Memorial Stadium was a sports stadium in Baltimore, Maryland, that formerly stood on 33rd Street on an over-sized block also bounded by Ellerslie Avenue (west), 36th Street (north), and Ednor Road (east). Two different stadiums were located here, a 1922 version known as Baltimore Stadium, Municipal Stadium, and Venable Stadium and the stadium that, when finally completed in 1950, would become known as Memorial Stadium, and for a time, Babe Ruth Stadium in reference to the then-recently departed Baltimore native. The stadium was also known as "The Old Gray Lady of 33rd Street", and also (for Colts games at least) as "The World's Largest Outdoor Insane Asylum."
This pair of structures hosted the following teams over the years:
- Baltimore Orioles (minor league), International League, mid-season 1944–1953
- Baltimore Orioles, American League, 1954–1991 Image:Last game Memorial Stadium.jpg
- United States Congressional Baseball Game, 1973 – 1976
- Bowie Baysox, Eastern League (Orioles farm club), 1993
- Baltimore Colts, AAFC 1947 – 1949, NFL 1950
- Baltimore Colts, National Football League, 1953 – 1983
- Baltimore Stallions/Baltimore F.C., Canadian Football League, 1994 – 1995
- Baltimore Ravens, National Football League, 1996 – 1997
- Baltimore City College City vs Poly Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, Thanksgiving Day 1954-1999
- Calvert Hall College vs Loyola Blakefield Thanksgiving Day 1957-1999
Memorial Stadium started out in life as Baltimore Stadium, also known as Municipal Stadium, and as Venable Stadium. Designed by Pleasants Pennington and Albert W. Lewis, it was built in 1922, in a previously undeveloped area called Venable Park. It was primarily a football stadium, a large horseshoe with an earthen-mound exterior and its open end facing south. In its early years it hosted various college-level games, including the occasional Army–Navy Game. In mid-summer 1944 it was pressed into service as a baseball park by the Baltimore Orioles of the International League, when their previous home, Oriole Park, was destroyed by fire.
The minor league Orioles rose from the ashes, in heroic fashion, going on to win the International League championship that year, and also the Junior World Series over Louisville of the American Association. The large post-season crowds at Municipal Stadium, which would not have been possible at Oriole Park, and which easily surpassed the attendance at major league baseball's own World Series that year (in which the St. Louis Cardinals defeated their in-town rivals, the St. Louis Browns), caught the attention of the major leagues, and Baltimore suddenly became a viable option for teams looking to move.
Spurred by the Orioles' success, and also by the presence of professional football, the city chose to rebuild the stadium as a facility of major league caliber, which they renamed Memorial Stadium in honor of the dead of World War I and World War II. It was also known for a time as "Babe Ruth Stadium", after the then-recently deceased Hall of Famer and Baltimore native. The reconstruction began in 1949 and was done in stages, slowly obliterating the old Municipal Stadium stands, even as the Orioles continued playing on their makeshift diamond.
Memorial Stadium was completed in 1950 at a cost of $6.5 million. Seating 31,000 at the time, the stadium consisted of a single, horseshoe-shaped deck, with the open end facing north, and was designed to host football as well as baseball. A roofless upper deck was added in 1954 when the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore and became the major league version of the Baltimore Orioles.
On April 15, 1954, thousands of Baltimoreans jammed city streets as the new Orioles paraded from downtown to their new home at Memorial Stadium. During the 90-minute parade, the new "Birds" signed autographs, handed out pictures and threw styrofoam balls to crowd as the throng marched down East 33rd Street. Inside, more than 46,000 watched the Orioles beat the Chicago White Sox, 3–1, to win their home opener and move into first place in the American League.
Both the Orioles and the Colts had some great successes over the next few decades, winning several championships. Among the Orioles who played here were pitcher Jim Palmer, first baseman John (Boog) Powell, shortstop Cal Ripken Jr., third baseman Brooks Robinson and outfielder Frank Robinson. Among the Colts' greats were quarterback John Unitas, wide receiver Raymond Berry, and running backs Alan Ameche and Lenny Moore as well as tightend John Mackey. The 1959 NFL championship game, which the Colts won, was played at the stadium. It was the enthusiasm of Colts fans in particular that led to the stadium being dubbed "The World's Largest Outdoor Insane Asylum" by Cooper Rollow, the Chicago Tribune's head NFL writer at the time.
One highly unusual incident was the crash of an airplane on the stadium premises. This occurred on December 19, 1976, just minutes after the conclusion of an NFL playoff game with the Pittsburgh Steelers. A small private plane, a Piper Cherokee, buzzed the stadium, and then crashed into the upper deck overlooking the south end zone. Fortunately for the spectators in that area, the Steelers had won the game handily (40–14), and most of the fans had already exited the stadium by the time the game ended. There were no serious injuries, and the pilot was arrested for violating plane safety regulations.
Hard times for the ballpark began when the Colts' fortunes sagged and they transferred to Indianapolis in a notorious move where moving vans trucked the club's equipment in the middle of the snowy early morning of March 29, 1984. This event dramatically shifted the political establishment's view on how best to address the stadium upgrade needs of the Orioles, the only remaining tenant.
Until that time, then Mayor William Donald Schaefer supported only renovation of the venerable ballpark. After the Colts moved—and despite the public's continued opposition to new construction—the Mayor reversed his position and supported establishment of a new stadium for the Orioles. Like many other teams of the time, the Orioles never had to "demand" a new stadium. But their options were clear, as populated areas competed to steal teams from long-established locations. Economic considerations aside, this did result in the Orioles obtaining the first and arguably the best of the 1990s retro-ballparks, Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles' final season at Memorial Stadium was in 1991.
