The first game at Oracle Arena was 53 minutes late because the stadium wasn’t done yet

Officials at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena weren’t worried about moving up the timeline for the brand-new stadium’s first-ever sporting event. They wanted to kick things off with a Western League hockey game, even though it would mean completing the arena two months ahead of the original schedule.

In the weeks before, the local media fretted and teased, expressing deep skepticism that the arena would be ready for a hockey game on Nov. 9, 1966. Now, with just a few Warriors games remaining in Oakland, we dug into the archives to find out more about the first game held in what is today known as Oracle Arena.

It is, perhaps, no surprise that things didn’t go according to plan.

Construction crews were working “around the clock to complete critical items,” the Associated Press reported on Oct. 27, 1966. Workers poured an acre of concrete in order to finish the floor in 18 hours. But they also shattered one of the giant window walls when a welder accidentally knocked his torch over. Whoops.

On the morning of Nov. 9, the countdown clock started in earnest. The game between the California Seals and San Diego Gulls was supposed to start at 8 p.m. — but the arena wasn’t done. Temporary seats weren’t in, and the tempered glass barrier to protect spectators from flying pucks wasn’t installed. Oh, and the ice laid over the fresh flooring wasn’t ready either; the teams’ practices were canceled the day before.

Eight o’clock came and went. The teams sat in the dressing room as work crews finished the final touches. The crowd of 9,415 — the stadium held 12,000 — waited restlessly. Finally, at 8:53 p.m., the place was ready.

It wasn’t perfect. “Spectators in some lower rows found themselves looking at the heads of fellow fans in temporary seats, or looking into railings unfortunately located at eye level,” the AP wrote. “Because of the scurry to get facilities ready, the teams didn’t have practice time and the ice itself proved too soft.”

The coaches tried to be nice about the whole thing.

“[The ice] was kind of sugary,” Seals coach Rudy Pilous said.

“Maybe they wanted to keep the building too warm,” suggested Gulls coach Max McNab.

But despite the snafus, the overall impression was one of pleasant surprise. The “jewel box” glass walls were considered innovative and eye-catching. “I think this is the finest arena on the North American continent,” Pilous declared.

Fifty-three years later, Oracle Arena is the oldest venue in the NBA, beating Madison Square Garden by two years. Once the Warriors leave for San Francisco, it will still stand — and perhaps host hockey again. The venue is set to be used for special events, concerts and the occasional sporting event.

Katie Dowd is the senior manager for SFGATE. Email: | Twitter: @katiedowd

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