CHURCH LEAGUE HOOPS PHILLY-STYLE

THE PALESTRA Philadelphia, PA Home of the University of Pennsylvania Quakers and Big 5 Basketball Opened: 1927 Capacity: 8,722 For the past 88 years the red brick Palestra has been at the heart of Philadelphia’s pulsating sports scene. Located on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, just west of the Schuylkill River and downtown Philly, the Palestra hosts Penn basketball, volleyball, wrestling and gymnastics teams, Big 5 and city high school championships, and has hosted more NCAA Tournament games than any other venue in the country. 

The Palestra’s symmetrical, brick exterior, efficient bleacher-style seating and large, cathedral-style windows create a cozy, church-like setting appropriate for a building dubbed, “the Cathedral of College Basketball”. And although it’s hosted the biggest of games and the best of athletes, the Palestra’s homey, old-school vibe evokes the feel of a local weeknight church league, only with a bigger crowd.

I’ve wanted to visit the Palestra for so long, and finally got the chance to see a vintage Big 5 battle between Penn and Villanova last week. Armed with my press pass, at the entry lobby a fellow writer – a Palestra regular – took me under his wing and gave me a quick tour. Like something out of a movie, we ducked and dived our way through the growing crowd. Taking a quick right, he stepped over a chain-link barrier onto a ramp leading down to the courtside media room. Inexplicably, as often the case with aged sport buildings, a bright red concrete beam bisected the ramp at forehead level, almost making me a pregame casualty. Luckily, my reflexes are still good and having avoided disaster, I continued on to the cathedral of college basketball.

So, what makes the Palestra special? It is the same difficult question as, “What makes Wrigley Field or Fenway Park special”? The sheer age of these venerable sporting venues puts them in a different category to modern ballparks. The Palestra is as much a part of its hometown as Fenway and Wrigley are to theirs. And yet, there is something uniquely special about the Palestra.

When it opened January 1, 1927 its 10,000-seat capacity made the Palestra one of the biggest college basketball arenas in the country. With the same management company as Madison Square Garden in New York, teams were required to play at both famous buildings, bringing big teams to the Palestra and establishing it on the basketball map. Since its opening, the Palestra has hosted more NCAA Tournament games than any other building, it has hosted Atlantic-10 tournament games, NBA games and most importantly is the historic home to the Big 5.

The early days at the Palestra (Photo: Pixgood)

The early days at the Palestra (Photo: Pixgood)

The Big 5 is the famous consortium of five college basketball teams located in or around Philadelphia – the University of Pennsylvania, Villanova, Temple, St. Joseph’s and La Salle - that has been battling for the unofficial title of city champ since its formation in 1955. No other city in the country has this concentration of major college basketball programs playing each other on an annual basis, let alone at the same historic arena.

Each school now has its own arena to call home, but occasionally, as on the night I saw Villanova, Penn hosts an old Big 5 matchup at the Palestra, and the city’s eyes once again focus on 235 South 33rd Street.

Although Penn were heavy underdogs, they hung close throughout with Villanova only pulling away in the final 10 minutes. The closely contested battle allowed the Palestra to do its thing. It’s not an accident that so many games have been played here, as it is a wonderful venue to watch a game. Fans sit in either the North, South, East or West stands and the lack of interior columns or seating breaks make sightlines not a problem even if your seat is off in one of the corners. I’ve been to other venues – Autzen Stadium and McArthur Court in Eugene, Madison Square Garden in New York – and the atmosphere feels similarly charged, like a powder keg ready and eager to explode at any moment.

This electrified atmosphere is something the designers at Populous and HOK spend a lot of time studying; my theory is it’s the lack of disruptions in the seating bowl, proximity to court and – most importantly – a communal desire to make an atmosphere charged that makes the atmosphere, well, charged. One could say then, the Palestra is special because it is special. 

We returned Sunday afternoon for the UPenn Gymnastics meet versus highly ranked Stanford. The crowd was significantly smaller than for the previous night’s basketball, probably in the range of 50-100, but the building didn’t feel empty or the competition insignificant in any way. The Palestra’s intimacy was incredible and it was phenomenal watching Olympic-calibre gymnastics talent this close-up.

