Early Heritage Park plans lacking heritage

The case for, and against, Vicente Padilla
The rise of David Robertson

Despite efforts, Heritage Park will not incorporate much of old Yankee Stadium. (Image via Save the Yankee Gate 2)

New York City is one of the oldest towns in the nation. Founded by the Dutch in 1624, it was the capital of the nation for five years and has been the country’s biggest city since 1790. Despite this legacy, though, the city is shockingly lacking in history.

Stroll around Lower Manhattan, some of the longest continuously settled lands in North America, and the history is from the late 1800s and not the mid-1700s. Instead of historic preservation mixed in with modern development, New York City has continually built over and on top of its history.

More immediately, our city’s ballpark history is marked with gone and nearly forgotten stadiums. All that remains of Ebbets Field is a housing project in Flatbush. The Polo Grounds is also a housing project, and Shea Stadium, no one’s favorite place to watch a game, is a parking lot.

Across the street from the current Yankee Stadium sits the old House that Ruth Built, an 85-year-old Baseball Cathedral. Sure, it was gut-renovated in the 1970s, and many old-time fans feel it lost its character then. But the truth remains that Yankee Stadium after the renovation saw its fair share of historic games.

When the Yankees announced plans to build a new home, the old stadium was to be turned into a park called Heritage Field. Supposedly, this new field would incorporate Yankee baseball history and serve as a living monument to the stadium. Now, though, as details about the city’s plans for the park come into view, little of Yankee Stadium will remain, and the park may serve more as a monument to what could have and should have been than to what was.

In the current issue of The New Yorker, Paul Goldberger penned a Talk of the Town piece on the future of Heritage Field. The Parks Department and the Yankees convened a summit to discuss ways to incorporate the stadium, but the outcome was less than appealing:

Now that the Yankees have moved to their new $1.5-billion ballpark, the question has arisen as to whether their former home ought to disappear as completely as Shea did. The city has promised to turn the site into a park, complete with three ball fields. But the current design calls for the entire stadium to be demolished, its history recalled mainly through a series of panels and plaques in the pavement…

[Park designer Gary Sorge] explained that one of the three ball fields would be set in roughly the position of the old Yankee Stadium diamond, but shifted slightly, so that second base would be atop the original home plate. The plans also called for the reuse of two thirty-foot-long panels of the old Stadium’s famous scalloped frieze. And the designers proposed painting two of the park’s field light posts to resemble foul poles.

[Bronx borough historian Lloyd] Ultan, the historian, was the first to respond. “What is missing from the design is the architecture of the Stadium itself,” he said, holding up a souvenir cookie tin shaped like the old Stadium. “Some people came to see me recently who were trying to save Gate 2, which has not been altered. Couldn’t we preserve that as a monument?”

“Our research showed that Gate 2 had been altered,” one of the planners said. “It would have to be restored.”

So then restore it, I say.

Later on during the meeting, Sherida Paulsen, a former head of the city’s Landmarks Preservation Committee, posed a good question. “Putting second base at home plate doesn’t make sense,” she said. “Why can’t home plate just be at home plate?”

In the end, the city should do more than create a park that sort of resembles Yankee Stadium while telling a story through staid plaques and panels in the pavement. They should be able to create a monument to a great ballpark while keeping the essence of the park alive. It is a challenge in urban planning, but after decades of tearing down history, it is one the city should meet.

Parks Department head Adrian Benepe would seem to agree. “Yankee Stadium has had papal Masses, Billy Graham’s crusade, championship boxing matches, and the rally when Nelson Mandela was freed,” Benepe said. “Why can’t we create a great new park that acknowledges all of this?”

Why can’t we, indeed.

The case for, and against, Vicente Padilla
The rise of David Robertson
  • Hughes Your Daddy

    Has anyone been to the Cal Ripken World Series or whatever it’s called? From my understanding, they have replica to scale little league fields there (including Camden, Fenway, and Wrigley I believe). Why couldn’t something like that be done here?

  • donttradecano

    Its really a no-brainer to incorporate some of the old stadium into the park, why they havent decided to is beyond me.

    • whozat

      It may be a no-brainer for you and me, who understand none of the logistics involved. How much support structure do you have to leave standing to keep, say, Gate 2, up and not at risk of falling over during a hurricane? How much park space does that take away? Let’s say you wanted to keep the foul poles up and just stick lights on them…how does that rejigger where the fields can be? Could they support the lights in the first place?

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski
        • Kevin

          Mr. Bloomberg, if you save Gate 2 people will come Mike. They’ll come to Gate 2 for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up at Gate 2 not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at the Origional Gate 2 as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only going to take a couple of million to save. They should pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk though the gate to the field; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come if you save Gate 2 Mr. Parks Commissioner. The one constant through all the years, Mr. Bronx Borough President, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. The old stadium, this game: it’s a part of our past, Mr. Steinbrenner. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Mr. Bloolmberg if you save Gate 2. People will most definitely come.

