Exposition Park, originally named Agricultural Park, was developed in 1876 as a showground for agricultural and horticultural fairs. The property became state land in 1880, the same year USC was founded, but during the 1890s, it fell into private hands, victim of a corrupt state legislature in league with local opportunists. Its character swiftly deteriorated, and it became a favorite haunt of the city's riffraff.
William M. Bowen, an attorney and adjunct professor of law at USC, was appalled at the gambling and debauchery he witnessed beyond the park's gate, and late in the decade he spearheaded a successful campaign to recover the tract on behalf of the people of California. With the support of fellow civic leaders such as USC President George Finley Bovard, Bowen garnered the commitments of city, state and county to develop the land as a public educational, cultural and recreational center. On November 6, 1913, the day after William Mulholland opened the Owens River aqueduct, Exposition Park was formally dedicated, home to a state Exposition Building and the county Museum of History, Science and art, and slated to gain a National Guard Armory.
Bowen next resolved to secure a major athletic stadium for the region, to be built in the park. Bovard promised that USC would play all its home games in the proposed stadium, and a consortium of Los Angeles newspaper publishers worked to guarantee an $800,000 loan for the facility. Architect John Parkinson, who designed most of the buildings erected on the USC campus during the 1920s, offered his firm's services at cost. In June 1923, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, named in honor of those who died in World War I, was completed. Less than a decade later, the stadium was enlarged, just in time for the 1932 Olympic Games. By then, the park's remarkable landscaping was also in full flower, its formal rose garden planted with nearly 16,000 donated rose bushes.
In the intervening decade, USC's neighbor has changed and matured. The Exposition Building and the armory have given way to the California Science Center. The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, now devoted to natural history, has spawned several branches. In 1984, the two museums were joined by a third, the California Afro-American Museum. Since 1959, the Coliseum, which has hosted such historic events as the 1932 and 1984 Olympic Games, John F Kennedy's acceptance speech during the 1960 Democratic Convention and the first-ever Super bowl, has shared the sports spotlight with the indoor Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, giving Trojans one more reason to cross the street.