Memorial Stadium (Baltimore)
"The Old Grey Lady of 33rd Street"
"The World's Largest Outdoor Insane Asylum"
900 East 33rd Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21218
|Owner||City of Baltimore|
|Operator||Maryland Stadium Authority|
Left Field – 309 ft
Left-Center – 446 ft (1954), 378 ft (1990)
Center Field – 445 ft (1954), 405 ft (1980)
Right-Center – 446 ft (1954), 378 ft (1990)
Right Field – 309 ft
Artificial turf (current youth stadium on site, 2010-)
1921 (first version)
1949 (second version)
December 2, 1922 (first version)
April 20, 1950 (second version)
|Closed||December 14, 1997|
|Demolished||February 15, 2002|
($63.7 million in 2016 dollars)
|Architect||L.P. Kooken Company|
|Structural engineer||REL Williams|
|General contractor||DeLucca-Davis/Joseph F. Hughes|
Baltimore Orioles (IL)
Baltimore Colts (AAFC / NFL) (1947–1950)
Baltimore Colts (NFL) (1953–1983)
Baltimore Orioles (MLB) (1954–1991)
Baltimore Bays (NASL) (1967–1968)
Baltimore Comets (NASL) (1974–1975)
Bowie Baysox (EL) (1993)
Baltimore Stallions (CFL) (1994–1995)
Baltimore Ravens (NFL) (1996–1997)
Memorial Stadium was a sports stadium in Baltimore, Maryland, that formerly stood on 33rd Street (aka 33rd Street Boulevard or renamed "Babe Ruth Plaza") on an oversized block (officially designated as Venable Park, a former city park from the 1920s) also bounded by Ellerslie Avenue (west), 36th Street (north), and Ednor Road (east). Two different stadiums were located here, a 1922 version known as "Baltimore Stadium", or "Municipal Stadium", or sometimes 'Venable Stadium' and the rebuilt multi-sport stadium that, when reconstruction (expansion to an upper deck) was completed in the summer of 1954, would become known as "Memorial Stadium", and, for a time, "Babe Ruth Stadium" in reference to the then-recently deceased Baltimore native. The stadium was also known as "The Old Gray Lady of 33rd Street", and also (for Colts games) as "The World's Largest Outdoor Insane Asylum."
Teams hosted 1
- Baseball 1.1
Football (gridiron) 1.2
- Professional 1.2.1
- High school 1.2.2
- College/University/Military Academies 1.2.3
- Municipal Stadium/Baltimore Stadium/Venable Stadium 2.1
- Memorial Stadium 2.2
- Fatal escalator accident 2.3
- Airplane crash 2.4
- Later years 2.5
- Community reaction 2.6
- Demolition and redevelopment 2.7
- New field 2.8
- "Here" 3.1
- Memorial wall 3.2
- Tenants 4
- Seating capacity 5
- Photo gallery: Abandonment 6
- See also 7
- References 8
- External links 9
This pair of structures hosted the following teams:
- Baltimore Orioles (minor league), International League, mid-season 1944–1953
- Baltimore Orioles, American League, 1954–1991
- United States Congressional Baseball Game, 1973–1976
- Bowie Baysox, Eastern League (Orioles farm club), 1993
- Baltimore Colts, AAFC 1947–1949, NFL 1950
- Baltimore Colts, National Football League, 1953–1983
- Baltimore Stallions/Baltimore F.C., Canadian Football League, 1994–1995
- Baltimore Ravens, National Football League, 1996–1997
- Baltimore City College vs Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, Thanksgiving Day 1954–1999, known as "City vs. Poly".
- Calvert Hall College vs Loyola Blakefield Thanksgiving Day 1957–1999, known as " Calvert Hall vs. Loyola", the Turkey Bowl".
