Why the new Cal Lutheran University football stadium can really be considered a work of art

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Photo by Erik Hagen/Cal Lutheran University
From the field level at William Rolland Stadium, fans in the East grandstand have a view of the new clock tower and the archway entrance.

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Photo by Tom Hoffarth
From inside the William Rolland Gallery of Fine Art, fans can watch Cal Lutheran’s game Saturday against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps — or at least part of the scoreboard.

Go to a football game now at Cal Lutheran, and a self-guided museum art tour is liable to break out.

Today, for example, you could have been taking a slow walk around a bronze sculpture created almost 100 years ago by Henri Louis Levasseur. A football flying through the goalposts would have been in your line of vision as well.

So while you’re interpreting the French artist’s work called “Two Figures Laboring,” the Kingsmen were hardly laboring putting another three on the scoreboard, to pad their third-quarter lead over Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.

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CalLu may be a tiny, private school that loves its NCAA Division III level football. But it’s also a heralded liberal arts college.

Bill Rolland, one of CalLu’s big-time donors, figured out a way to marry the two concepts.

His latest donation to the school was two-pronged — he helped finance a new $8.9 million football field on campus cristened as William Rolland Stadium, across the street from the old Mount Clef Stadium. Attached to it is a 2,200-square-foot Gallery of Fine Art, also in Rolland’s name, right off the southeast corner of the end zone and a few steps away from a nifty 70-foot clock tower.

A dedication ceremony to coincide with Homecoming and Founder’s Day weekend attraced more than 4,000 people to today’s game, a 54-6 victory.

The peaceful refuge of the air-conditioned veranda, where Native American Indian sculptures, oil-on-canvas landscapes and even a former Indianapolis 500 car once driven by Jim McElreath co-exist, may be the only thing of its kind in all of college football.

Think of this CalLu creation as if USC figured out a way to drag the L.A. County Museum of Art out of the La Brea tar pits and attach it to the peristyle end of the Colieum.

“I wish I could claim having this idea,” school president Chris Kimball said. “But it was all about Bill asking us if he could combine the two. The more we thought about it, why not bring athletics and academics together rather than separate them?”

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Photo by Tom Hoffarth
Bill Rolland poses Saturday next to the Jim McElreath Indianapolis 500 car that ran in the 1979 and 1980 races, built by Grant King. The 1,500-pound car is one of six that Rolland has in his collection, and will be rotated into the Gallery of Fine Art named after him at the new stadium on the Cal Lutheran University campus.

Rolland stood off to the side of his field-level gallery opening an hour before kickoff and admitted he was overwhelmed by the response from first-time visitors.

“I’m so emotional now, just taking it all in,” said the Medal of Valor-honored former L.A. City firefighter and Thousand Oaks native who ammassed his fortune in Southern California land development.

“Football is an art form, you know?” he continued.

Such as …

“I see the no-huddle offense, especially the one used by this team, as art,” said the former quarterback and linebacker at Army. “It’s constantly evolving. It’s so well-organized. It takes practice to make it perfect.”

Rolland says he has amassed enough in his eclectic collection to fill the current gallery three times over — including six Indy-style cars. But he’ll gladly use it the facility that can hold up to 300 visitors as a place to rotate exhibits from all kinds of collectors.

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The only thing that will be permanent: A 7-foot-2 bronze just outside the stadium entrance unveiled Saturday called “Heading For The End Zone,” a statue (left) depicting a running back with the ball in one arm and holding off the defense with the other. Rolland commissioned it, and David Spellerberg created it.

Rolland, Kimball and Kingsman head coach Ben McEnroe were part of the pre-game ceremony to dedicate the new stadium, which has about 3,000 permanent seats and much more standing room for the time being.

On a piece of land where Sparky Anderson once taught baseball (the diamond named after him is just a punt away), where Tom Landry once brought his Dallas Cowboys for preseason NFL workouts and where John Wooden could visit the two of them during his summer basketball camps, William Rolland Stadium is a work of art until itself.

There are new vistas to appreciate. Look out past the North end zone, about a quarter-mile up, and not far from the “CLU” logo in the hills sits the home of Karsten Lundgren , one of the first university alumns and another major donor (i.e., the Lundgren Events Center). The view from his living room might as well serve as the first built-in luxury suite for the stadium.

McEnroe congratulated the workers for “staging one of the greatest comebacks in construction history,” since rain delays messed with the two-year time frame from conception to near-completion (there’s still a few bricks to be laid outside).

The new artificial FieldTurf had actually been tested twice before Saturday. After CalLu’s first home game was moved to Moorpark College, the games on Oct. 1 and 8 were at Rolland Stadium before it was fully finished.

A 28-24 win over Redlands was under the new lights — the first home game at night in CalLu history. A full house saw the Kingsmen trail 24-0 before rallying late.

Saturday was actually the first time Rolland’s museum had been game-tested. The East side of the stadium, which supports 2,000 seats, structurally sits on top of the gallery.

You’d hate to think that if the crowd really started stomping its feet and rocking the joint, paintings could come unhinged and get punctured by tipped-over sculptures.

“If that game where we had the huge comeback didn’t break a window,” Rolland said, “I don’t think anything ever will. We’re solid.”

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Photo by Tom Hoffarth
The view looking West from the Rolland Stadium is referred to as the Wildwood Mesa, which was seen in the 1939 movie “Wuthering Heights” starring Laurence Oliver.

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