- The Rise of Stadiums in the Modern United States: Cathedrals of Sport
In the academic word, there is no lack of studies on sport stadiums. Yet, many of these studies tend to be done by sport economists and urban studies scholars who examine the benefits of publicly funded stadiums as claimed by proponents of such projects. Because of these studies, there is now a rich body of literature that critically examines (and casts doubt) on the touted economic benefits, such as job creation, tourism, and urban renewal, generated by building a sport stadium. Historical studies on sport facilities, on the other hand, remain an understudied area. Thus, Cathedrals of Sport is a welcomed addition in American sport history.
As co-editor Mark Dyreson points out, the purpose of Cathedrals of Sport is to address the lack of scholarly studies on sporting spaces. Borrowing from sport geographer John Bale’s notion of sportscapes, the collection of essays seeks to examine how and why sport “remade particular landscapes into spaces devoted to sport by shaping the ways in which cultures inhabited, used and understood them” (p. 1). Although the collection of essays ranges in time and locales, six of the eight chapters (excluding the prologue and epilogue) focus on stadiums and their professional sport tenant in major metropolises. Yet, this is where the similarities end. Adding to the two chapters on the development of physical education and recreation in the first half of the twentieth century and on the stadium construction arms race in American higher education institutions before the Great Depression, Cathedrals of Sport offers a diverse examination of the role of stadiums in the American sportscape. From a failed attempt to build a national stadium in the nation’s capital to the creation and marketing of the myth of Wrigley Field to the conundrum of erecting the Three Rivers Stadium during the Civil Rights movement, readers will not be disappointed to learn about the importance of sport in American life and the meanings of sport as manifested in the venues that host them.
Cathedrals of Sport begins with Roberta Park’s chapter that provides readers with a general contextual understanding of the arguments of the importance of sport and recreation by proponents prior to the Second World War. Reformers in this period saw sport [End Page 320] and recreation as essential for good citizenship and national readiness. This Progressive notion of sport, however, was not the reason universities and colleges engaged in a building frenzy in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Ron Smith reminds us that stadiums on university campuses served to promote the host institution’s image and prestige. Despite the small population base in college towns, the size and capacity of these facilities also, in a way, extended the connection between the university and its traditional constituents of students and alumni to a wider American public. This chapter is impressive in terms of the sources used as the narrative takes the reader from the East Coast through the Midwest and then finally to the West Coast.
The next six chapters then focus on stadiums in major American metropolises. While many of these examine well-known sporting edifices such as Wrigley Field, Candlestick Park, Three Rivers Stadium, Mark Dyreson’s investigation in the various proposed national stadium schemes argues that the American sportscape, and indeed the stadium dreams of major American cities, could have been quite different. The strength of this chapter is in the insightful conclusions. Conclusion 5 about the failure in building a national stadium due to the political realities in a democracy, however, really deserves a more detailed treatment. Dyreson only explained the Hamilton Fish proposal in which Southern Democrats balked at naming a proposed stadium after Theodore Roosevelt. But there were other proposals that never materialized.
Greg Twietmeyer’s chapter on Wrigley Field and Maureen Smith’s chapter on San Francisco’s two Major League Baseball parks both deconstruct attempts by the ball club and friendly media to create a...