- "Army vs Navy" United States Military Academy, (at West Point) vs. United States Naval Academy, (at Annapolis)
Municipal Stadium/Baltimore Stadium/Venable Stadium
Memorial Stadium started out in life as Municipal Stadium, also known as Baltimore Stadium, and as Venable Stadium. Designed by Pleasants Pennington and Albert W. Lewis, it was built in 1922 over a six-month period at the urging of the Mayor, William F. Broening, (1870-1953, served 1919-1923, 1927-1931), in a previously undeveloped area just north beyond the City's iconic rows of rowhouses where they had reached by the 1920s and among large 19th Century country estates of the wealthy in the northeastern wedge of the City. Constructed in the former Venable Park, established in the early 20th Century, the Stadium was operated by the City's Board of Park Commissioners on behalf of the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks. It was primarily a football stadium, a large horseshoe with an earthen-mound exterior and its open end with a large stone gateway of a Greek/Roman columnade and porticoes on the open-faced south side facing the new 33rd Street boulevard/parkway which had just recently been cut through east to west.
In its early years it hosted various public and private high school and college-level games, including the annual "City - Poly Game" on the regular Thanksgiving Day "double-header where the "Collegians" (later known as the "Black Knights" in reference to their iconic "Castle on the Hill") of Baltimore City College opposed its rival Baltimore Polytechnic Institute "Engineers" (since 1889), along with the Roman Catholic high schools' "Calvert Hall - Loyola" Game pitting the Cardinals of Calvert Hall College against Loyola High School at Blakefield's Dons before crowds of school students, parents, alumni and the city's sports fans numbering 30,000. Also occasional home games for the University of Maryland at College Park's "Terrapins" football and the home team favorites United States Naval Academy (at Annapolis) "Midshipmen" versus the United States Military Academy at West Point's "Cadets" (also known later as the "Black Knights") in several Army-Navy Games, attracting a national audience and media coverage.
In mid-summer 1944 it was pressed into service as a baseball park by the Baltimore Orioles of the International League, when their previous long-time home, "Oriole Park" (the fifth to hold the name, and the last to do so until the current incarnation opened in 1992) on the northwest corner at Greenmount Avenue and 29th Street in the Waverly neighborhood, to the southwest, was destroyed by a late-night fire probably caused by stored fireworks in July 1944.
The minor league Orioles rose from the ashes, in heroic fashion, going on to win the International League championship that year, and also the Junior World Series over the Louisville Colonels of the American Association. The large post-season crowds at Municipal Stadium, which would not have been possible at Oriole Park, and which easily surpassed the attendance at major league baseball's own World Series that year, caught the attention of the Major Leagues and their team owners, and Baltimore suddenly became a viable option for teams looking to move.
Spurred by the National Football League.
New Memorial Stadium was completed in the late spring/early summer of 1954 under the direction of the administration of Mayor, Thomas L.J. D'Alesandro, Jr. as the Orioles' first "big league" season progressed, at a cost of $6.5 million under a project which started with its expansion in 1950. Seating 31,000 at the time, the new stadium consisted of a single, horseshoe-shaped deck, with the open end facing north, and was designed to host football as well as baseball. A roofless upper deck was added later in 1953-1954 when the St. Louis Browns of the American League were announced in November 1953 to be moved to Baltimore and became the new major league version of the Baltimore Orioles, beginning play in April 1954 in the American League.
On April 15, 1954, thousands of Baltimoreans jammed city streets as the new Orioles paraded from downtown at the Baltimore City Hall to their new home at Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street for their first home game. During the 90-minute parade, the new "Birds" signed autographs, handed out pictures and threw styrofoam balls to crowd as the throngs marched down several major city streets ending on East 33rd Street. Inside, more than 46,000 watched the Orioles beat the Chicago White Sox, 3–1, to win their home opener and move into first place (although temporarily) in the American League.
Both the new Orioles and the Colts had some great successes over the next few decades, winning several championships. Among the noteworthy Orioles who played here by the 1960s to 90's were pitcher Jim Palmer, first basemen John (Boog) Powell and Eddie Murray, shortstop Cal Ripken Jr., third baseman Brooks Robinson, and outfielder Frank Robinson. Among the Colts' greats were quarterback Johnny Unitas, wide receiver Raymond Berry, and running backs Alan Ameche and Lenny Moore, as well as tight end John Mackey. Over the next few decades, both teams became among the winningest and competitive franchises in their sports, sending a number of players to their respective Halls of Fame. Following the stunning win of their first championship in what became known as "The Greatest Game to be Played" versus the New York Giants in the 1958 title game in New York, the Colts later repeated the accomplishment in the next year's NFL championship game of 1959, which the "Hosses" won, playing at the stadium before a home crowd. It was the enthusiasm of Colts fans in particular that led to the stadium being dubbed "The World's Largest Outdoor Insane Asylum" by Cooper Rollow, the "Chicago Tribune"'s head NFL sports writer at the time.