When the decision to abandon Memorial Stadium (in favor of the new downtown ballpark) became imminent, various citizen groups began to organize opposition to the decision. In particular, the neighborhoods surrounding Memorial Stadium became anxious about the impact on their area of an abandoned "white elephant": there simply wasn't any other use that would generate the funds to properly maintain the site. And there were no funds for demolition and redevelopment. While the stadium events may have created periodic disruptions to local life, it did provide easy access to major league sports and special attention from the city for maintenance of the area. No one in the local community was optimistic about the future of the neighborhoods.
The mayor and other power brokers, of course, knew of strong general public opposition to subsidizing a new ballpark. City-wide, as well as local, community leaders also knew of this potential, but there was also a shortage of leaders willing to take on this task (although this was never stated, and may not have been known by the Mayor). During this pivotal period, local community leaders decided to "bargain away the petition drive" for certain considerations. To do this, area groups formed the Stadium Neighborhoods Coalition (SNC) and negotiated the following: (1) Establishment of an official Memorial Redevelopment Stadium Task Force with public meetings and minutes; and, (2) a written pledge by then Mayor Schaefer to provide upfront funding for any demolition and redevelopment resulting from this community process.
For the next decade, while the community input process lumbered on, Memorial Stadium was relegated to temporary-home status for several sports teams. During the CFL's two seasons in Baltimore, the stadium became noted for being one of the few American facilities with a playing surface large enough to accommodate a regulation Canadian football field - this likely contributed to the Stallions' success both on and off the field. The Stallions were replaced as tenants by the Ravens in 1996, who used the stadium until the end of the 1997 NFL regular season. It was bid farewell in style by both the Orioles (in a field-encircling ceremony staged by many former Oriole players and hosted by Hall of Fame announcer Ernie Harwell, who began his announcing career here) and the Ravens (who had many former Colts assemble for a final play, run by Unitas).
Through all of this, the official Redevelopment Task Force met off and on, depending on prospects for long-term use. The community remained quite sensitized about any inappropriate use of this center-of-the-neighborhood structure. When word leaked that the stadium was being considered for "rock concerts" a group of neighbors organized "People Against Concerts at Memorial Stadum" (PACAMS). As Baltimore was deciding to confirm or deny this story—with no immediate answer—a large public opposition developed. With the resulting outpouring of anger, the City publicly confirmed its decision not to lease the site for rock concerts.
In resolving the "rock concert" problem, that process had actually ignited a new spirit of proactive advocacy in the community. In fact, there had been developing a division within established neighborhood groups about the best tactics in securing a good future for the stadium. Should the groups make further use of the direct action tactics of PACAMS, or use quiet lobbying by established groups?
That division was never resolved, as individuals continued to work in different paths. In fact, PACAMS (after the anti-"rock concerts" success), reconstituted itself as "People Advocating a Community Agenda for Memorial Stadium"—continuing with the successful PACAMS acronym. With PACAMS' public advocacy, and the established groups' holding fast to more traditional lines of community, there ultimately resulted in a large, and well attended, public meeting where several redevelopment proposals were presented. The resulting community preference for a mixed used development led to the successful development now on site.
Demolition and redevelopmentEdit
The City of Baltimore solicited proposals for development of the site. Most proposals preserved some or all of the stadium, including the memorial to World War II veterans and words on the facade, one proposal even had a school occupying the former offices of Memorial Stadium and the field used as a recreational facility for the school. Mayor Martin J. O'Malley, however, favored the proposal that resulted in the total razing of the stadium, an act that many fought and protested. Former mayor and governor William Donald Schaefer protested that the stadium was razed for political reasons. The venerable and historic stadium was demolished over a ten-month period beginning in April 2001. Much of the stadium remnants were used to build an artificial reef in Chesapeake Bay
As of 2005, the former site of Memorial Stadium housed Maryland's largest YMCA facility and the developing vision of "Stadium Place", a mixed income community for seniors in Baltimore City. Currently there are four senior apartment complexes up and running on site. All of this, the political wranglings, the sports history and the city's attachment to a doomed landmark was captured in a documentary, "The Last Season, The Life and Demolition of Memorial Stadium."
In 2010, work started on developing a new recreational baseball/football field on the site, with home plate being in the same exact location as it was when Memorial Stadium existed. The field was completed in December 2010. A ribbon-cutting ceremony on December 7 was attended by Billy and Cal Ripken, and Governor Martin O'Malley.
The general layout of Memorial Stadium resembled a somewhat scaled-down version of Cleveland Stadium (then home of the MLB Indians.) Due to the need to fit a football field on the premises, the playing area was initially quite large, especially in center field and foul territory. The construction of inner fences after 1958, however, reduced the size of the outfield. The addition of several rows of box seats also reduced the foul ground, ultimately making the stadium much more of a hitters' park than it was originally. It did host the Major League Baseball All-Star Game that year. Memorial Stadium was one of the nation's few venues to host a World Series, an MLB All-Star Game, and an NFL Championship game.
The only home run ball ever hit completely out of Memorial Stadium was slugged by Frank Robinson on Mother's Day in 1966, off Cleveland Indians pitcher Luis Tiant. It cleared the left field single-deck portion of the grandstand. A flag was later erected near the spot the ball cleared the back wall, with simply the word "HERE" upon it. The flag is now in the Baltimore Orioles museum.
The exterior wall of the stadium behind home plate was dominated by the following text, spanning most of the stadium's height facing 33rd Street, as a memorial to those killed in the two world wars: