Friday, September 26, 2008 9/26/08-Stadiums

In today's excerpt--the post-World War I boom in stadium building and 1923's new Yankee Stadium:

"[In 1923], the nation was in the midst of a stadium-building boom. Harvard University had built the first prestressed concrete stadium in 1903, and Yale, in the ever-running battle of one-upsmanship with its rival, doubled the size of Harvard's effort with the 80,000 seat Yale Bowl in 1908, but the end of the war had started the true building explosion. Games had gained a new importance. Physical training in the cantonments had brought many ordinary men to sport, to athletics, forced them to take part and enjoy physical competition for the first time in their workaday lives. The interest continued.

"Every university in the country seemed to be trying to raise funds to build a new stadium. Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Cal-Berkeley, Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania, Syracuse, Ohio State ... they all had new stadiums or stadiums under construction. In Los Angeles, the L.A. Coliseum was being built in an effort to attract the Olympics. In Chicago, a massive stadium, Soldier Field, was planned on the lake. The fact was pointed out in the Times that the Romans, the all-time lovers of sport, had constructed perhaps 10 to 15 larger stadiums and 100 smaller ones during their time of influence. The United States now not only had matched the Romans in stadiums, but had surpassed them in number and size. The Roman Colosseum, historians decided, held only 45,000 spectators. Bigger stadiums than that were being built every day....

"The new [Yankee] Stadium was an amazement. It was a giant three-decked wedding cake in the Bronx, a skyscraper in repose, covering the ten acres of land purchased from the Astor estate. The plan to enclose the field entirely had been altered to allow the structure to be built in 11 months and be ready for opening day. ... The Stadium was an instant hit. ...

"The Stadium was a grand monument to the drawing powers of the resident right fielder [Babe Ruth]. (Did the Romans ever build a stadium simply to show off the talents of one gladiator? And if they did, did they--as the Yankees did--situate the playing surface so the late-afternoon sun always would be behind their star attraction, not shining in his eyes?) ... Ruth was the one who drew the large crowds to the [New York Giants'] Polo Grounds [where they were the second-class tenant], invoking the jealousy of Giants owner Charles Stoneham, who asked the Yankees to leave. Ruth was the one who promised to bring big crowds with him to whatever new park was built, no matter the size. Ruth was the one who at last had given the second-class Yankees first-class style and pizzazz."

Leigh Montville, The Big Bam, Broadway, Copyright 2006 by Leigh Montville, pp. 172-174.


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