Fatal escalator accident
On May 2, 1964, a freak accident involving a stadium escalator caused the death of a teenaged girl and injuries to 46 other children. That day, the Orioles held "Safety Patrol Day" to honor schoolchildren who served in their schools' safety patrols, in which they helped their fellow students travel to and from school safely. For the event, 20,000 schoolchildren from around the state of Maryland were given free admission to the Orioles' game against the Cleveland Indians.
While the national anthem was playing before the start of the game, hundreds of children began getting onto an escalator that traveled from the lower deck to the upper deck on the stadium's third base side. Unfortunately, while three or four children at a time were getting on the escalator at the bottom, the top of the escalator was partially blocked by a narrow metal gate that allowed only one person to pass through. The mass of children was thus blocked at the top, and children began falling back on top of one another in a crush of bodies as other children continued to get on at the bottom and as the jagged metal steps of the escalator continued to move beneath all of them. The moving steps cut and mutilated the children until a stadium usher, 65-year-old Melville Gibson, finally reached the escalator's emergency shut-off switch and turned the escalator off. Previously, the shut-off switch had been moved to a wall across from the escalator in order to prevent pranksters from turning it off while people were on it.
A 14-year-old girl, Annette S. Costantini, was killed in the accident. 46 other children were injured, some seriously.
The gate at the top of the escalator — called a "people channeler" — had apparently been left there after a previous event, when the escalator's direction had been switched to move people downward. The gate's purpose was to control the flow of people getting onto the escalator. Shortly before the tragedy, Orioles management had decided to open the stadium's upper deck to Safety Patrol members who were still arriving by game time, after early-arriving children had filled the bleachers. Children heading for the upper deck then got onto the escalator.
It was the worst accident in the history of the stadium.
A highly unusual incident was the crash of an small private airplane on the stadium premises. This occurred on December 19, 1976, just minutes after the conclusion of an NFL playoff game with the Pittsburgh Steelers. A small private plane, a Piper Cherokee, buzzed the stadium, and then crashed into the upper deck overlooking the south end zone. Fortunately for the spectators in that area, the Steelers had won the game handily (40–14), and most of the fans had already exited the stadium by the time the game ended. There were no serious injuries, and the pilot was arrested for violating air safety regulations.
Hard times for the ballpark began when the Colts were purchased by Robert Irsay, (1923-1997), of Chicago in an unusual bargain when long-time popular Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom, (1907-1979), swapped the Colts in 1972 for the Los Angeles Rams which Irsay had briefly acquired. A few years later, tragedy struck as Rosenbloom drowned in a tragic accident while swimming in the Pacific Ocean. Under the new Irsay regime, with a so-called "house-cleaning" of old Colts veterans and with a new controversial general manager Joe Thomas, (1921-1983), and unrewarding trades and acquisitions of players, the Colts' fortunes sagged and wins began to be scarce by the early 1980s. The wild antics and rude comments of Irsay and his growing unpopularity with the fans and the sports media covering the team became testy and strained. After totally alienating the Baltimore supporters by openly visiting other cities "shopping around" seeking to woo the team in the early 80's, finally a quick travel stop with a B.W.I. Airport conference was held with City Mayor William Donald Schaefer, (1921-2011), which resulted in a total embarrassment. Soon, secret negotiations were held with Indiana officials and in Indianapolis with Mayor William H. Hudnut, III, and they stunned the sports world by transferring to Indianapolis, with Mayflower Moving Company moving vans trucking the club's equipment to Indiana in the middle of a snowy night on March 29, 1984, under the threat of a measure introduced into the state legislature to initiate condemnation proceedings for the city/state to assert "eminent domain" and take ownership of the franchise on behalf of the citizens and fans. This event dramatically shifted the political establishment's view on how best to address the later continued stadium upgrade needs of the Orioles, the only remaining tenant.
