Posted by: Brad Nixon | May 12, 2018

Journey to the Big Blue Pyramid

I’m just back from seeing the Big Pyramid. I had to drive eastward for an appointment, and stopped off on the return trip to get a close look at it, something I’ve meant to do since I moved to Los Angeles.

You thought the Big Pyramid was in Egypt? No, that’s the Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza. I’m describing the one in Long Beach. Not everyone calls it “great,” unless they’re a student or alumnus of California State University Long Beach (CSULB).

CSULB Pyramid Brad Nixon 2309 sm

Yes, it’s blue. Something Khufu probably wishes he’d thought of.

CSULB Pyramid Brad Nixon 2305 sm

Facts and Figures

Its official name is the Walter Pyramid, an indoor sports arena for the CSULB 49ers*, seating 8,000. It opened in 1994. That cobalt blue surface is ridged metal. There are windows piercing the exterior wall below the skirt at ground level, lighting offices and corridors.

Standing 18 stories tall, the Walter Pyramid measures 345 feet at the base on each side. How does that compare to the Pyramid of Giza? Considerably smaller: Khufu’s pyramid is 756 feet on a side, 481 feet high. But you can’t play basketball in the Giza pyramid, which, despite its immense scale, was designed to hold only one person — Khufu.

CSULB Pyramid Brad Nixon 2304 sm

The arena’s a large-scale “space frame” structure, leaving almost the entire space inside as a single, open area, ideal for a sports venue.

By sheer luck, I visited when the arena was being prepped for an event, with a door standing open to let me see inside, although they’d covered the beech wood court floor to protect it from foot traffic.

CSULB Pyramid int pano Brad Nixon sm

Thanks to the relatively low profile of surrounding buildings, the modestly scaled Walter Pyramid stands out prominently, and it’s visible from Interstate 405 as you drive through Long Beach.

CSULB Pyramid Brad Nixon 2329 sm

The Age of Pyramids?

Due to some inexplicable zeitgeist, three large pyramid structures were built in the U.S. within a few years of one another. The Walter Pyramid was the last and smallest, opening in November, 1994. It was preceded in 1991 by the Memphis, Tennessee Pyramid Arena and the Luxor Las Vegas hotel-casino, largest of the three, in 1993. The Memphis structure accommodated 20,000 seats, but has been converted to a sporting goods “megastore.” As for a pyramid-shaped hotel in Las Vegas: where else? Why not?

Pyramid Power?

CSULB teams do pretty well inside their pyramid; The basketball teams are always competitive in their division, and the men’s volleyball team won this year’s U.S. national collegiate championship, so maybe there’s something to “pyramid power.” I stayed at the Luxor once, but experienced no boost in blackjack success courtesy of occult influences.

Visiting Walter Pyramid

The address often listed for the Walter Pyramid, 1250 N. Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach, CA is the official university address. The Pyramid (red flag on map, far right) is located east of Bellflower, on the south side of east-west Atherton Street. Website with ticket information here. Any street parking is distant. There’s a paid lot immediately adjacent, but not inexpensive.

LB pyramid map marked

How does the Pyramid stack up as modern architecture? In my opinion, a pyramid is a statement of sorts, and always attention-getting, but it’s a thing in itself, not a unique design. It rates not so well with Gebhard and Winter in their indispensable An Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles. They list a few of the notable structures on the CSULB campus (with which they’re unimpressed), and close with this:

A recent addition to the campus is the incredible and monstrous athletic facility called “The Pyramid,” … but it lacks camels and their drivers.

“Incredible and monstrous.” Oof! Don’t irritate the arbiters of modernist L.A. architecture.

CSULB Pyramid sign Brad Nixon 2333 sm

There are pyramid structures all over. Any in your town? Anyone shopped at the pyramid in Memphis, Tennessee? Leave a comment.

*Note: In case this is my only opportunity to mention CSULB sports, they’re referred to as the “Long Beach State 49ers” (the school was founded in 1949, and echoes the 1849 California Gold Rush). The men’s baseball team, though, are affectionately known as “The Dirtbags.” (In baseball, the three infield bases are colloquially termed “bags.”) That puts Long Beach State in the company of the California University, Santa Cruz “Banana Slugs” and California University, Irvine’s “Anteaters” for quirky team names. Welcome to California.

Photographs of the exterior of Walter Pyramid in this post and select images from other Under Western Skies posts are available on Click on the linked photos, or CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky photo portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2018. Quotation © Gebhard, David and Winter, Robert. An Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles, Revised Edition. Gibbs Smith. 2003. p. 109.


  1. Now I’m wondering what constitutes a true pyramid, since we have three structures on Galveston Island that are collectively known as the Moody Gardens pyramids.

    They’re not as tall (I believe the tallest is ten stories), and the one I found measurements for is 322′ x 220′ at the base. I thought that might be the disqualifier for pyramid status, but I found there’s such a thing as an irregular pyramid, where the base measurements don’t form a square. In any event, our three were built in 1993, 1997, and 1999, and we like them a lot. Granted, they only contain an aquarium, a rain forest, and a science-focused discovery center, so they can’t equal a sports stadium, but they’re still pretty cool.


    • I may take that line about “true pyramid” out of the post. I’m having a lot of difficulty determining what it actually signifies. There’s probably a pyramid of some description in every state in the union. So far, the only distinction I’ve found suggests that “true” differentiates some pyramids from others that are “step” pyramids. I took that information from Wikipedia, which is only as reliable as its most recent volunteer editor, and not flawless. Looks like a great day at Moody Gardens. Thanks for the link.


    • I’ve removed that line about “true pyramid.” I’ve been unable to determine what it actually signifies. Like you, I assumed it was one with equal base perimeters, but I don’t find any definition like that. I derived that line from Wikipedia, but there’s no attestation or link. There’s probably a pyramid of some description in every state in the union, and certainly in every major city. So far, the only distinction I’ve found suggests that “true” differentiates some pyramids from others that are “step” pyramids. Looks like a great day at Moody Gardens. Thanks for the link.

      Liked by 1 person

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