History Of Cleveland Municipal Stadium
by Dennis O'Brien
I remember the stadium as far back as I can remember. I have been there with my grandfather, father, mother, sisters, daughter, friends and more. I have frozen in the cold wind and nearly melted in the hot, wet summer. I saw Tom Bosman's no-hitter there from up in the second deck along first base with my dad. Wonderful warm memories.
Now it seems she will be gone soon. I understand how progress marches on. Jacobs field is a great stadium and I am sure the new football stadium will be as well. But, memories are certainly precious than gold, than these words and we will all morn a bit when that is all there is of the stadium.
The following is a history of Cleveland Municipal Stadium as compiled for its 1987
National Register Nomination. The principal authors of this text are James Charleton, Barbara Powers and I offer comment from several different sources to accentuate the text.
The present and original physical appearance:
Cleveland Municipal Stadium, a mammoth double-deck structure, appears to be elliptically shaped and is rounded on the interior. The outer walls, however, are actually a series of flat planes forming an oval polygon. In form, from the air, the structure resembles the Greek letter 'omega', with an open end to the east. This open end, the center field of the baseball diamond, includes single-deck bleachers. The structure is 800 ft. long on the exterior running from east to west, 720 ft. wide, and 116 ft. tall above the field; the first deck is 61 ft. high on the exterior. There are more than 35,000 seats in the main, or first, deck on the grandstand, 29,380 in the narrower upper deck, and more than 10,000 bleacher seats. For football, some 80,000 fans can be seated. The structure has undergone relatively few minor changes.
The field within the stadium is 527 ft. long and 446 ft. wide. Initially, for baseball, the distances to the walls were 320 ft. at the foul lines, 463 ft. in the power alleys, and 470 ft. to center field. Those measurements, however, underwent changes through the years as owners attempted to tailor the park to the talents of Cleveland players.
The stadium is built principally of reinforced concrete and structural steel faced with mottled gray brick on the exterior. The steel frame and sheet aluminum are exposed on the set-back along the upper deck. The cantilevered second deck and roof protect all but the front row seats from the elements. The use of aluminum in the set-back walls of the second deck was one of the most extensive to that time. This ventilated superstructure is made up of louvers with mullions dividing them into panels and surmounted by a flat sheet metal cornice. The frieze is enriched by a diagonal herringbone pattern. At each column, about 15 ft. apart, broad pilasters extend from the bottoms of the louvers to the top of the cornice; these pilasters project beyond the face and above the cornice. The exterior also features five large masonry towers at roughly the northeast, east, southeast, southwest, and northwest points of the stadium. The towers are about five stories in height. They contain offices and other facilities.
Of the landscaping outlined in the architect's rendering, little remains although some trees are still in place. Just to the north of the stadium, however, and separated from its precincts by a recent chain-link fence, is a landscaped garden, which slopes down to Erieview Drive. This garden, the Donald Gray Gardens (formerly Cleveland Municipal Garden), which is rather overgrown, is the sole surviving feature on-site, other than the Stadium itself, of the Great Lakes Exposition. The garden originally extended all the way to the lake shore, however, the northern portion has been filled in and replaced by Erieview Dr. The remaining portion of the garden adjacent to the Stadium, retains its original plan.
Recent Improvements and Current Status:
(Note: This is directly from the 1987 National Register Nomination Form)
Over the years, the Stadium became a financial drain for the City of Cleveland. Art Modell, owner of the Browns, responded to the need in 1974, when he formed the Cleveland Stadium Corporation and signed a 25-year lease with the city. In early 1982, all of the stock of the corporation was sold to the Browns. When the agreement between the city and Modell was reached in 1974, he promised $10 million in improvements, which were recently concluded. They include the addition of 108 luxury loges, a computerized scoreboard, new seats, new concession facilities, new lighting, outfield fence pads, and the installation of a new playing surface, lowered 2 ft. to provide a better view from the stands (1976).
Old electrical and plumbing systems were replaced. Locker rooms have been upgraded. The stadium restaurants have been renovated, and first aid areas were installed. A press box elevator was also added. Two story additions have been added to the north and south sides of the stadium near the entrances. These additions are compatible in materials and design.
Cleveland Municipal Stadium, since its construction the largest stadium in use in major league baseball, was designed by a progressive city administration as a multipurpose structure to accommodate the great surge in attendance at baseball and football games and other public spectacles that occurred with the rise of the automobile. Its great size was a measure of the confidence that city leaders, such as City Manager William Hopkins and George Bender, chairman of the stadium commission, had in the city's future. Its 80,000 seat capacity can be expanded to over 110,000 with the use of the field and additional seating. Its purpose was to accommodate outdoor gatherings comfortably, including not only baseball and football games, but track meets, boxing matches, concerts, pageants, civic gatherings, skating, hockey, tennis, grand opera and sporting events from professional through high school. Projected in 1925 as part of Cleveland's Group Plan (In 1928, by vote of the citizens, a bond issue of $2,500,000 was provided to cover the cost of the stadium part of the plan), a comprehensive plan for grouping it major public buildings, the stadium was not constructed until 1930-31, after the Depression had struck. (The stadium was built at this time in a failed attempt to play host for the 1932 Olympics; The construction of outdoor megastadiums during the twenties and thirties is an important theme in the history of sports and recreation. The Stadium ranks among the earliest and largest of these multi sports facilities. It was one of only five major league baseball and football stadiums in the United States that have been nominated for National Historic Landmark designation).