Until that time, then Mayor William Donald Schaefer, (1921-2011, served as Mayor, 1971-1987, later as Governor of Maryland, 1987-1995, and finally as state comptroller, 1999-2007), supported then only renovation of the venerable ballpark. After a long and controversial up and down ballet with mercurial Colts owner Robert Irsay of Chicago (who had bought the team franchise in a convoluted exchange with former long-time Baltimorean/owner Carroll Rosenbloom, (1907-1979), in which Irsay's recently purchased team, the Los Angeles Rams was traded for Rosenbloom's stake in the Colts), the Colts moved—and despite the public's continued opposition to new construction—the Mayor reversed his position and supported establishment of a new stadium for the Orioles. Like many other teams of the time, the Orioles never had to "demand" a new stadium. Economic considerations aside, this did result in the Orioles obtaining the first of the 1990s retro-ballparks, Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles' final season at Memorial Stadium was in 1991.
When the decision to abandon Memorial Stadium (in favor of the new downtown ballpark) became imminent, various citizen groups began to organize opposition to the decision. In particular, the neighborhoods surrounding Memorial Stadium became anxious about the impact on their area of an abandoned "white elephant": there simply wasn't any other use that would generate the funds to properly maintain the site. And there were no funds for demolition and redevelopment. While the stadium events may have created periodic disruptions to local life, it did provide easy access to major league sports and special attention from the city for maintenance of the area. No one in the local community was optimistic about the future of the neighborhoods.
The mayor and other power brokers, of course, knew of strong general public opposition to subsidizing a new ballpark. City-wide, as well as local, community leaders also knew of this potential, but there was also a shortage of leaders willing to take on this task (although this was never stated, and may not have been known by Mayor Schaefer). During this pivotal period, local community leaders decided to "bargain away the petition drive" for certain considerations. To do this, area community groups formed the "Stadium Neighborhoods Coalition" (SNC) and negotiated the following: (1) Establishment of an official Memorial Redevelopment Stadium Task Force with public meetings and minutes; and, (2) a written pledge by then Mayor Schaefer to provide upfront funding for any demolition and redevelopment resulting from this community process.
For the next decade, while the community input process lumbered on, Memorial Stadium hosted a minor league baseball team and two new professional football teams. The their permanent home ballpark was being built. As the Orioles were then in their second season at Camden Yards, this gave Baltimore the rare distinction of hosting both major league and minor league teams simultaneously; currently, New York City has that honor with the presence of the Brooklyn Cyclones and Staten Island Yankees, who are affiliated with the Mets and Yankees, respectively.
The Baltimore Stallions played during the Canadian Football League's "southern expansion" experiment to the United States. The team was originally known as the "Baltimore CFL Colts," but they were forced to change their name to the Stallions (after one year of playing without an official name) when the NFL was granted a legal court injunction which prevented the CFL franchise from reclaiming the "Colts" name. Owner Jim Speros took over the facility, exchanging tickets to contractors for renovations to help bring the dilapidated stadium to workable condition. Memorial Stadium was unique in that it was one of the few U. S. stadiums that could accommodate the full 65-yard width and 150-yard length of a regulation Canadian football field (most likely since it had been designed for baseball as well as American football). Averaging more than 30,000 spectators a game for two years, the Stallions would eventually become the only American team to win the Grey Cup.
The Stallions of the Ravens, while leaving the Browns name and legacy for a replacement team that returned in 1999. The Ravens were tenants of the stadium until the end of the 1997 NFL regular season, when they moved to what is now M&T Bank Stadium. It was bid farewell in style by both the Orioles (in a field-encircling ceremony staged by many former Oriole players and hosted by Hall of Fame announcer Ernie Harwell, who began his announcing career here) and the Ravens (who had many former Colts assemble for a final play, run by Unitas).
Through all of this, the official Redevelopment Task Force met off and on, deliberating on prospects for long-term use. The community remained quite sensitized about any inappropriate use of this center-of-the-neighborhood structure. When word leaked that the stadium was being considered for staging rock concerts, a group of neighbors organized the group "People Against Concerts at Memorial Stadum" (PACAMS). As Baltimore was deciding to confirm or deny this story—with no immediate answer—a large public opposition developed. With the resulting outpouring of anger, the City publicly confirmed its decision not to lease the site for rock concerts.