I have a theory of architecture that all great buildings, the Palestra being one, are at once small and big. The Palestra’s efficient, single bowl provides a sense of community, its elegant windows illuminate the building and reference a larger world beyond, and the energy created by devoted fans and players create a dynamic, charged environment unique to this place. Regardless of the sport, you all should find your way there.

GOODNIGHT BRENDAN BYRNE

The steel frame rises above the marsh (Image: lera.com)

The steel frame rises above the marsh (Image: lera.com)

The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority has voted 10-2 in favor of closing the Izod Center, the 34-year-old arena in East Rutherford, NJ. Not shocking news, but it stings as it was here, more than any other venue that my ideas and passions for sport and stadia took hold.

The Izod Center hasn’t had a clear purpose ever since the Devils moved to Newark’s Prudential Center in 2007 and the Nets left for Brooklyn’s Barclays Center in 2013. The Center continued to host music concerts and the occasional basketball game but even that reduced schedule was an unwelcome distraction from local politicians’ preferred focus on the development of the nearby Prudential Center and the revitalization of downtown Newark. In recent years the Izod Center had gained a somewhat pariah status. 

Brendan Byrne Arena c. 1993 (Photo: Wikipedia)

Brendan Byrne Arena hosts Bruce Springsteen c. 1993 (Photo: Wikipedia)

When I first visited the Izod Center in the early 1980s it went by its original name of Brendan Byrne Arena in honor of the then New Jersey Governor. I was five years old and tagging along with my older brother’s basketball team to see Dr. J’s Philadelphia 76ers take on the newly relocated New Jersey Nets. The defining moment for me wasn’t seeing Erving or Daryl Dawkins in person but traversing the top of the arena as it dipped behind the baskets and rose up high above the sidelines in repeated games of ‘manhunt’.

Those magenta seats and manhunt track up top (Image: Flickr)

Those magenta seats and manhunt track up top (Image: Flickr)

In 1989, we moved to South Orange, NJ, home of Seton Hall University, and my Dad went in on three season tickets to the perennial Big East doormats who called the Meadowlands home. My brother and I were mainly excited to see bigger teams like Syracuse and Georgetown with their bigger stars Billy Owens and Alonzo Mourning, but from Section 113 that season Seton Hall caught lightning in a bottle, won 20 games and made it to the NCAA Tournament Finals. I was hooked.

I saw Duke and UConn battle in NCAA tournament regional finals in 1990, Drazen Petrovic, Kenny Anderson and Derrick Coleman light it up regularly and I even got to play on the floor with my 8th grade team, prior to a Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls game.  The arena hosted NCAA Final Fours, NBA Championships, Stanley Cup Playoffs, rock concerts and truck pulls, it was a well used building, more white mule than white elephant.

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Aerial view of Brendan Byrne Arena with Giants Stadium and racetrack in background (Image: NJ.Com)

Brendan Byrne Arena was a different species to the new, more urban Prudential and Barclays Centers that replaced it. Along with Giants Stadium and the Meadowlands Racetrack, the arena made up the vast Meadowlands Sports Complex, a sport facility designed to cater to the surrounding New Jersey suburbs. Unlike Madison Square Garden, which fits neatly into the Manhattan grid, or Yankee Stadium which anchors the South Bronx, the Meadowlands floats amid the Meadowlands marshes alongside the New Jersey Turnpike. A rather anonymous, soulless complex, the three venues were connected by a network of surface parking lots, roads and elevated walkways. It might not seem possible to develop an affinity for a place so removed from urban life, but I did, and now I crave its practical design and honest infrastructural character in the landscape of often overly complicated modern stadia.

Brendan Byrne Arena had a simple, single concourse layout. After entering one its four corners, you either descended to the 100 level or went up to the 200s, a refreshingly straight forward sequence compared to the gauntlet of escalators and multiple concourses at, for example, Barclays Center.

A simple menu of hot dogs and knishes was the – quite perfect – extent of the food options available. Sightlines were fine enough and a seat in the upper reaches of section 208 were no worse for a NJ Nets game then, than a Brooklyn Nets game now.

