With the new Brooklyn Nets set to inaugurate the Barclays Center in a game vs. the Knicks this Nov. 1, and the recent destruction of Yankee Stadium and Shea on our minds, we thought it would be the perfect time for a visit to New York’s stadium graveyard. Few structures are more reflective of the city’s tendency to build, raze, forget and rebuild.
I don’t know that Brooklyn has ever fully recovered from losing the Dodgers in 1957. Walter O’Malley, the then-owner of the Dodgers and the recalcitrant Robert Moses were unable to agree upon a new stadium location. And so the Dodgers moved to L.A for the 1958 season, leaving Brooklyn without a professional sports team until the new Nets. The Mets came out of this fracture, and the new Citi Field fittingly pays homage to Ebbets Field. Of all the destroyed stadiums, Ebbets Field surely looms largest in the public imagination. Immortalized by Pete Hamill and Roger Kahn in The Boys of Summer, Ebbets Field has come to represent the golden era of working-class Brooklyn, and the halycon days before riots and gentrification in which “everyone was joined in the rough democracy of the upper deck” rooting for “‘dem bums.” Most ironically, the team once named for its trolley “dodging,” public transportation taking fans now plays in the city of the car. The stadium was destroyed in 1960 and replaced by an apartment complex.
Madison Square Garden
Why is Madison Square Garden named after a park on 23rd and Madison? Well, stadium buffs, that’s because our modern-day Madison Square Garden is actually the fourth arena of that name. The first two were located by – you guessed it – Madison Square Park. The first Madison Square Garden was built in 1879 and was primarily a performance venue, well-known as a home of P.T Barnum’s circus. There was, of course, some boxing, but since that sport was illegal at the time the matches were instead called “illustrated lectures.” The Vanderbilts sold the stadium in 1889 to a rich syndicate that included the Morgans and Astors. They hired Stanford White (who designed the University Heights campus and the Washington Square Arch) and built a new garden at a great cost. White was the turn-of-the-century’s ultimate architect. He kept an apartment in his favorite building, where he was murdered there by the millionaire husband of showgirl Evelyn Nesbit, whom White deflowered when she was just 16. White’s stadium, like the Madison Square Garden, was most heavily associated with boxing. Despite its lavish surroundings and risque history, the Garden was not a financial success and was torn down by New York Life. The insurance company held the mortgage and douchely built the New York Life Building there in 1926. The third Madison Square Garden was built on 8th between 49th and 50th streets in 1925. This incarnation of the Garden was home to the Rangers and the Knicks (part owned by Madison Square Garden corporation and founded by president Ned Irish). It was torn down in 1968 following a proposal to build the world’s tallest building there. The new Garden was built over the ruins of the old Penn Station in 1968 and opened to much fanfare.
Of all the old stadiums of New York, the Polo Grounds surely were home to the most historical sport moments. Like Madison Square Garden, the Polo Grounds was the name of four separate structures. The first Polo Grounds was on 110th between 5th and 6th, on land that was once used to play polo. In 1880, owner of the Mets (different incarnation) and New York Gothams (soon to be the Giants), John Day, built a grandstand that both of his teams played on. The city kicked the park out to extend the grid in 1889. Each later version of the stadium would be built at the same site, on 155th street and Frederick Douglass Blvd. It was the largest stadium in baseball before it burned in 1911, with a seating capacity of 31,000. The stadium was quickly rebuilt with steel and concrete. To those who bleed white and blue, the Polo Grounds is hallowed as the first home of the New York Yankees, previously named the New York Highlanders. Babe Ruth and the Yankees were so successful here that Day kicked them out in 1922, when they started drawing a larger crowd than his Giants. The stadium was quirky, the uneven left and right field lines created a sliver zone that intercepted fly balls and made them home runs. The extensive zone is what made Willie Mays’ 1954 World Series catch so memorable.
The stadium also hosted legendary boxing matches, including the 1923 fight between Dempsey and Firpo. Floyd Patterson would later regain his heavyweight title fighting here in 1960. The Giants left for San Francisco in 1957, leaving the stadium to ruin. The city claimed the land under eminent domain in 1961 and and The Polo Grounds projects opened in 1968. If you want to check out the last remaining bit of the stadium where Babe Ruth hit his first home run as a Yankee, head over to the John T. Brush stairway at 158th street and Edgecombe Avenue.