In resolving the rock concert problem, a new spirit of proactive advocacy was ignited in the community. In fact, there had been developing a division within established neighborhood groups about the best tactics in securing a good future for the stadium. Should the groups make further use of the direct action tactics of PACAMS, or use quiet lobbying by established groups?
That division was never resolved, as individuals continued to work in different paths. In fact, PACAMS, after its success in preventing the stadium's use for concerts, reconstituted itself as "People Advocating a Community Agenda for Memorial Stadium"—continuing with the successful PACAMS acronym. With PACAMS' public advocacy, and the established groups' holding fast to more traditional lines of community, there ultimately resulted in a large, and well attended, public meeting where several redevelopment proposals were presented. The resulting community preference for a mixed used development led to the successful development now on site.
Demolition and redevelopment
The City of Baltimore solicited proposals for development of the site. Most proposals preserved some or all of the stadium, including the memorial to World War II veterans and words on the facade. One proposal even had a school occupying the former offices of Memorial Stadium and the field used as a recreational facility for the school. Mayor Martin J. O'Malley, however, favored the proposal that resulted in the total razing of the stadium, an act that many fought and protested. Former mayor and governor William Donald Schaefer protested that the stadium was razed for political reasons. The venerable and historic stadium was demolished over a ten-month period beginning in April 2001. Approximately 10,000 cubic yards of concrete rubble from it was used to build an artificial reef over a 6-acre site in the Chesapeake Bay three miles west of Tolchester Beach, Maryland in 2002.
As of 2005, the former site of Memorial Stadium housed Maryland's largest YMCA facility and the developing vision of "Stadium Place", a mixed income community for seniors in Baltimore City. Currently there are four senior apartment complexes up and running on site. All of this, the political wranglings, the sports history and the city's attachment to a doomed landmark was captured in a documentary, "The Last Season, The Life and Demolition of Memorial Stadium."
In 2010, work started on developing a new recreational baseball/football field on the site (Cal Ripken Senior Youth Development Field), with home plate being in the same exact location as it was when Memorial Stadium existed. The field was completed in December 2010. A ribbon-cutting ceremony on December 7 was attended by Billy and Cal Ripken, and Governor Martin O'Malley.
The general layout of Memorial Stadium resembled a somewhat scaled-down version of Cleveland Stadium (then home of the MLB Indians and NFL Browns). Due to the need to fit a football field on the premises, the playing area was initially quite large, especially in center field and foul territory. The construction of inner fences after 1958, however, reduced the size of the outfield. The addition of several rows of box seats also reduced the foul ground, ultimately making the stadium much more of a hitters' park than it was originally. It did host the Major League Baseball All-Star Game that year. Memorial Stadium was one of the nation's few venues to host a World Series, an MLB All-Star Game, and an NFL Championship game.
The only home run ball ever hit completely out of Memorial Stadium was slugged by Frank Robinson on Mother's Day in May 1966, off Cleveland Indians pitcher Luis Tiant. It cleared the left field single-deck portion of the grandstand. A flag was later erected near the spot the ball cleared the back wall, with simply the word "HERE" upon it. The flag is now in the Baltimore Orioles "Sports Legends" museum at the old Camden Street Station, adjacent to the new ballpark of 1992.
The exterior wall of the stadium behind home plate was dominated by the following text, spanning most of the stadium's height facing 33rd Street, as a memorial to those killed in the two world wars:
A miniature recreation of the stadium wall now sits outside Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the Orioles' current stadium.
Memorial Stadium also hosted several University of Maryland home football games against such opponents as Clemson and Penn State. In 1988, the stadium served as Navy's "home" venue for their annual football game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
The ballpark also served as the home venue for Baltimore's two North American Soccer League teams, the Bays (1967–1968) and the Comets (1974). Unlike the football gridiron which was situated from home plate to center field, the soccer pitch was laid out with the right field foul line doubling as an end line, the other one in deep left field and the pitching mound out of bounds.