The Izod Center all lit up (Image: Eidetic)

The Izod Center all lit up (Image: Eidetic)

Giants Stadium was replaced by a much bigger and even drabber football stadium in 2010, and the once-stalled Xanadu shopping complex was taken over by the Mall of America folks and rebranded the American Dream. The Meadowlands was always an ambitious project and Brendan Byrne Arena seems to have become a victim of its own ambitions.  It was a busy thirty four years at the Sports Complex alongside the NJ Turnpike, may its hard working nature and its clean, simple design inspire arenas for years to come.  For now, the lights have gone out at Brendan Byrne.

MICHIE STADIUM, WEST POINT

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Michie Stadium
West Point, NY
Home of the Army Black Knights
Opened: 1924
Capacity: 38,000

Michie Stadium has been on Stadiafile’s ‘must visit’ list for some time. One of the most historic college football venues in the country, it is set within the picturesque Hudson Valley, just 50 miles north of New York City. As a military academy steeped in tradition, a visit to Michie Stadium assures an authentic, unique American sport experience.

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Richie Stadium c. 1924

Michie Stadium, named after Dennis Michie, the Cadet who created the Army football program in 1890, was built in 1924 amidst the boom in college stadium construction (see Michigan Stadium, the Rose Bowl, Notre Dame Stadium etc.). At that time Army was a powerhouse football program and Michie Stadium would become the center of the country’s bourgeoning college football culture. 

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Overhead view of Michie Stadium looking South [Photo: Wikipedia]

The campus and the stadium sit high above the Hudson, at a strategic bend in the river which made this spot an important stronghold for the American troops during the Revolution. The main road into West Point, Route 218, becomes West Point Highway in the town of Highland Falls, where it enters the campus. Passing through Thayer Gate, to your left is Buffalo Soldier Field, a series of football fields during the week, becomes tailgate central on gamedays. An alternative – and unique – way to arrive is via the Seastreak ferry which leaves from New York City at 8 a.m. on gamedays, taking a three-hour trip up the Hudson River.

Adjacent to Michie Stadium is Lusk Reservoir, a manmade, 13-acre reservoir providing the campus drinking water. From the reservoir, the terrain rises quickly towards the surrounding hillsides, all technically part of the 16,000-acre wooded campus. The cozy, 38,000-seat stadium’s original, 3-sided structure remains intact, with the East grandstand added in 1962 and an upper deck in 1969. Unlike other larger campus stadiums, this modest expansion allows the surrounding landscape – showcasing today’s beautiful Fall foliage – to remain wonderfully visible from within the stadium.

To get the lay of the land, we were able to proceed directly to the Hoffman Press Box, having been granted press credentials by the Army Athletic Department. From up high, the view of the Cadets, Lusk Reservoir and the surrounding Hudson Valley was spectacular, but we quickly realized that the ultimate atmosphere lay down below.


Walking around Michie Stadium during a game, a few things become evident: people here are very nice and very respectful; there are no packs of loud, drunken fans – a virtual staple at college gamedays across the country – and the 4,000-strong Cadet student population is a fun-loving, yet disciplined bunch.


Cadets are ‘highly encouraged’ to attend home games and cannot leave the stadium early. I love this; the impact of this rule sustains the lively, energetic atmosphere throughout the game.

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(Photo: Stadiafile)

Army were taking on nearby rival Fordham at the game we attended, so there was a great atmosphere. Everyone was extremely nice, almost as if all the Cadets, whether spectators, food or ticket sellers, were consciously putting Army’s best face on. Families were everywhere, along with Fordham undergrads flirting with the Cadets, and the smell of homemade caramel corn hung heavy in the air, confirming that this place is all that is good with collegiate sport.

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Halftime at West Point (Photo: Stadiafile)

Halftime is special at Michie Stadium. During the game we covered every corner of the grounds, but fortunately halftime found us climbing the evocatively named Stoney Lonesome Road, which runs around the north end of the stadium, giving us a unique view of the festivities inside. An American flag the size of the entire field was unfurled, former Cadets and servicemen in the crowd were asked to stand and military hymns and battle songs were belted out by the Cadet band. It will bring a patriotic rush to the most agnostic New Yorker.

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Halftime nears (Photo: Stadiafile)

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Most cadets stay put at halftime (Photo: Stadiafile)


Army is not alone amongst unique venues in the Academies. Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, MD and Air Force’s Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, CO are similarly sized buildings, both cleverly knitted into their surrounding, with Falcon Stadium probably the most architecturally noteworthy of the three.