      • donttradecano

        you dont necessarily have to leave up gate 2 or leave the foul poles up, but there is something that can be done to preserve a piece of the old stadium. even if its just leaving up the bat and the ticket booths, id probably be content with that.

        • Rob

          The bat is staying…part of the frieze is staying..

          What is needed is expediency in getting the parks ready for the immediate community that has lost its parks. Sorry to say, but all these Save Gate 2 people are not from here…straight up, they’re not the ones inconvenienced. They want to keep history so they can come visit it how often? Will they actually stay in the neighborhood? Or, will they just park their car in the garage that replaced a park…or take the metro north that was built for them…and walk past Heritage Field to take in a game at the new Stadium? Will they even visit when the Yanks aren’t in town?

          Give me a break.

          • Chris Jones

            The bat and friez (as well as the ticket booths) date from the 1973-76 renovation…they’re reproductions…nothing from the Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle eras will be left standing…we should have learned something from Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds…alas.

  • Salty Buggah

    I agree, they need to get Gate 2 restored no matter what.

    • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

      Absolutely right.

  • Kiersten

    How will the diamond be only “shifted slightly” when second base will be about 128 feet from where it’s supposed to be?

    And I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go to this park. Way too weird.

  • http://ibbw.wordpress.com Jamie

    Bring in the people who did Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. They seem good with engineering, parks and the like.

    To RAB Staff:
    Why not start a movement with the rest of the Yankee fan blogs to attempt to get some sort of open competition within the public and vote on the best project for Heritage Field – perhaps contacting Jason Zillo who seems like he has his head on straight when it comes to good things – and present it to the board?

  • Tony

    This is… not a big deal. It’s not quite demolishing Penn Station to put it in The Garden’s basement. I also don’t see the general public clamoring to spend extra cash on ornamental features of a public park.

    • Slu

      I agree. Not worth any extra tax payer dollars. I already miss the old place, but there are tons of video and pictures out there.

  • Pasqua

    To be honest, while it would be cool and nostalgic to maintain pieces of the old stadium, the very fact that it’s going to be a park (and not a housing complex or parking lot) is enough to make me content. NYC is prime real estate due to its population, no matter where you are, so the fact that a natural element will be preserved is something to celebrate.

    That being said, fans and legislators should fight for everything they want. Hopefully, something will come of it.

  • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

    Just save gate 2.

    • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

      Even if you need to “alter it”

      Be nice to save the foul poles too and create a ballfield to fit between them.

  • LiveFromNewYork

    New York City is NOT big on retaining heritage and this is a huge complaint of native New Yorkers throughput the city. Even neighborhoods that were pristinely developed and kept “historic” for generations (Upper West Side and Tribeca to name two) have seen high rises built, that are ridiculously out of place, in the last real estate boon. No one really does much about it. For all the talk about new Yorkers being tough, they roll over more often than not.

    This is NOT a Yankee Stadium or Bronx issue. It’s a city-wide issue and if you can light a fire under someone’s butt in this city to preserve the old, I salute you. I’d love for it to start on 161st street.

  • Klemy

    A nice, historical park in that spot would be a nice tourist attraction even. I lie ethe idea, but I can appreciate the logistical roadblocks as well. Hopfully they’ll do what is best for the situation. I’ve neevr really been a huge, historical landmark type of guy though, so it would be hypocritical to be overopinionated on the topic.

  • Makavelli

    Did they ever respond to why home plate couldn’t be home plate? I’m a bit confused by this as well. Seems like they’re trying to stay away from memorializing old Yankee Stadium as much as possible while putting in “just enough” to attempt to avoid an uproar…

    • Chris

      From the article:

      Sorge explained that the main ball field had to be shifted to allow room for the other two fields. The participants seemed to understand the geometric imperative, but they weren’t happy about it.

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    The funny thing about all this is that, more than Gate 2, foul poles, etc., what I’d care about the most is home plate. You can knock everything else down. Just leave me home plate as a small monument. Really.

    I get the sentiment to try to respect the city’s point of view but, really, some imagination and NYC “can do” could get something done here. This city’s found solution to tougher logistical issues.

  • Makavelli

    How good would it be to play ball at the same home plate Babe Buth used to clobber his home runs from?

    It’s a lot better than standing on 2nd base saying it…

    Don’t make 3 ball fields then. Make 2 ball fields and add a fountain or a jungle gym or whatever. Or maybe a softball field if it fits. I’m sure they can think of something.

    • gc

      To be fair, it should be noted that when the Stadium was renovated in the 1970’s, the playing field was lowered by about seven feet and moved outward. So the home run Derek Jeter hit to win Game 4 of the 2001 World Series, for example, was not actually hit at the same geographic spot that Babe Ruth clubbed all those home runs. If they were to actually place a home plate marker in this new park, it would probably be where the renovated Stadium’s home plate was, not the original stadium.

