Beloved old Yankee Stadium, scene of 86 years of beauty and drama, sits alone across the street from its popular young replacement, awaiting execution. It won’t be long until the familiar silhouette begins to shrink, then disappears, and the trucks take it away as rubble. But there’s still time to save a little piece of it—and we’ll never stop regretting it if we don’t.
As New Yorkers know too well, many of our city’s most historic places—sports venues among them—exist only in photographs or in memory, having been demolished without regard for their significance.
Ebbets Field, where Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey changed America’s culture, was wiped from the earth almost 50 years ago. The Polo Grounds—where the term “hot dog” originated, and Bobby Thomson fired the “shot heard round the world”— was pounded to dust with the same wrecking ball used on Ebbets Field.
Their sites are marked only by plaques in the housing projects that replaced them. And though there’s a shiny new arena next door, nothing survives of Shea Stadium’s 45 years of incredible moments but plaques in a parking lot showing the location of its bases and pitcher’s mound.
Now the old Yankee Stadium—the Bronx’s most famous and important structure—has been consigned to the same fate as those landmarks, despite its even longer history. According to current plans, its site will become a much-needed public park. But contrary to earlier plans, and promises made when the new stadium was proposed, not one brick of the old stadium is to be preserved in the new park.
Young people will not even have the thrill of playing on the famous diamond—the new park will be built upon landfill, erasing the historic significance of the ground itself. The Parks Department says it cannot provide enough recreational space without bulldozing the stadium and reconfiguring the site.
Fortunately, an elegant solution exists in the form of “Gate 2,” one of the old stadium’s majestic entrance gates, which faces the new stadium on East 161st Street. A movement has begun to preserve this architectural jewel—which still looks much as it did when the stadium opened in 1923—as the main entranceway into the new park, a tangible and inspiring link to the site’s storied past.
As can be seen on the informative Web site www.savetheyankeegate2.com, saving Gate 2 is a winning proposition for the Bronx and the whole city. Like Washington Square’s arch, the gate would become a New York icon and a draw for visitors. And because it is at the edge of the site, and relatively shallow, it would not subtract from available recreational space. So far, however, the Parks Department remains determined to destroy every bit of the old stadium, including the gate. And, shamefully, none of our elected officials has shown a willingness to get involved.
Many generations have walked through Gate 2 into Yankee Stadium. And what was waiting for them on the other side? The 1928 football game where Knute Rockne urged Notre Dame to “win just one for the Gipper.” The 1938 Louis-Schmeling fight, where Joe Louis punched a hole in Nazi racial theories and homegrown Jim Crow. Lou Gehrig declaring himself “the luckiest man on the face of this earth” as disease ate away his body. Ruth, DiMaggio, popes and presidents, Muhammad Ali, Nelson Mandela, 39 World Series…
Almost a century of rich American history, played out on a single square block in the Bronx.
And Gate 2 witnessed all of it.
The cathedral of baseball will be missed, like every other lost and irreplaceable New York treasure. But this time, at least, let’s make sure there’s more than a plaque left to show our kids. You don’t have to be a Yankee fan to tell your elected officials to save Gate 2, one little piece of the original Yankee Stadium; you just have to be a fan of this city and its amazing past.
George Molé, an NYPD captain and Bedford Park resident, writes about urban issues. This is an expanded version of an article that originally appeared in the Daily News.