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Performance Anxiety: Olympics in Hard Times

The 1932 Los Angeles Olympics under the shadow of the Great Depression

Olympics Header Image

The Tokyo Olympics kicked off under a cloud of controversy and global crisis we’d all hoped would have passed by now. Taking place under another global crisis, the Great Depression, Los Angeles’s 1932 Olympics can kind of relate. 

nhm in olympic regalia
This 1984 photo depicts NHM decked out in 1932 Olympic regalia to celebrate that year's Los Angeles games.
Seaver Center

You know it’s a tough time for the games when there’s only one bidder, which is exactly how L.A. earned the right to host the Olympiad. As the sole city to bid on hosting, Los Angeles’ default selection was less than a triumph, but these images from NHM’s Seaver Center capture an ebullient crowd nonetheless. Conspicuously not in attendance: President Hoover.

Opening Ceremony 1
Opening Ceremony 2
Opening Ceremony 3

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As only the 10th modern Olympiad, 1932 caught the games at a crossroads. Abandoned aspects like the cultural competitions which saw countries compete in the arts (specifically in the categories of sculpture, painting, literature, architecture, and music) as well as in sports. Women’s gymnastics competitions were completely absent without official explanation or comment, despite debuting four years earlier.

Angelenos admire "At the Seaside of Arild" by David Wallin, a painting that earned the Swede a gold medal

Some staples of the modern games would make their debut at L.A.’s first Olympics. Smoky the Scottish Terrier became the Olympics' very first mascot. The first Olympic Village was erected in Baldwin Hills, at least for male athletes. Female athletes stayed at the Chapman Park Hotel.   

The first Olympics Village
The very first Olympics Village was built in Baldwin Hills of rows of two unit, single story buildings to house athletes
Seaver Center
Women athletes relaxing at Chapman Park Hotel
Women athletes relaxing at Chapman Park Hotel
Seaver Center

However you’re feeling about this year’s games, their continuation points to a future when we’ll have moved past our current crisis, and come together as a global community. Who knows what athletic achievements will go into the record books by then, but one record is locked in: the Coliseum will be the only stadium to host three times. 

Read the successful and only bid for the Xth Olympiad below and check out the Seaver Center's Digital Collections for more 2D L.A. history. 

LA's Olympic Bid 1
Seaver Center