The seating capacity over the years for baseball:
- 31,000 (1950–1952)
- 47,866 (1953–1956)
- 47,778 (1957–1960)
- 49,375 (1961)
- 49,373 (1962–1963)
- 51,991 (1964)
- 52,184 (1965)
- 52,185 (1966–1968)
- 52,137 (1969–1977)
- 52,860 (1978–1979)
- 52,696 (1980–1981)
- 53,208 (1982–1984)
- 54,062 (1985)
- 54,076 (1986)
- 54,002 (1987)
- 54,017 (1988–1990)
- 53,371 (1991–1997)
The seating capacity over the years for football:
- 31,000 (1950–1952)
- 52,060 (1953–1957)
- 57,557 (1958–1959)
- 57,808 (1960)
- 57,641 (1961)
- 57,966 (1962)
- 60,065 (1963)
- 60,213 (1964)
- 60,238 (1965–1969)
- 60,240 (1970–1975)
- 60,020 (1976–1995)
- 65,000 (1996–1997)
Photo gallery: Abandonment
- "Origin & Functions". Maryland Stadium Authority. Retrieved April 30, 2012.
- Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2014. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved February 27, 2014.
- "Memorial Stadium". Ballparks.com. Retrieved March 1, 2012.
- Cooper Rollow, Chicago Tribune, 1959
- APRIL, 1954 | BaseballLibrary.com
- Alvarez, Rafael (July 28, 1991). "In fans' memories, tragedies echo among the cheers".
- "46 hurt; 1 dead in escalator jam Saturday".
- "Child Dies in Escalator Accident".
- "Girl Killed in Escalator Jam".
- "Baltimore Stadium". check-six.com.
- Capital News Service. "Baltimore’s Forgotten Champions: An Oral History". cnsmaryland.org.
- Meany, Eric (December 28, 2013). "Placement of reef balls on Memorial Stadium rubble to continue for at least five more years".
- "Stadium Place YMCA". Ripken Design. Retrieved March 1, 2012.
- "Joy of sports coming back to the Old Memorial Stadium".
- Sharrow, Ryan (December 7, 2010). "Ripken Sr. Foundation completes Memorial Stadium youth field". Baltimore Business Journal.
"St. Mihiel American Cemetery and Memorial" (PDF). Visitor Brochures. American Battle Monuments Commission. p. 1. Retrieved October 27, 2013.
The Commission works to fulfill the vision of its first chairman, General of the Armies John J. Pershing. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I, promised that 'time will not dim the glory of their deeds.'
- "Memorial Stadium". Stadiums of Pro Football. Retrieved December 1, 2011.
- Elliot, James C. (November 11, 1957). "N.F.L. Sets Crowd Mark".
- Bowen, George (December 27, 1959). "Explosive Teams Meet For Pro Football Title". Times Daily.
- "Colts Defeat Rams, 31 to 17".
- Rollow, Cooper (November 6, 1961). "Packers Lose, Bears "Boot" Chance".
- Rollow, Cooper (October 29, 1962). "Green Bay Wins; Giants Stop Redskins".
- "Pro Football Headed for a Banner Season". The Telegraph. August 18, 1963. Retrieved December 1, 2011.
- "Colts-Vikings Game Sold Out".
- Snyder, Cameron C. (November 17, 1968). "Colts Favored By 14 Over Cardinals Here Today".
- "Facts of AFC Game".
- "National Football League (NFL) - Indianapolis Colts". Rauzulu's Street. Retrieved March 1, 2012.
- "The Ravens Nest". Reocities.com. March 15, 1997. Retrieved March 1, 2012.
- House of Magic, by the Baltimore Orioles
- The Home Team, by James H. Bready
- Aerial photo from USGS via Microsoft Research Maps
- Google Maps image of the site
- Memorial Stadium Demolition
- Baltimore Memorial Stadium, 1000 East Thirty-third Street, Baltimore, Independent City, MD at the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS)
|Events and tenants|
Home of the Baltimore Orioles (minor league)
July 4, 1944–1953
Home of the Baltimore Colts
Home of the Baltimore Orioles
Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Host of the All-Star Game
Home of the
United States Congressional Baseball Game
Langley High School
Home of the Bowie Baysox
Home of the Baltimore Stallions
Home of the Baltimore Ravens
Ravens Stadium at Camden Yards
Host of AFC Championship Game
Miami Orange Bowl