Pauley: Not just another pretty facade

Listen up sports tourists, the time to see the house John Wooden built in its original incarnation is now. Courtesy UCLA Athletics

" Photo gallery: The UCLA basketball experiencePhoto Gallery | Passport: Check in | Buy Bruins tix

For almost a half-century time has stood still at Pauley Pavilion.

It's been 46 years since John Wooden opened the doors to the place and 36 years since the legendary coach hung the last of his 10 NCAA banners. And, for now, everything at UCLA is exactly as he left it.

Pauley's floor, named for Wooden and his wife, Nell, still glistens and squeaks with the sights and sounds of college basketball while fans continue to jam claustrophobic corridors. The second-row seat, where the late Wizard of Westwood watched most Bruins home games after his retirement, remains cordoned off, occupied only by an autographed basketball and a photo of Wooden.

But the building that Wooden helped design in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles' Westside is now on the shot clock. The facility will be closed next year while it undergoes a $136 million renovation.

"This feels like a special season because it's the last of Pauley's current state," said Robby Ewing, a UCLA junior from San Diego, who camps out before every home game. "The renovation is great because it keeps us at the forefront of the Pac-10, but at the same time it's kind of sad."

While Pauley Pavilion is redshirted for the 2011-12 season, the Bruins will be reduced to typical Southern California commuters. They are expected to divvy up their home schedule between games in downtown Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Diego (seriously), Bakersfield (seriously) and Ontario (California, not Canada).

When the Bruins finally return for the 2012-13 season, they will find a refurbished home where a new seating bowl brings fans closer to the action while players enjoy a new locker room, player lounge, film room, weight room, equipment room and sports medicine room. The place also will have a new exterior appearance (construction of which already is underway), a team store and a much-needed additional 40,000 feet of lobby and concourse space.

What does all of this mean for the sports tourist? The time to see Pauley in its original incarnation is now.

After an embarrassing 14-18 record last season, this season's Bruins, at 19-8, are worthy tenants once again, having won 10 of their past 12 games and likely on their way back to the NCAA tournament after missing the dance last season.

"You can feel the energy coming back," Ewing said.

With football games played at the Rose Bowl, Bruins basketball games are the biggest events on campus. And UCLA is, after all, a basketball school.

"You see everyone in their gear when there is a basketball game and you can feel something special on campus," said Tiffany Abajian, a graduating junior from Westchester.

Pauley Pavilion isn't the only building on campus imbued with a special basketball feeling. A few short steps away sits the Student Activities Center, formerly known as the Men's Gym, which was completed in 1932 as one of the school's original buildings. It served as the incubator for Wooden's dynasty and every summer the building is home to some of the fiercest pickup games anywhere, with Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett all known to drop in for a run.

For all of Los Angeles' notorious sprawl, the UCLA campus and its surroundings are extremely walkable. Bruins basketball spills over into neighboring Westwood Village.

Here hoops fans enjoy pregame meals at always-busy In-N-Out Burger, crowd into Maloney's Bar and congregate at the newest location of Barney's Beanery -- a legendary Hollywood hangout -- to watch games on 17 square feet of HDTVs while quaffing one of 40 beers on tap. Members of The Den, UCLA's most passionate student fans, gather at Barney's for road games.

For dessert, undergrads enjoy sinful chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwiches at Diddy Riese, a wildly popular Westwood storefront that draws a crowd regardless of whether the Bruins are playing.

"There are always lines out the door and way down the block at Diddy Riese," Abajian said. "Always."

On campus, UCLA basketball fans find more spiritual nourishment at the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame, where the den of Wooden's Encino condo has been painstakingly recreated.

"It's practically picture perfect," Ewing said.

Abajian agreed. "It's like actually being inside his condo," she said. "It's very respectful and it's the type of exhibit that could be at the Smithsonian. It's an honor to have it on campus."

Pauley Pavilion, at least in its original 1960s embodiment, is about to become a museum piece, too, leaving UCLA fans feeling ambivalent.

"I'm excited about the renovation," Abajian said, "but because of all the history, you do have a feeling of loss."

The Bruins have brought back that winning feeling this season and hope to leave the place on a high. Their last home game of the season is Saturday's showdown against Arizona that carries potential Pac-10 title ramifications.

"There's a lot more excitement this year," Abajian said. "We don't have any seniors and the Wear twins [forwards David and Travis, local prep talents who transferred to UCLA after playing a season at North Carolina] are waiting to play, so next year will be even better."

Better, yes. But after this weekend's games against Arizona State and Arizona, Pauley Pavilion won't be quite the same.

"Hardwood Havens" is a series of vignettes that looks at campus experiences on basketball weekends across the country. Doug Ward is a Southern California-based freelance writer.