The Greater Boston Stadium Authority (Part I)

Credit: The Boston Globe, July 27, 1960

 

The 1960s and 70s were a terrible time for the old ballpark. The world watched as Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field in New York, Shibe Park in Philadelphia, Griffith Stadium in DC, Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, and others met the wrecking ball. In their place came Shea Stadium, Veterans Stadium, RFK Stadium, Busch Memorial Stadium, Three Rivers Stadium, and other stadiums that were designed for both baseball and football but were ideal for neither. The NFL’s growth in the mid 20th century forced cities to reckon with the fact that they needed venues that could accommodate the sport. In its early years, many NFL teams played in parks that were designed for baseball, creating a less than ideal situation for football.  This need and the desire to accommodate both sports when building new stadiums led to the era of multipurpose stadiums, an era that Boston barely avoided. 

Boston had never been much of a football city. In fact, it had seen three NFL franchises come and go with little fanfare. After the folding of the Boston Yanks in 1948, the NFL seemed to give up on its dream of having a permanent presence in Boston. In 1960, the upstart American Football League attempted to fill the void when it placed a franchise, later to be known as the Boston Patriots, in the city. The team was owned by Billy Sullivan, a former publicity director for the Boston Braves who later went on to become a successful businessman. In an unusual move however, the Patriots were awarded to Boston without a stadium deal in place, leaving Sullivan to scramble to find one. At first he claimed that he had multiple leads for potential stadium sites and gave the media three possibilities, either that a city government or “publicly minded group” would issue bonds to build a stadium, they may enlarge an older stadium, or that a proposed “all weather” stadium would go ahead in Norwood. He said that there were three potential sites to construct a new stadium but that he couldn’t divulge the sites for fear that property values may go up. He also claimed that he would have access to existing stadiums, saying that Weymouth and Quincy had offered to enlarge their stadiums for him and the city of Lynn may give him the Manning Bowl, a high school stadium that seated 21,000, as a home for the Patriots. 

Whether Sullivan was bluffing or not may never be known. It appeared however that his words had gotten the attention of the decision makers in Boston. In January 1960, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce announced their decision to investigate the feasibility of a 60,000 seat stadium. The Chamber’s edict was clear however, any proposed stadium was going to accommodate both baseball and football and the Boston Red Sox would be invited to serve as tenants. An article in the January 7,  1960 edition of The Boston Globe noted that multipurpose stadiums in Baltimore and Milwaukee were inspirations for the decision to pursue a similar strategy in Boston.

Sullivan was also helped by Mayor John Collins’s “New Boston” initiative, which sought to revive the city with new and updated architecture. Despite his desire to revive Boston, Collins wasn’t keen on the usage of public funds to do so. The mayor insisted in his meetings with Sullivan that a new stadium would have to be built with private capital. He pledged however that the city would do everything within its power, including imminent domain, to get professional football. The Mayor’s plan centered on a parcel of land in the South Bay region of the city, not far from South Station, that was owned by the New Haven Railroad, which in February was announced as the tentative site of the Patriots’s new stadium. The caveat to the plan however was that Sullivan had to raise funds for its construction himself. The mayor also worked with Sullivan to convince Boston University to allow Sullivan to use their football field, Nickerson Field, located on the site of Sullivan’s former workplace Braves Field, as the home turf for the Pats. 

On July 26, Sullivan and Mayor Collins unveiled the plans for Boston’s new multipurpose stadium (see above). In a change from earlier plans, the stadium was to be located in Dorchester near Columbia Point (next to the modern day JFK/UMass MBTA stop) and would be built to accommodate baseball and football. It would include adjacent entertainment attractions that would bring people to the area even when sports weren’t being played. Despite the hope that the Red Sox would decide to move to the new domed multipurpose stadium, Sox owner Tom Yawkey remained noncommittal to the idea. The hope was that the stadium would be ready to go by the start of the 1962 season. In the first of many setbacks, the plan would stall shortly after it began……

Join us on Thursday as we look at Part II of this saga and the creation of the Greater Boston Stadium Authority. 

Acknowledgements

The Boston Globe’s archives were a tremendous help to compiling this piece. Charles Bevis’s article on Billy Sullivan for the Society for American Baseball Research (linked within the article) was a valuable source of contextual information about Sullivan and supplemental information about his push for a stadium.

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