From a visitor’s perspective, athletics facilities appear to dominate the West Point campus. Cadets are required to take part in at least one sport each semester, be it intercollegiate, club or intramural. From the numerous football fields at Buffalo Soldier Field, to the bleachers lining the expansive plain, the sports facilities makes sense at a military academy where all the students are also undertaking a physical training. Oh, and one would bet a large percentage of cadets were star athletes in high school.

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They’re all ‘West Point’ (Photo: Stadiafile)

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Fordham QB Mike Nebrich leads his troops (Photo: Stadiafile)

Clustered on the south side of Michie Stadium are a series of athletic buildings built over the past 20 years, forming an impressive athletic facility. Directly adjacent to the south end zone seating is the 120,000 square foot Kimsey Athletic Center, home to all the training facilities, locker rooms and coaches’ offices. The 131,000 square foot Holleder Center further up the hill houses both the 5,000-seat Christl Arena and the 2,750-seat Tate Hockey Rink, home to the Black Knight basketball and hockey teams respectively. 

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The back side of the upper deck and Hoffman press box (Photo: Stadiafile)

None of these buildings, including Michie Stadium, are of great architectural significance. Their straightforward, utilitarian construction and appearance are representative of the campus’ no-nonsense, honest character. The real stars of West Point are the beautiful setting along the Hudson River and the Cadets themselves. Michie Stadium plays a humble, supporting role, as it has been dutifully doing for the past 90-some years.

POSTALIZED: CHURCHILL DOWNS

So apparently this weekend they are gonna run the Kentucky Derby, again, for like the 140th time. The signature event of the American horse racing calendar will be held, as it has since it opened in 1875, at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. To commemorate the event, we feature this gem of a card we picked up recently at Big Don’s Collectibles in Strasburg, PA. The hand fan/postcard rolled into one features a full-bleed image of the grandstand that hugs the north and west sides of the 1-1/4 mile track. As the fan unfolds, the extent of Churchill Downs magically unfolds with it. The iconic towers designed by architect Joseph Dominic Baldez in 1895 anchor the frantic action on the track and in the stands. KM_C364e-20140502085920KM_C364e-20140502085920KM_C364e-20140502085920 Between 2001 – 2005 Churchill Downs underwent a $121 million renovation which added 79 new luxury suites. The new suites dwarf the twin spires, as can be seen in the image below.

The famous view of Churchill Downs c. 2006 via Horseback Magazine

The iconic view of Churchill Downs c. 2006 via Horseback Magazine

The distinguished horse track continues to evolve with attempts to provide an optimum viewing experience to all spectators, including the majority gathered in the infield, inside the oval track. From the infield seats it was famously difficult to actually see the race, but they receive an upgrade at this year’s Derby with the unveiling of a new 15,000 sq. ft. high-definition video board, larger than three basketball courts. The massive, flat screen sits opposite the grandstand and towers over the twin spires across the track. Joseph Dominic Baldez probably would not approve but it does the job and at least they haven’t topped the screen with twin spires. History has been good to Churchill Downs since it opened 135 years ago. One of sport’s great venues continues to evolve and modernize into its third century. Enjoy race day everyone and stay cool.

Churchill downs c. 1901 via Wikipedia

Churchill downs c. 1901 via Wikipedia

As always click on the images to see them in all their glory.

Play Ball

Happy Opening Day 2014 everyone! To celebrate the occasion, we chose this new addition to our ‘Midwest Collection’. Enjoy this view of the long gone Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, OH, home to the Reds (MLB) and Bengals (NFL) between 1970-2002. Riverfront_F Enjoy its grandeur, its roundness, its symmetry. Its integration of lighting, flags, structure, and pedestrian circulation into the overall building organization. Enjoy the structural diagram and exposed skeleton of this late 20th Century fortress. There is no artificial historicity to this building (well maybe its reference to this), no conforming to non-existent context or references to past stadia. Riverfront_B Was Riverfront a great place to watch a game? Debatable. Were its sight-lines perfect? Depends who you ask. It was ambitious though, and for being a trailblazer it gains our respect and admiration. May it rest in peace. Play ball!

Click on the images to see them in all their glory.