The first event of consequence to take place in the completed stadium was the heavyweight boxing bout between Max Schmeling and Young Stribling on July 3, 1931; Schmeling knocked out Stribling and retained the heavyweight championship. This was before a crowd of 37,396. The Shrine held its national convention in Cleveland during the week of July 4, 1931 which included a parade and baseball game at the Stadium (crowd of 26,000). Shifting from sports, Opera Week was held at the Stadium beginning on July 28, 1931. Performers from the Metropolitan and Chicago opera companies appeared on "the largest stage ever constructed for an operatic performance."
A crowd of 70,000 appeared for a prayer service held by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cleveland's Holy Name Society on September 6, 1931. The following day the first soccer match was played at the Stadium. The first football game was held at the Stadium on September 9, 1931 between the Cleveland Indians (trying to be part of the National Football League) and the semi-pro Pennzoil team. The Cleveland Indians won before a crowd of 35,000. John Carroll University began to use the Stadium for its home games beginning in September, 1931 and continued into the 1950s. It was the site for eleven contests between Notre Dame and Navy which began in 1932 and ended in 1978 (Personal Note: I was at the '78 game). In 1931 the Stadium was selected as the site for the annual championship high school football game between the city's East and West Senate titles. The Stadium hosted this event until 1970. During this time, crowds of 40,000 plus entered the Stadium on seventeen different occasions. The largest crowd was 70,955 in 1946.
The largest crowd attendance at the Stadium occurred during the 1935 Seventh Eucharistic Congress of the Roman Catholic Church. During the Benediction service on September 25, 1935, a crowd of over 125,000 filled the Stadium and all available space.
The Stadium was used in conjunction with the Great Lakes Exposition of 1936, held to promote the story of the steel industry in the region and the contributions it had made to the nation's progress. In 1937, the Exposition continued with the broader theme of the "Making of America," which portrayed the story of the contributions that the Great Lakes region had made in the growth of the cultural, scientific and industrial life of the country.
Only the stadium, which was incorporated into the exposition because of its size and strategic location, and the Donald Gray Gardens, adjacent to it on the north are tangible reminders of the exposition's existence. The gardens were designed by A. Donald Gray, a landscape architect and designer active in Cleveland from 1920 to 1939. The gardens consisted of an expansive rock garden with a vast display of blooming rock plants and shrubs. On the top of the high slope is a pergola that was covered with climbing vines. Bordered by beds of annual flowers, a 500-foot lawn provided a beautiful approach to the A.C. Ernst fountain and reflecting pool enhanced by day and night blooming varieties of water lilies. Japanese, English, Spanish and French gardens displayed different aspects of historical gardening. Although many of these special features are diminished, the basic layout and configuration are intact.
A series of five fields in Cleveland were used by the city's professional baseball teams through the years until Municipal Stadium was chosen as the home field. The first team (The Cleveland Forest City's) began playing on June 2, 1869. The name of the team and its association with either the National or American League changed several times until 1915 when the team was renamed the Indians after Luis Francis Sockalexis, a team member in the 1890's, who was the first Native American to play professional baseball.
The field used just prior to the Stadium was League Park (Named to the National Register on 8/8/79), located at the corner of Lexington and East 66th Streets in East Cleveland. League Park, with a capacity of 27,000, had certain limitations which prohibited this park from serving professional baseball in Cleveland. (Note: League Park was home to several significant moments in baseball history: The only unassisted triple play in World Series history ; the first World Series Grand Slam [also 1920, Elmer Smith], Babe Ruth's 500th home run on 8/11/29) In addition to the limited seating, surrounding buildings prohibited expansion, parking facilities were absent and there were no lights for night baseball (Note: First night game was held in the Stadium on June 27, 1939). The Indians first game at the Stadium was July 31, 1932, hand the largest crowd to date (80,184) to watch professional baseball.
The Cleveland Indians used the Stadium during the 1933 season, but thereafter until 1946, generally played weekday games at League Park and weekend and doubleheaders at the Stadium. In 1946, Bill Veeck, the new president of the club, moved the games permanently to the Stadium.
Use of the Stadium for professional football began with the exhibition game played by the Cleveland Indians in 1931. The Cleveland Rams formed in 1936 within the American Football League. They used League Park for their home games until it became apparent that crowd attendance demanded use of the Stadium. They made the Stadium their home field from 1939 to 1943 when the team was folded for two years. When it was reactivated in 1945, it moved back to League Park, but they played their first championship game at the Stadium against the Washington Redskins. The team moved the next year to Los Angeles.