      • Tony

        Putting home plate at YS2’s home plate would cut down on the usefulness of the park by restricting their ability to fit other fields in there. This really comes off as whiny and petulant to me. The park is for the people iof the Bronx, not Yankee fans wanting to mourn somewhere. This isn’t Ground Zero or Gettysburg. It’s a (heavily renovated, essentially 30 year old) baseball stadium.

        • http://mantisfists.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/julius-carry-aka-shonuff.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

          Yeah, I’m mostly with Tony here. I’m firmly on the side of people who want to save Gate 2 or do other things to pay homage to the old YS, but the needs of the community should be met first and foremost.

          I, however, don’t think those two interest need necessarily be in competition. There are clearly ways they can maximize the size/usefulness of the parkland while paying homage to the old YS.

  • Bo

    These people cant even get a plan to fix up the WTC property and you expect em to do this? These politicians are looking for the angles and the way to get paid on this.

    • Tony

      The Port Authority is in charge of Heritage Field? Interesting.

      This kind of baseless “F’N GUBMINT” crap is the biggest problem facing this country today.

  • Esteban

    I don’t understand this at all. I think the entire area should be park lands. Creating a memorial/preserving part of the old stadium is just going to require expensive maintenance without much added benefit to the surrounding community. Let’s be honest, yea the old stadium, both versions, had a lot of nice memories, but it was just a baseball stadium. It, especially after the remodeling, wasn’t some architectural masterpiece.

  • YankeeJosh

    The gate 2 idea seems dead, sadly. I really liked it. The ticket booths at gate 2 have already been removed. It’s a shame because you’d really have liked Heritage Field to be a classic NY Park, not just a standard one.

  • espresso

    It would never happen, but I like the idea of turning the stadium into a museum showcasing the history of baseball in New York. It could have exhibits on the all the professional teams to ever play there. Admission could be free to New Yorkers on certain days. It would bring in money to the area on top of what the team already does. Instead of people taking the train in and fleeing with the last pitch people could make a day of baseball in the Bronx. This might be especially nice for all the kids who can’t get to Cooperstown because its in the middle of nowhere.

    This all comes from a guy who has spent very little time in The City and only got to one game at the old stadium. I love baseball history and New York’s baseball history is magic.

    • http://www.teamnerdrage.com leokitty

      No offense, but it is really clear before even reading your last paragraph that you are not a person from the city. The Yankees were given a very large park and part of the deal was that the people who live and use the parks (NYC residents) will get that back. Turning it into a museum would not meet that goal, even if it is “free to New Yorkers on certain days”. A park is free to us EVERY day, and is used for many different things.

      There are at least two museums in NYC already that have a focus on the history of the city. One of them had a large baseball exhibit last year (The Museum of the City of New York).

      I loved Yankee Stadium but it’s more important to me, as a resident, to get that new park which benefits the neighborhood a lot more than a museum.

      • LiveFromNewYork

        Yeah the drug dealers, gangs and homeless are running out of places in the other gentrified boroughs.

        • Rob


  • http://www.geeks2you.net Jerry Seinfeld

    Parks Department eh? I think I have a cousin Jeffrey that works there

  • JRVJ

    I don’t think NY was bigger than Philly in 1790.

    I think it took the Erie canal for that, which means well into the 19th century.


  • AJ’s Chin Music Ensemble

    I like the proposed idea that Save Gate 2 came up with…it’s really nice…but like others have said…if it’s a the detriment of the Bronx neighborhood the team resides in…then it is no good. I think it would be really nice to have Gate 2 there in whatever form it would take…restored or whathaveyou. But…I guess that may just be my sentimental attachment to a building. But New York does lag in preserving it’s past…and once Kei Igawa comes off the books…we could afford it.

  • wilcymoore

    Good story, Ben. I’m with you on this.

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  • JIM

    I sure miss the old place….

    As a long-time Yankee fan (sat in the upper deck with my dad in the late 50’s and early 60’s), now transplanted to Chicago, I could only watch this entire tragedy play out from afar. Consider that any owner who tried to tear down or replace Wrigley would face riots in the streets. And I imagine and hate to admit that the Red Sox fans are so devoted that the same would happen at Fenway. I am saddened that Yankee fans have behaved like sheep as this happened.

    And whatever happened to the idea that the Commissioner could step in to prevent things that were not in the best interests of baseball? Which doesn’t/shouldn’t mean in the best interests of the billionaire owners. If there were a real Commish he would have told Steinbrenner that his threats to move to Jersey were simply not acceptable. But sadly, no….

    (Much weeping and gnashing of teeth here in the Midwest…)

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