Forum Reference Desk: The Complexities of the Sport Venues

By Forum Reference Desk posted 07-10-2013 15:43


 Arsenal Stadium in North London was home to the Arsenal Football Club from 1913 to 2006. After the team moved to the new Emirates Stadium nearby, the structure was redeveloped into an apartment complex called Highbury Square. Stands were incorporated into the new development. | Credit: Gavin Paisley via Flickr

Stadiums, sports arenas, and ballparks have always played central role in American cities. A display of local pride and spirit, these iconic structures are beacons in the city’s heart. Many sports venues were celebrated as architectural marvels at the time they were built. Look at the Houston Astrodome. As the world's first domed, indoor, air-conditioned stadium, the 18-story Astrodome was deemed the "Eighth Wonder of the World" when it opened in 1965. It covers 9.14 acres of land, with an outer roof diameter of 710 feet. The first major league baseball game played on Astroturf took place there in April 1966.

However, the world of professional sports is a finicky business. Teams sometimes move to different cities, or demand larger, more modern facilities. Because these huge structures were built for very specific purposes, their redevelopment into alternative uses is particularly challenging, and often the land that a stadium sits on is more valuable than the building itself. As such many developers and city officials would prefer to demolish the structure and put the land to new use. Only a few of these facilities are listed in the National Register of Historic Places and most are not protected at the local level.

Often sports arenas were, and still are, touted as a tool of urban “regeneration.” In 1956, for example, Pittsburgh constructed a new multipurpose building to serve as a sports arena, convention center, and home to the Civic Light Opera. It was envisioned as the centerpiece of the redevelopment of Pittsburgh’s Lower Hill neighborhood. More than 1,000 buildings, predominantly owned by African-Americans, were razed to make room for the Civic Arena, also known as the “Igloo,” which opened in 1961.

The Igloo paved the way for modern domed structures, using the world’s first retractable stainless steel dome. It mostly served as a home to Pittsburgh's national hockey team, which moved out in 2010 to the nearby, newly built Consol Energy Center. Thus, within less than 50 years, the Igloo faced the same destiny as the neighborhood that preceded it. Preservation Pittsburgh and the ad hoc group Reuse the Igloo fought hard to keep the arena. They sponsored a competition for adaptive use and filed a lawsuit to prevent the Igloo’s demolition. They ultimately lost, and the Civic Arena was demolished between September 2011 and March 2012.

The same destiny may befall the Houston Astrodome, which has sat empty and without major tenants since 2002, when the new retractable-roofed Reliant Stadium was built nearby for Houston’s new NFL team. Proposals for reuse and threats of demolition have come and gone with little action. Last month, the Astrodome was listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list. A few days later the Trust added the Astrodome to its portfolio of National Treasures, a roster of highly significant endangered historic places across the country for which the Trust is committed to a long-term engagement to help preserve. On the same day the Trust announced its 11 Most Endangered list, the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation revealed a new proposal to preserve and reuse the Astrodome as a multi-purpose space and convention center. This $194 million project, called the “New Dome Experience,” calls for removing the existing seating and raising the ground floor to create a large exhibit space, and upgrading mechanical systems, all done while preserving the architectural integrity of the structure. Although this latest proposal is encouraging, it must first make it to the local ballot for approval.

Two more sports venues are in the National Treasures portfolio. One is the 1963 Miami Marine Stadium, a concrete marvel designed for viewing powerboat races and the first of its kind in the U.S. It has been closed since 1992. The second one is the 1932 Hinchliffe Stadium in Patterson, N.J., which was the regular home field of the New York Black Yankees, a Negro League baseball team. The stadium was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2004, and as of this spring is one of four football stadiums designated as a National Historic Landmark.

 The 1931 Maple Leaf Gardens, a National Historic Site of Canada, was home to the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team until 1999. Following its closure there were numerous discussions about demolishing the Gardens, but in 2009 a proposal for continued use was made. In 2012, the Gardens reopened under a new name, the Mattamy Athletic Centre, housing Ryerson University’s new athletic facility and the 85,000-square foot Loblaws grocery store. | Credit: JasonParis via Flickr
 The 1931 Maple Leaf Gardens, a National Historic Site of Canada, was home to the Toronto Maple Leaf hockey team until 1999. After numerous discussions about the fate of the building, the Gardens reopened in 2012 as the Mattamy Athletic Centre, housing Ryerson University’s new athletic facility and a Loblaws grocery store. | Credit: JasonParis via Flickr

But let's finish with a positive and unusual story of adaptive use. In 1931 the Indianapolis Bush Stadium was built for the Negro Baseball League, and throughout the 1930s different Negro League teams played there. Bush Stadium, a classic steel and reinforced concrete structure, was designed by the local architectural firm of Pierre and White. The engineering firm for the project, Osborn Engineering Company, was well known for its work on other steel and reinforced concrete ballparks of that period, such as Detroit’s Tiger Stadium, the Bronx’s Yankee Stadium, and the reconstruction of Boston’s Fenway Park. In 1996 the Indianapolis major league baseball team left the stadium for the new downtown Victory Field, leaving Bush Stadium to deteriorate. For a period of time it served as a parking lot for thousands of outdated cars left over from the federal Cash for Clunkers program. But in 2011, a developer, Core Redevelopment, LLC, joined forces with the Indianapolis-based architecture firm Heartland Design to give the stadium a second chance. This summer Bush Stadium is opening as the Stadium Lofts apartment complex, a $22 million project with 134 residences. Plans are underway to develop more housing and commercial space. Architects Newspaper reports that the original stone, art deco entrance and flanking brick walls were integrated into the redevelopment, and the steel canopy was saved to form the building’s roof.

Attendees at the National Preservation Conference in Indianapolis will have an opportunity to take a field trip to Stadium Lofts during the “Nuts and Bolts of Industrial Reuse” tour on November 1.

For more stories about historic ballparks across the country, check out the series on sport venues.

Remember, if there is a topic or story you would like the Forum Reference Desk to cover or research, please let us know in the comment section below or by emailing us directly at

The Iconic Urban Building slideshow is enhanced content from the Summer 2013 Forum Journal which will be released later this week.

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