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Stadia and sporting arenas in Cleveland, a brief history (Part One)


52 years. Cleveland endured such a long championship drought that winning the NBA title this year was literally a trophy for the entire city. Let's celebrate it with a journey through history, discovering stadia and arenas of the Ohio's town and its teams.

CLEVELAND BROWNS, AT THE DAWN OF THE NFL - They talked about a "curse". And this curse started with the last Browns' title, won in 1964. The team, today the only NFL's franchisce with no logo on their helmets, had two stadiums in their history, the Cleveland Municipal Stadium and the FirstEnergy Stadium.

There's a link already within the town, as Browns and Indians (the baseball local team) shared the Municipal for decades.

The Cleveland Municipal Stadium, also called the Lakefront Stadium for its location near Lake Erie, was opened in 1931 - when Browns, founded in 1945, didn't even exist. It was one of the first multi-purpose stadiums in the US, planned to host both baseball and football games.



With a circular shape, based on the diamond of the baseball pitch, it was almost fully covered: the only stand without a roof was, in fact, the one opposite to the batter's box.

It was a two-tiered ground and the balcony profile was very much in line with the edwardian style, so common in many english football grounds of the time - see, in particular, the design of roof pillars and side walls (first pic above). From the outside, instead, elegance and symmetry were dominant, with art-deco elements and windows, giving a vertical impulse to the whole building (see pic above).

It could accomodate around 80,000 people, but capacity decreased to 74-78,000 in recent years, with new regulations and ground refurbishments.

The Municipal Stadium was closed in 1995, and demolished the following year, making place for the new FirstEnergy Stadium. In the meanwhile, Cleveland Browns were deactivated and didn't play any game for four years, before being back as a "new" team in 1999.

The new stadium, opened in 1999 and designed by Populous - with local architects -, can be considered as the evolution of its predecessor: a giant iron and concrete structure, with two three-tiered main stands and two-tiered stands on both ends. Designers decided to have empty corners on purpose, to avoid small whirlwinds inside the ground (something usually happening at the previous stadium).

Debris from the Municipal Stadium were submerged in Lake Erie to create an artificial reef, while the FirstEnergy Stadium, whose pitch is large enough to host international soccer matches too, has a capacity of 68,000 after last year renovations that added larger scoreboards (three-time larger than the previous ones) and enhancing premium suites and technology within the building.


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THE SPIDERS AND THE OLDEST GROUND IN CLEVELAND - From football to baseball, Cleveland Indians ideally laid the first stone in town's stadium history.

The League Park, in fact, was opened in 1891 for the original Cleveland Spiders, playing in the National League at the time. Those were pioneer years for the bat-and-ball game, when pinstriped uniforms and team-colored socks making their debut.

Originally a 9,000 capacity ground with wooden seats (see first pic below), the League Park was rebuilt in 1910, with a design by the Osborn Engineering Company, properly becoming a "ballpark" in every aspect: a brick façade externally, iron and concrete for the main structure and more than double the capacity (21,000). It was tracing back the original diamond shape (see the aerial view, second pic below) with two stands surrounding the batter's box and a smaller stand on the opposite side.

The grace of second tier's iron balcony bring us to a design inherited from civil engineering, while the functionality of the external structures still survives today. In fact, the ticket office building - and part of the original side wall - has been restored between 2011 and 2014 and it is now used by the community again. The City of Cleveland spent $6mln into this project and the building now hosts the Baseball Heritage Museum while the original pitch serves as a public park and field for sporting events (see pics at the end of the article).

League Park was the home ground of Cleveland's baseball team until 1946, while the Spiders changed their name and became Indians. The post-World War II period also saw the creation of Chief Wahoo, famous mascot of the franchise, sometimes cited as a racist illustration and/or as part of the curse above the local team.

Anyway, the Indians started to play at the Municipal Stadium in 1934 already, but on weekends and evenings only.

The League Park will be, in fact, the last stadium used in MLB never to install a permanent lighting system.

The original League Park, 1891-1909
The "new" League Park, 1910

MOVIES, WORLD SERIES AND RETRO-MODERN STYLE - The Cleveland Municipal Stadium will be the ground behind most of Indians' history so far - and it will also be a renowned rock concert venue.

Unfortunately, it will always suffer from sightlines and functionality issues. The baseball and football pitch shapes were too different compared to the ground's one - no player ever hit a home run into the center field bleachers - and the building revealed itself as an economic drain for the City of Cleveland.

Talking about quirk facts, the ground appeared in the famous "Major League" film, 1989 (see pic at the end of the article): actually, though, only external and aerial scenes depicted the Indians' ballpark while the Milwaukee County Stadium served as the main location, as the production crew couldn't match their schedules with Indians and Browns fixtures.


Historical evolution of Cleveland's ballparks
The movie, starring Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger, brings us to the fact that both grounds depicted are now gone, demolished in the following years. The Indians move to the Progressive Field in 1994, though it was initially named Jacobs Field, after the owners Richard and David Jacobs.

Designed by HOK Sport and Osborn Engineering, it's a "retro-modern" ballpark: the diamond-shape of the stadium recalls the early 20th century style, but it's combined with new technology and materials. Stands of different heights mark the profile of the Progressive Field and the smaller bleacher is opposite to the batter's box, as in the previous grounds (see pic below).

"Retro-modern" style (quite common in the last two decades) is the evolution of the previous trend, the "retro-classic": the idea of going back to the original diamond shaped ground came up in the early 90s, when Oriole Park was built, in Baltimore (and this is, incidentally, the stadium that serves as main location for "Major League II", the movie sequel about the Indians, released in 1994).


19 white vertical light towers are the main feature of the Progressive Field, while iron and concrete blocks and giant glass windows compose the external façades. This is a clever design that blends in with Cleveland's downtown architecture.


The stadium also hosted an experiment, between 2012 and 2013. The Cleveland State University installed corkscrew-shaped wind turbine, atop the south-east corner of the ground: this could provide five times the energy of a common wind turbine but its plastic structure was damaged during winter's closure time... ironically, by the wind.

[end of part one]

-> click here to read part two of this article

* the original version of this article was published on Archistadia.it, here




League Park, the ticket office building then (left) and now, restored (right)

Cleveland Municipal Stadium, during a game of the Indians (above) and a close up of the external façade (below)


Charlie Sheen, in a scene from "Major League"
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