BASEBALL-FLORIDA

Stadiafile just received a major haul of postal wonders, including this very informative card (below) showing the Florida Spring Training sites of the 16 Major League Baseball teams who participated in the Grapefruit League, sometime after the Mets started playing in Port St. Lucie in 1988 and before the Boston Red Sox moved to Fort Myers in 1992. Since then, the lure of the Cactus League has pulled the Dodgers and Reds to dryer pastures in Arizona and now only the the Tigers, Mets, Astros, Blue Jays, Phillies and the Pirates remain in their respective locales as depicted below. The Red Sox and Twins now train in Ft. Myers on the Gulf side and the Nationals and Marlins have entered the league and train in Viera and Jupiter respectively.

There are many things to love about this card: the simplicity with which the information is communicated, the cartographic clarity  of reducing the state of Florida to a large, green landmass with a mysterious, gold “glow”, whose main roadways access exclusively the spring training locales. The lack of team logos and title ‘FLORIDA BASEBALL’ give a nice, generic feel, while the baseball ‘O’ and the old-timer swinging the bat add to the its timelessness.Fl_Sp_F

In an age when information, especially sport-related, is often instantly delivered via multi-layered, dynamic, over-saturated displays – be they on mobile devices or in-stadium display – postcards slow this all down. Their diminutive size, limited graphic capabilities and reliance on the postal system make these cards a wonderful counterpoint to our current sport world. Enjoy.FL_Sp_B

Click on the images and you’ll be able to see them in all their glory.

GOING POSTAL

We at Stadiafile have been scouring flea markets, antique shops and, well, mainly ebay, in a concerted effort to expand our collection of  vintage stadium post cards. We’re now featuring these postal wonders on Stadiafile for your viewing pleasure.

Feast your eyes on our inaugural offering –  ASTRODOMAIN, as it was known back in 1971. As an arena, one is still struck by the ambition of The Astrodome, aka the 8th Wonder of the World, but as an urban zone/hospitality experience, we’re not sure whether the Howard Johnson and Astroworld Hotel in the foreground excite. Viewing the Houston skyline in the distance, one is reminded of the suburban nature of this and many Mega-projects from the 1960s and 70s.

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Enjoy these and look forward to more pocket sized stadia classics to come!

Click on the images to see them in all their glory.

THE KIDS IN THE WHALE

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INGALLS  RINK
Yale University
Architect: Eero Saarinen
1958
New Haven, CT

This fall we took a field trip to the campus of Yale University and were absolutely blown away. The quality of modern architecture on the Yale campus is incredible, a Who’s Who of the great Modernists: Louis I Kahn’s Center for British Art, Paul Rudolph’s Art and Architecture Building, Gordon Bunshaft’s Beinecke Library, but our true affection was for Eero Saarinen’s Ingalls Rink, an absolute gem of a hockey facility which opened in 1958. The most striking feature of this 3,500-seat venue is the 90-meter long concrete arch that spans the entire length of the space creating a column-free interior and inspiring the Ingalls Rink’s nickname “The Whale”. The Ingalls’ roof is quintessential Saarinen, whose more well-known structures, such as JFK Airport’s TWA Terminal and the iconic St. Louis Gateway Arch, also feature bold, organically inspired forms. Located on the North end of Yale’s urban campus, Ingalls is home to the 2013 NCAA Division I Mens Hockey Champions, the Yale Bulldogs as well as weekend youth hockey teams from across the New England region, as I saw one Saturday afternoon last Fall:

Click to view slideshow.

BOXING DAY IN BOGNOR

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BOGNOR REGIS TOWN FOOTBALL CLUB
Nyewood Lane
Bognor Regis, UK
26 December 2013

Boxing Day in England is an incredible day for any football fan. Unlike other European countries such as Italy, Spain and Holland, English football leagues continue play through the Holiday period. After a one-day hiatus on Christmas Day, Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) is an all-out onslaught for fans of the old game, in which nearly every team in the country, barring a soggy pitch or freezing temperatures, are in play. It is kind of how New Year’s Day was for college football fans back when Bowl Games were all on the first day of the year, kind of.  Fortunately for me, I am in England for the Holidays and so for the third year attended the Boxing Day match at nearby Nyewood Lane in West Sussex where  local club Bognor Regis Town played Lewes Football Club from neighboring county East Sussex. Here is what we saw at this great little ground.

Click to view Slideshow
Click for full Flickr Set from this year, as well as previous visits to Nyewood Lane.

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