“They wanted Eric Clapton from the ’70s, and they wanted the Who, and they wanted Led Zeppelin,” says photographer Rick Gould. In recent months, Valley View Casino Center management has been sprucing up the interior walls with a series of floor-to-ceiling vinyl wall-wraps made by enlarging vintage concert and sporting-event photos. Gould was one of the local music photographers they tapped for images.
3500 Sports Arena Boulevard, Midway District
“The irony of the whole thing is that, back then,” he laughs, “they didn’t even want to let me in.” The Vista photographer has been shooting rock concerts since his teens. He remembers being told to wait outside the Sports Arena’s rear stage door, not unlike the child reporter in the film Almost Famous. Quite often, he says, entry was denied. “Now that they want those images, they probably wish they’d given me better access.”
Gould says that the now life-size Clapton/Santana shot on the wall was taken by a fellow photographer named Ralph Hulett and was actually shot from the general admission seats. “Back then, security would let you come in [the front door] with a 35mm camera, but no telephoto lenses were allowed. You’d sneak them in your pants and hope not to get patted down.” In the ’70s, he says, the photo pass had not yet been conceived. “If you had a sticker that said you were with the band, you could shoot anything.”
Ernie Hahn has been the arena’s general manager for 17 of his 22-year involvement with the facility. He says he conceived the project and that, from start to finish, it has taken almost a year and a half to complete.
“There’s nothing cooler than vintage concert shots, especially when they are from your own building.” Hahn calls the venture a means of “putting a flip on the Sports Arena being called ‘old.’ ” He says he wants visitors to understand the significance of the 46-year-old building. “Most San Diegans saw their first concert here. And they can tell you who it was and when it was.”
Hahn curated the images from a wish list of concerts that he compiled in part with the aid of a hometown concert history published in the Reader by Jay Allen Sanford. Hahn also spent a lot of time in the archives of the San Diego History Center. “The deeper I dug, the more excited I got.” But he wasn’t able to get everything he wanted.
“The images I would love to find,” Hahn says, “are Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin from 1969 or 1971.”
Gould explains that concert photos from that era are surprisingly rare. Why? The expense: today’s digital photography is essentially free, he says, “but back then, you had to be willing to spend as much as $300 per show on film and developing.”
The high-definition vinyl wraps cost more than $50,000 to produce, but Hahn considers it money well spent. “It almost seems like you’re making it up when you talk about it, but you’re not. All those concerts?” he says. “They really happened here.”