The creation of the All-American Football Conference led to the formation of the Cleveland Browns in 1946. A record crowd of 60,135 (largest crowd to date to watch a professional football game) attended the Browns' opener against Miami. In their first four seasons (1946-1949), the Browns won the league championship and repeated the feat in 1950 when the All-American Football Conference merged with the National Football League.
The engineering design was done by the Osborn Engineering Company and the architectural design by Walker and Weeks. The planning of large amphitheaters had been susceptible of architectural treatment since the days of the Romans - in fact, it is a further proof of the decline of eclectic attitudes by 1930 that the Stadium was not Roman in style. Nevertheless, it is doubtful whether many such structures were subject to the subtle artistic considerations expressed by Frank R. Walker in an interview at the time of the Stadium opening. The structure was 116 feet tall (ten stories), and Walker explained the devices used to minimize the height. The outer brick wall was only 61 feet high, and the superstructure of steel and aluminum was set back above the walls. The aluminum louvered facing and roof of the superstructure were planned to reflect the color of the sky, thus making them appear less obtrusive when seen against the lake.
Architects Frank R. Walker and Harry E. Weeks formed one of Cleveland's most prolific architectural firms during the early 20th century. Walker and Weeks were responsible for many of the buildings comprising the Cleveland Mall including the Federal Reserve Bank (1923) and the Cleveland Public Library (1925). In addition to Municipal Stadium, the firm designed another major Cleveland project in 1931, Severance Hall, home of the Cleveland Orchestra, which was made possible by John L. Severance, an important patron of music and art in Cleveland.
The 1930s witnesses several of the greatest undertakings in the city's history which would influence the prestige, health and culture of Cleveland for generations. The buildings comprising the Union Terminal Group were completed and immediately rated as the second most important group of commercial buildings in the country. At the same time the University Hospitals Group was developing rapidly, giving the city and outstanding position as a medical center. Figuring prominently into this development was the Municipal Stadium built to provide for major civic, sporting and entertainment events. The Stadium along with Public Auditorium provided Cleveland with some of the most complete facilities for national gatherings and the city became a major meeting place in the nation at this time.
The Cleveland Stadium reportedly represented the first use of aluminum in a large, multipurpose stadium facility. Aluminum was chosen because of its durability against water, smoke, and dirt, elements affecting the Stadium due to its close proximity to Lake Erie and railroads just to its south. The use of sheet aluminum in the stadium was seen as a distinct departure not only in stadium construction, but in other types of construction as well. Most of the large stadiums built during the early 20th century use galvanized sheet steel.
The stadium used 130,000 pounds of aluminum on the exterior and on the roof (The superstructure has 8,000 aluminum wood screws; 25,000 aluminum nails; 60,000 specially designed aluminum bolts; 150,000 aluminum rivets, and 100,000 lbs. of light steel for reinforcing the aluminum sheets). The aluminum served as a distinct architectural device (The silver color blended with the blue of the sky to lessen the stadium's 116 ft. height. Other architectural devices employed by the architects to lessen the stadium's magnitude was to break the vertical line of 116 feet with a horizontal line of 61 feet above grade by building the outer brick wall to this height. The four corner towers also help to anchor the egg-shaped structure to the ground.
This information, of course, does not cover the highs and lows of Cleveland Browns football history. From the juggernaut of Paul Brown's tenure, the Ice-Bowl, The Drive, Cleveland-Jets 2OT (Personally the wildest experience I ever had at the stadium) Playoff game, Bernie, The Dawg Pound, The Perfect Game, and countless others. Which is what struck me in compiling this, that individuals outside of this history can decide its fate just isn't right [Like we need another lesson in fairness :( ], and I don't know if I'll ever go to a 'New Cleveland Browns' game; but if I do, I sure hope its at the Stadium.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here do not necessarily represent that of the Ohio Historic Preservation Office, all opinions or commentary expressed are my own. Also, I'm an archaeologist by profession so I hope I did the architectural aspect of the Stadium justice.
This history was sent and authored by Todd Tucky, (and others), thanks Todd.
October 31, 1996 - Inflation: Cleveland Stadium cost $2.5 million when it was built in 1931. It's costing $2.9 million to knock it down. Meanwhile, in just two weeks, 75 of the 108 available boxes have been sold for the planned new stadium in Cleveland. The city is well on the way to meeting its January 31, 1997 deadline that will commit the NFL to a new Browns team in 1999, unless the stadium is not completed on time.
December 3, 1996 - Welders demolishing Cleveland Municipal Stadium touched off a fire that burned part of the seating area at the former home of the Browns football team and Indians baseball team, authorities said. No injuries were reported from the smoky blaze, which was under control in less than two hours.