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  • Modern Coliseum: Stadiums and American Culture by Benjamin D. Lisle
  • J. Philip Gruen (bio)
Benjamin D. Lisle
Modern Coliseum: Stadiums and American Culture
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017.
328 pages, 76 black-and-white illustrations.
ISBN: 978-0-8122-4922-4, $34.95 HB
ISBN: 978-0-8122-9407-1, $34.95 EB

It is hardly novel to study architectural modernism in the United States. Even those problematic developments that rose (or fell) amid urban and suburban schemes in the post–World War II years, from publicly funded inner-city high-rises to developer-driven tract homes on the suburban edge, have received their scholarly due. Yet the written landscape of the American built environment is still missing the huge stadiums of the postwar years: the reinforced concrete, largely circular, and occasionally domed facilities planned and built across the country from the 1950s through the 1970s to accommodate major league baseball, professional football . . . and automobiles. Once politically, economically, imaginatively, and often geographically central to cities such as Atlanta, Cincinnati, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C., these stadiums have today all but vanished from the land, their one-time presence considered an aberration in the history of the twentieth-century American city, if they are considered at all. For the most part, sports facilities of all periods have been neglected by historians despite their central locations in the metropolis; their impacts on race, class, and gender; their effects on neighborhood character; and their role in preservation and memory.1 Only economists, bent upon targeting stadiums as exemplary of fiscal mismanagement and waste, and journalists, who wax nostalgic about the days of yore when smaller ballparks apparently made more intimate connections to their neighborhoods, serve as general exceptions to this historiography.

Benjamin Lisle’s Modern Coliseum: Stadiums and American Culture offers a far more historically grounded, and thus refreshing, view and scope. Lisle’s effort is ambitious: though his focus is on the postwar stadiums and he excludes the glorified wooden grandstands erected for professional baseball and football in the late nineteenth century, he traces the rise of American stadiums over the past hundred years while situating them within their political, economic, geographical, cultural, and social climate. Although the book is loosely chronological, Lisle employs a case study approach to tease out major themes of stadium development. He directs his attention principally to the kaleidoscope of issues surrounding the construction of Shea Stadium in New York City (1961–64), the Astrodome in Houston (1962–65), and Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis (1964–66) and cites them— and their contemporary ilk— for setting in motion a commercialism, exclusivity, and artificiality that has reached extreme proportions in the wave of “retro” ballparks built in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Well written, thoroughly researched, and appropriately illustrated, Modern Coliseum is long overdue.

Following an introductory section highlighting the shifting demographics that allegedly necessitated the construction of different stadiums in Washington, D.C., in the initial chapters Lisle introduces readers to the roiling ethnic, political, and economic considerations that surrounded the gradual abandonment of stadiums in the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn (Ebbets Field) and Manhattan (Polo Grounds), built or rebuilt in the 1910s, and the construction of those in Los Angeles (Dodger Stadium) and San Francisco (Candlestick Park), begun in the late 1950s. He marshals a variety of primary sources to contend that the rowdy, mixed-race crowds at the older ballparks, together with augmented African American neighborhood [End Page 112] populations and difficult parking, inspired New York Giants’ owner Horace Stoneham, Brooklyn Dodgers’ owner Walter O’Malley, and New York City Parks Commissioner Robert Moses to seek architecturally distinctive and spacious accommodations (with ample parking) for an increasingly affluent— and white—suburban middle-class and upper-middle-class clientele.

This new collection of potential fans, and potential capital, comprise the human contingent from which the middle three chapters, the core of Lisle’s book, draw their material. Lisle introduces Shea Stadium, the Astrodome, and Busch Memorial Stadium with respect to their local and national post-war conditions, from the ethnic makeup of neighborhoods and the...


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