Stadiums and arenas of controversy

Baltimore Glimpses

March 21, 1995|By Gilbert Sandler

WHETHER IT'S speculation about the NFL returning to Baltimore or the Redskins hunting for a new home or the chances of the city's replacing the aging Baltimore Arena with a new model -- stadiums and arenas are often-discussed topics these days.

Well, as the adage goes: the more things change, the more they stay the same. We've often been preoccupied with finding a home for our local gladiators.

Venable Park at 33rd Street. In April 1922, the park board stunned Baltimoreans by announcing that the city's long awaited new stadium would be built in Venable Park (about 50 acres of greenery on 33rd street in northeast Baltimore). Everyone had been led to believe that the new stadium would be built in Druid Hill Park.

Seven months and seven days after the location was approved, 50,000 fans filled the new Municipal Stadium to watch the Quantico Marines beat the Army III Corp, 13-12.

Over the years, the stadium's problems became obvious. Not only did that stadium have no decks, it also had no comfortable seats. Pre-1953 football and Oriole fans referred to the backless wooden benches as "splinter heaven."

The Civic Center. Just after World War II, aircraft tycoon Glenn L. Martin proposed a civic center with an "air-supported roof." Not much happened to the idea, but it did pressure Mayor Tommy D'Alesandro Jr. to get a $6 million bond issue on the ballot to build a civic center. The voters approved it.

More than 30 prospective locations were suggested, including Carlin's Park at Park Heights and Reisterstown Road -- the Greater Baltimore Committee's choice. Downtown business owners hollered foul, arguing that putting the center "all the way out in the country" would take business away from downtown. They suggested Sam Smith Park -- now Harborplace.

Eventually, the present site, 2 Hopkins Plaza, was the final choice for the Civic Center (now known as the Arena). It was dedicated March 30, 1963, with Mayor J. Harold Grady presiding. Former Mayor D'Alesandro did not attend.

The Coliseum: Late in 1938, Les Sponsler, then a well-known fight promoter, swung a pick into the ground on a vacant lot on North Monroe Street. Sponsler was ceremoniously beginning the construction of the Coliseum, which came into being with the high promise that it would bring to Baltimore "boxing, wrestling, basketball, tennis, musical events -- all under one roof."

In its time, which proved to be short, the Coliseum more than kept its promise, in its fashion. It was, until the mid-1950s when it closed, the scene of many a wild night of wrestling before capacity crowds of 3,500.

It was home, for several years, to the Baltimore Bullets professional basketball team.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards: Even this most glorious of stadiums, hailed around the world as a state-of-the-art baseball park, didn't come into being without controversy. Gov. William Donald Schaefer wanted the stadium to be called Camden Yards, but then-Orioles owner Eli Jacobs quietly insisted that it be called Oriole Park. The controversy raged for months, and everybody figured that one of these titans would have to give. In the end, neither did, thus, the compromise.

All of the bickering over stadiums may not be behind us. Will Jack Kent Cooke move his Redskins here? Will another NFL team come here? Stay tuned. Whatever happens there's bound to be a squabble of some sort.

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