Negro League Stadium Threatened
Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, N.J., stands as one of the country’s last stadiums. One local resident is trying to save it.
By Eric Wills | Online Only | July 20, 2009
You wouldn't know, judging by its condition today, about the baseball history of Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, N.J. A trash heap—old tires, twisted metal, piles of rotting wood—rises along one corner of the weathered red track that circles the stadium stands. Graffiti lines the interior walls. Some of the concrete seating that once hosted up to 10,000 spectators has started to crumble. Ever since the 1932 stadium closed in 1997, weather, vandals, and the lack of maintenance have taken their toll.
Yet Hinchliffe, designed by Fanning & Shaw and sited by the Olmsted Brothers next to what is now the Great Falls National Historic Landmark District, was the home during the 1930s and 40s of the Black New York Yankees, a prominent Negro League baseball team.
"We've seen such a loss of these [Negro League] stadiums," says Gianfranco Archimede, executive director of the Paterson Historic Preservation Commission. "Hinchliffe's significance is enhanced today by the fact that it's one of only three remaining in the country." Indeed, aside from Hinchliffe, only Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Ala., and Bush Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind., still survive.
Brian LoPinto grew up just blocks from Hinchliffe, which also hosted games for such pro football teams as the New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Philadelphia Eagles, as well as midget car racing, considered a precursor to NASCAR. And he learned about the history of the site just as it started its decline, and decided to do something to save it, forming a group called the Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium. For him, the stadium represents a significant connection to the pre-integration era in baseball when African American players wondered whether they would ever get a chance to test their talents in the major leagues. "When the doors to so many baseball stadiums were closed, the doors of Hinchliffe were swung wide open," he says.
For Negro League players, Hinchliffe was a proving ground where they honed the skills that helped them reach the major leagues. Notably, Larry Doby, the first African American to play in the American League, tried out for a Negro League team called the Newark Eagles at Hinchliffe when he was 17 years old, launching his Hall of Fame career.
Over the years, LoPinto has worked to get the stadium's owner, the Paterson School District, to work on revitalization plans, or at the very least to protect the site from vandals. But because of the frequent turnover of district superintendents, and with a host of other projects competing for funding, no plans have yet materialized. Dr. Donnie W. Evans, the state district superintendent who was hired earlier this year, did not respond to an interview request.
Archimede, of the preservation commission, considers Hinchliffe a good candidate for renovation. "The stadium is in much better shape than it appears to most people. It definitely has some serious structural issues, but considering the size of the site, the amount of original fabric with a high level of integrity is obvious and encouraging."
And LoPinto envisions a refurbished Hinchliffe hosting not only high school and professional games but also concerts and other public events. Because of its historical significance, he says, "the stadium belongs not only to Patterson but to people all over the country." Which is why he plans to continue his quest to return Hinchliffe to its previous glory.
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