Where the Stadium Once Stood

On February 12, 2017 · 11 Comments

I guess the recent Ghost Signs got me thinking about the way things used to be in an earlier age. My memory circled back to a time when professional baseball didn’t exist in Washington, DC and we used to travel to Baltimore to see the Orioles play. This happened a lot when I was a kid, long before the Orioles occupied the beautiful, iconic Camden Yards that so many other ball clubs copied. The Orioles took the field on a much less beautiful and nowhere nearly as iconic Memorial Stadium before that. I even think we saw the Baltimore Colts play (American) football a couple times there too. The Colts left Baltimore in 1983 just to show how far back my mind wandered. What happened to Memorial Stadium after its replacement, I wondered.

Memorial Stadium; Baltimore, Maryland, USA

I drilled into a satellite image and discovered that the old stadium still existed. Well, not really. The city tore it down in 2001. However many fragments remained, spread throughout Baltimore. Its basic shape also remained. A new residential neighborhood occupied much of the land originally part of the Memorial Stadium property. It included a ring-road that approximated the circumference of the stadium itself. Inside that asphalt oval, an open field covered the spot where professional sports teams once played. It offered configurations for baseball, football and soccer.

That made me consider other stadiums wiped from the earth. In many cases new stadiums simply covered the exact footprint occupied by their predecessors. In other instances not a single sign remained at all. However, I enjoyed the ones like Baltimore the most, where people kept their memories alive. Those stadiums continued to exist in an odd ethereal way. The roar of the crowd now silenced, the crack of the bat or the kick of the ball no longer felt, but the stories remained in the landscape.

Some quick searching found several more examples.

Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium; Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Atlanta - Turner Field: Gold Parking Lot - Hank Aaron 715th Home Run Monument
Hank Aaron 715th Home Run Monument. Photo by Wally Gobetz on Flickr (cc)

Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium hosted both the Atlanta Braves of baseball and the Atlanta Falcons of (American) football at various times before a controlled implosion finally took it down in 1997. The brand-new Turner Field rose on an adjacent parcel, and the spot once occupied by Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium became part of its parking lots. The old footprint occupied a large section of the Green Lot (it looked awesome on satellite view). Even more of a bonus, the spot where Hank Aaron hit his historic 715th Home Run continued to be commemorated. Aaron accomplished that feat in 1974, surpassing the lifetime record of Babe Ruth, when Aaron hit a ball over an outfield fence and into the Braves’ bullpen. The memorial in the parking lot replicated the fence and the bullpen at the exact spot where it happened.

I realized that marker made little sense to much of 12MC’s international audience. Just understand that a really great sporting event happened there and its preservation was a nice touch.

Yankee Stadium; The Bronx, New York, USA

Once a ballpark, now just a park.
Once a ballpark, now just a park. Photo by Benjamin Kabak on Flickr (cc)

The New York Yankees baseball team played at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx from 1923 until 2008 (map). The team left for a new Yankee Stadium on an adjacent lot. Then the city demolished the old stadium and created Heritage Field on the same footprint. As the New York Times described it,

… nearly every inch, from the pavement stones underfoot to the three natural grass ball fields, has been elaborately designed to pay homage to the Yankees and their celebrated former home. Even the sod is the same that the Yankees, professional baseball’s biggest spender, chose for their new stadium… Even the old diamond and outfield have been saved, delineated with five-foot-wide swaths of blue polymer fiber stitched into the sod by a Desso Grassmaster machine that had to be shipped over from the Netherlands.

Now amateur and high school baseball clubs from all over the city stand where some of the greatest professionals once played.

Milwaukee County Stadium; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA

Helfaer Field
Helfaer Field. Photo by Rough Tough, Real Stuff on Flickr (cc)

Combine the idea of a parking lot and a small ball field on an original footprint, and that became the fate of Milwaukee County Stadium. Miller Park replaced it in 2000 on an adjacent parcel. Although large surface parking lots grew completely around Miller Park, the former spot of Milwaukee County Stadium became a baseball field. It took the name Helfaer Field with room for 500 spectators in its bleacher seats. People can rent it for "softball, youth baseball, kickball, tailgates, meetings and much more." It looked pretty good on Satellite view sitting there, surrounded by parking lots.

Memorial Stadium; University of Minnesota, USA

McNamara Memorial on Wikimedia Commons (cc)

The Golden Gophers of the University of Minnesota played (American) football at Memorial Stadium in Minneapolis from 1924 to 1981. The stadium became totally obliterated. An alumni center filled its former spot (map). However one vital feature remained, its entry arch, inside of the alumni center. People could still walk through the old entryway, although its passage no longer led to a gridiron. Instead it opened into a large room called the Heritage Gallery, "a multimedia museum … [that] honors the accomplishments of University of Minnesota alumni, faculty, students and staff."

