Eying a 42nd Street stadium once upon a timeBy
In the eyes of the world, the Yankees and the Bronx go hand in hand. Since 1923, the Bombers have stood by the Bronx, sometimes tenuously, as the borough has been shaped and reshaped — by Robert Moses, by white flight, by riots and fire, by a recent renaissance. Although George Steinbrenner tried to move the Yanks to Manhattan or New Jersey, he never could escape the Bronx, and the Bronx has never escaped the Yanks either.
But what if the Yankees had never set foot in the Bronx in the first place? Up until 1923, after all, they were denizens of Manhattan, first at Hilltop Park at Broadway and 165th St and later the Polo Grounds. It wasn’t until the early 1920s that the Yankees’ owners knew they were heading to the Bronx, and shortly after Colonels Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston and Jacob Ruppert bought the team, the two eyed a Manhattan location.
In a 1915 letter recently placed up for auction and espied by The Post, Huston talks about his plans for a new stadium for the Yanks. The letter, which is basically a plea to AL President Ban Johnson to keep the Yanks afloat financially, discusses potential new stadium sites. “We have canvassed the feasibility of the 42nd Street site for a ballpark,” the colonel wrote. “Col. Ruppert and myself will be with the Club when it reaches Chicago, and we will be glad to discuss the subject with you then.”
I’ve tried to do some research into the history of Huston’s idea, but information is hard to find. Even as early as 1915, the Yankees were already eying the Bronx, according to contemporaneous reports. Even the upstart Federal League had hoped to move a franchise into the Bronx. Nary a mention of a Manhattan site could be had.
As a New York City history buff, I wanted to know where the Yanks would have played along 42nd St. By 1915, The Times had already moved to Longacre Square and had erected its namesake building while the New York Public Library had taken over the Croton Reservoir. Grand Central Terminal, of course, was already in place as well. So the Yanks could have set up shot on the East Side where the United Nations is today or along the West Side near the current entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel. Either way, the geography and orientation of one end of Manhattan would have been upended for all of history.
Imagining the Bronx without the Yanks and a Manhattan with them for eight decades is a tall order. The isle of Manhattan would have had significantly different transit patterns as a stadium along 42nd Street would have required train service to the edge of the city while development in the South Bronx would likely have taken a different path as well. Would the Dodgers have relocated to the Bronx instead of Los Angeles during their hunt for a new stadium? What would William Waldorf Astor had done with his lumber yard at 161st St. anyway?
Of course, the idea of a Manhattan stadium is one that kept finding ways to creep back into New York history. In the 1950s, the Dodgers flirted with the idea of a West Side stadium, and of course, the Yankees kept talking about moving to the 34th St. area. In the early 2000s, Mayor Bloomberg tried to promote a West Side stadium for the Jets as part of the city’s bid to win the 2012 Olympics.
But none of it came to pass. The Yanks found their home in the Bronx and never left. The Dodgers jetted west for Tinseltown while the 2012 Olympics bid died a glorious death. Even the Mets, once vaguely rumored to be eying the West Side as well, stayed put in Queens. A big stadium never came to 42nd Street, and Pete Siegel, owner of the auction house selling Huston’s letter, put it best: “It’s incredible to think what could have happened, how one paragraph in one letter could have changed the entire landscape of the city.”