haagen-Dazs ($3.59), or a Push-Pop ($1.50).
Despite its nickname of "The Beach," the setting was anything but relaxed. As most of the students were away on winter break, the band was comprised of alumni members who quickly remembered how to get the fans on their feet, clapping along to cheer on the 49ers.
While the outside of the arena does look a bit like a novelty, once you set foot inside, it quickly reminds you of most other college basketball arenas, aside from the high arching ceiling.
The mascot, "Prospectin' Pete," did make an appearance shortly after tipoff, but never really incorporated himself into the atmosphere. He would wave to a fan here and there, but did not get the fans involved as you would expect from typical mascots.
The movable seating sections had panels below that could create some boisterous noise when fans stomped their feet upon them. During several points of the contest, the fans were stomping in unison, creating a rather intimidating atmosphere for the opponents.
The Pyramid is located on the campus of Long Beach State and is in a relatively calm neighborhood area. It is approximately 15 minutes from Rainbow Harbor and many of the Long Beach attractions. Some of the notable attractions include the Aquarium of the Pacific, touring the Queen Mary, or any one of the harbor cruises.
Nearby fast food options include Pizzamania, Roundtable Pizza, Carl's Jr, Panda Express, Domino's, and Quizno's Subs.
Rascal's Teriyaki Grill seems to be one of the more popular nearby stops. While it does serve the typical burgers, hot dogs, and fries, its claim to fame is in its teriyaki, curry, and gravy bowls/plates. The plates of chicken or beef are served with rice, side salad, and of course the famous teriyaki sauce. The Chinese chicken salad is another local favorite. All bowls and plates are priced at around $7.00.
Another nearby establishment that claims to be Long Beach's oldest seafood restaurant is known as "Fish Tale." One of the few nearby locations that does serve alcohol, you'll find this restaurant offers a rather fun setting with two salt water fish tanks, a rock fireplace, an aviary with colorful birds, and many hanging plants. Their menu offers nearby every type of seafood you would want, but also offers interesting alternatives such as gumbo, pasta, steaks, chicken, and ribs.
Despite the students being off on break, the majority of the arena seemed to be filled and the fans remained engaged in the action, even when the 49ers fell far behind early in the game.
While I did not see a lot of Long Beach State colors on the fanbase, nor did I hear many orchestrated chants, the fans seemed engaged on every play and were typically on their feet after a big play.
Unfortunately during my visit, the student section known as the Monson Maniacs, were on winter break. After speaking with many of the locals, I was told that watching the students is the best part of the experience as the group as grown over 1,000 deep . I looked into their website, and it seems to be a rather passionate group with lots of great perks for those who join.
The access portion was probably my favorite aspect of the venue. The arena was easily accessible from both the 405 freeway and the beautiful Pacific Coastal Highway (1). While both roadways experience significant congestion, they are by no means the worst of Southern California and provide an easy entry to the arena.
The Pyramid offers four brightly colored entrances that allow fans to easily tell one another where to meet them. While they do not necessarily fit with the exterior or interior of the arena, you certainly won't miss them when trying to identify where you are.
Most fans enter the arena via the single, upper concourse that completely encircles the arena. From here, fans will have to walk down flights of stairs to their seat. All seats behind the baskets are bench seating, and the south end offers a much smaller seat of black bleachers while the north offers the larger yellow set of bleachers. The sideline seating offers a mixture of bench and fold-down options. Courtside seating is available on the south end and at a large table opposite the player benches.
Possibly the most notable feature of the Pyramid is its cantilevered seating system that is mounted on moveable platforms. When the University needs the surface for other means, the seating platforms (81 tons worth) can be raised by hydraulics.
At the south end there is a single large scoreboard with a small high definition screen, score of the game and points/fouls of the current players on the floor. On the corners of the north end are rectangular LED boards showing the board of the game. Hanging from the center of the pyramid is the sound system, which differs from the norm of the main scoreboard.
I loved the wide upper concourse as not only was it spacious, it offered impeccable views of the entire arena. Whether you were going to the restroom or grabbing some food, you could keep your eyes on the action. Security was not overly strict on fans stopping on the upper concourse, so if fans wanted to stop for a photo or catch the action from a different vantage point, they were free to do so.
Parking is widely available outside of the Pyramid for $5, although with some creativity, fans can find free street parking just a few blocks away. Regardless, fans should be able to get into and out of parking with relative ease.
The arena offered a set of restrooms at each end for the fans. Both seemed to have reasonable accommodations, kept very clean, and never seemed to back up during the game.
I really found the Long Beach State games to be a great value. Fans don't have to deal with the extreme liveliness of Los Angeles, yet still be near the big city and see a game. With ticket prices at approximately $22 for chairback seats and $12 for bench seats, a visit to a 49ers game is an investment of less than $30 with parking. While the arena is rather cavernous, most seats offer great views and are relatively close to the action, so all seats appear to be a value.
Premium games add another $3 to the ticket price, but that seems rather negligible in Southern California as the gas prices from week to week could easily add the same amount.
The first thing that I would call out in the extras section is the Long Beach State Athletics Hall of Fame. On the side of the arena where the player benches sit, you can pass through time in 49er Athletics, noting the inductions of such names as Mike Montgomery and Jerry Tarkanian.
With its large shape, the arena allows for much more than just the seating and playing surface. It is also home to "The Pointe," which is a top-notch venue for lectures, workshops, seminars, and banquets.
The 49ers did a great job incorporating their younger fans into the experience. Children received the opportunity to rebound for the players and clean the floor during breaks in play. It was rather entertaining to see the young ones put towels under the feet and run across the floor in an attempt to wipe up any damp spots.
On the side opposite the player benches, fans will find a section for the Monson Maniacs and Junior 49er club. While the area did not have any activity during my visit (students on break), the area was rather vast and I'm sure gets exciting on normal game days.
I purchased one of the Nathan's hot dogs on the south end of the arena and loved the onion dispenser that they had on-hand. Rather than the simple bowl full of onions with a spoon, they had a dispenser similar to a cheese grater in restaurants where you turn the handle to get your onions.
When I initially heard that the arena was a pyramid-shape I thought it was rather tacky after seeing both the run-down pyramid designs in Las Vegas and Memphis. Upon my arrival however, I found that it was rather nicely done and has held up well over 15 years of existence. The Pyramid shape proved to be a great idea as it has brought national attention to both the university and the city of Long Beach. Even the Los Angeles tourists stop by for a photo!
Beyond just the structure, the inside offers entertainment that any college basketball fan can appreciate. Despite its cavernous ceiling, most seats are relatively close to the action and the open access allows fans to get great views of game. While I missed out on the Monson Maniacs, I'm sure that their presence incorporated into a game makes Long Beach basketball a truly unforgettable experience.
Follow Drew's journeys through Southern California on twitter @Big10Drew.
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