Waverley Park; Mulgrave, Victoria, Australia

I found faded stadium footprints outside of the United States too. A prime example existed in Australia. Waverley Park in Mulgrave, Victoria once hosted up to seventy thousand Australian rules football fans. Concentric ring roads circled the demolished stadium, part of a masterplanned community, with a grassy centerpiece remaining at the spot of the original stadium now serving as a practice facility,

Today, as Hawthorn football players train on the oval, the sound of boots striking balls evokes memories of a sporting past. For some, the ‘Hawks’ are simply part of the scenery, for others they bring new meaning to ‘backyard footy’, with star players running junior clinics for tomorrow’s footy legends. Residents of Oval Front Homes have box seats, cheering on from their balconies during practice matches and training.

The original stadium no longer existed although a grandstand at one end still held room for a couple of thousand spectators.

Cathkin Park; Glasgow, Scotland, UK

Cathkin Park
Cathkin Park. Photo by Tom Brogan on Flickr (cc)

I found a particularly early example in Scotland, a football (soccer) stadium called Cathkin Park in Glasgow. Professional football there dated back to 1884 when the Queen’s Park club called it home. Third Lanark took over in 1903 and remained there for more than sixty years until the team folded.

Sadly there are no fond memories for Third Lanark fans of that era. They were shattered to witness the Cathkin gates being closed for the final time on 30th June 1967.

Much of the stadium was removed as it fell into disrepair (map). However, terraces ringing three sides of the stadium remained in place, as did the old field. The area became a public park and a home field to various amateur and student teams.

Mainland Manhattan

On February 21, 2012 · 4 Comments

I reexamined a map of New York County for an article in progress recently and was reminded exactly how odd its boundaries appeared. Most people are either unaware of this county or confuse it with the much larger New York City, or if they have a basic awareness they equate it to the island of Manhattan proper. The last one comes closest: New York County is conterminous with the Borough of Manhattan which included Manhattan Island plus several much smaller parcels scattered around its orbit. I think perhaps many of us are familiar with geo-oddities like Liberty Island which is completely surrounded by the waters of New Jersey or the even stranger situation of Ellis Island with split jurisdictions in the wake of the 1998 Supreme Court case, New Jersey v. New York. Someday maybe I’ll focus on all the Manhattan outliers but today I’ll focus on the part that was once part of the island until it was physically separated.

Marble Hill first came to my attention when reader "Joshua" commented on an article I wrote about an airport in St. Joseph, Missouri, broken from the rest of the state when the Missouri River changed course. "You should check out Marble Hill neighborhood in NYC. It’s attached to the Bronx (mainland), but part of New York County (Manhattan)" he said two years ago. I tucked it into back of my mind intending to get to it "someday" until examining a map for a different purpose triggered that latent memory.

View Marble Hill in a larger map

I’ve marked approximate boundaries for Marble Hill. The Harlem River Ship Canal / Spuyten Duyvil ("Devil’s Spout") Creek separates Manhattan Island from Marble Hill, making it the only part of New York County connected to the mainland United States. The U.S. Census Bureau conveniently designates Marble Hill as a distinct census tract allowing us to discover a number of interesting demographic characteristics as they existed in 2010: 8,463 residents; median age 34.8; racially diverse; median household income of $35,769; with an overwhelming percentage of people living in rental housing.

View Larger Map

The history is fascinating. I’m only able to barely scratch the surface. If you would like to know more I’d recommend the Marble Hill page on the Forgotten New York site. Great site, by the way. You’d do well to bookmark it.

Marble Hill was included in a Dutch colonial land grant in 1646. Later the Continental Army constructed a fort on Marble Hill to protect bridge approaches to Manhattan during the American Revolution. It fell to the Hessians in late 1776 who renamed the fortification Fort Prince Charles (a street in Marble Hill is called Fort Charles Place in commemoration). The Hessian forces held their position until the liberation of New York City in 1783.

Back then, Marble Hill was part of Manhattan island. Today it is part of the mainland only because Spuyten Duyvil Creek no longer follows its original watercourse. If you look closely at the satellite view above you can see where it once flowed around the northern edge of Marble Hill. Today it flows along the southern flank. The dense cluster of buildings in the image defines the original core of Marble Hill.

View Larger Map

The situation in Marble Hill wasn’t a natural occurrence in contrast to the Missouri example mentioned previously and the similar situation in Carter Lake, Iowa. The hand of man was fully responsible. The US Army Corps of Engineers decided that a navigable shipping route had to be created between the Hudson and Harlem Rivers. They built the Harlem Harlem River Ship Canal along the southern edge of Marble Hill, leaving it a small island. The old riverbed was later filled-in, completing Marble Hill’s migration from Manhattan Island to the mainland in 1914. The same thing happened to a small chunk of the Bronx but it became a part of Manhattan Borough, which hardly seems fair.

The former watercourse has a flatter, more level appearance, as noticeable in the Street View image, above.

View Larger Map

Meanwhile, back on the hillside, the stranded section looks distinctly different from the rest of Manhattan. Winding streets of detached homes wrap around contours of a rocky precipice. A century of separation created an area that more closely resembles the Bronx. This is a particularly picturesque area of Marble Hill, however most of the residents actually live in apartments away from the hill.

I know several 12MC readers live in or around New York City. I’d be interested to know if anyone has visited Marble Hill in person and would have anything further to add.

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