Monday, December 21, 2009

Yankee Stadium not a landmark to U.S. government

Yankee Stadium not a landmark to U.S. government

Sep. 21--There will be no last-minute federal bailout of Yankee Stadium. The National Register of Historic Places has declined, more than once, to consider the big ballpark in the Bronx for landmark status -- an honorific, it turns out, that would not have guaranteed protection from demolition.

And the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, which could have stopped this year's scheduled tear-down of the 85-year-old walls, repeatedly has rejected landmark designation because of the Stadium's 1974-75 "unsympathetic renovation."

One more game tonight and the joint is a goner. All those who are now offering testimonials extolling the Stadium as a cultural marker, a place of mythology and folklore passed from generation to generation and reflecting America's soul, will just have to accept that, of more than 80,000 National Register listings and more than 2,400 National Historic Landmarks, Yankee Stadium did not make the cut.

Even though the high school football field in Newton, Kan., a Works Progress Administration project completed in 1936 as part of the New Deal's recovery from the Great Depression, did. So did the former minor league/Negro League park in Indianapolis, used in filming the 1988 movie "Eight Men Out," formerly called Bush Stadium and now the 16th Street Speedway, site of midget auto dirt racing. Just to name two athletic museum pieces.

If it will make Yankee Stadium fans feel any better, both Tiger Stadium in Detroit and Cleveland's Municipal Stadium are listed as National Historic Landmarks, and both were bulldozed into oblivion, anyway.

In 1999, South Bronx Congressman Jose Serrano wrote to President Clinton about NHL status for the Stadium, only to be informed by the historic-places director at the time that, "while the contribution of the New York Yankees to baseball and America is of national importance in many respects, the National Park Service is unable to conclude that Yankee Stadium retains the high degree of architectural integrity required . . . "

A 1986 landmark survey, which examined several professional baseball stadiums, already had concluded that the Stadium's mid-1970s remodeling "compromised the integrity of the Stadium."

Likewise, NYC Landmarks Commission spokeswoman Lisi de Bourbon said in an e-mail, a "number of requests" for landmark designation -- from Bronx assembly member Jeffrey Klein (now a state senator) and several members of the public -- were not pursued for the same reason. (The Yankees, by the way, never asked.)

"From an architectural perspective, they're right," said "Field of Schemes" author Neil deMause, who operates a Web site casting a critical eye on public subsidies for sports facilities. "But from a baseball perspective or fan perspective, they're not. The current stadium is much more like the original Yankee Stadium than the new one will be. It's the same footprint, the same building with a different face on it. I think it should have been landmarked. Probably, most people in the city feel that way, too."

Strict brick-and-mortar arguments that the 1970s modifications completely replaced the "House That Ruth Built" in 1923, ignore the hallowed-ground considerations, that the playing field remains the place where sports giants have trod for more than three-quarters of a century. (Ruth and Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle, Giants-Colts overtime, Lewis-Schmeling, Knute Rockne, and on and on.)

According to Alexis Abernathy of the National Register of Historic Places, criteria for NHL honors include "significant contribution to the broad patterns of history, associations with significant persons, distinctive architectural engineering or informational potential -- mainly archaeological."

To architect Aaron Parker, formerly based in New York and now in Minneapolis, said: "If baseball is our national sport and is a true reflection of our national character, then Yankee Stadium could easily be landmarked under [the first two criteria]. Indeed, if Yankee Stadium does not rise to that standard, no other structure in the nation qualifies."

A similar belief motivated the Boston citizens -- architects, lawyers, preservationists, hard-core fans -- who coalesced to form the "Save Fenway Park" group in the mid-1990s, when Red Sox ownership began making noises about dramatically redoing their storied old stadium.

Among the Save Fenway Park members was Erika Tarlin, a librarian from suburban Somerville who was outraged at plans to create "a Disneyland ballpark" that would replace much of the old Fenway flavor. "I grew up going to Fenway," Tarlin said in a telephone interview. "It is a symbol of Boston and I'd leave the city if they knocked it down. The city will lose its soul when they knock down Fenway.

"The situation at Yankee Stadium is so similar," she said. "These historic stadiums; what else makes you shudder besides Fenway and Yankee Stadium? It's nothing against change. That's not it. Fenway survives because it's organic and can adapt. I try to get to Yankee Stadium every year. It's a tragedy what they're doing there."

One more game, and this (unofficial) landmark will be history.

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