When Christian Ziegler got the assignment to design a new stadium for Jersey City, he planned a voyage with Parks and Public Buildings Commissioner Arthur Potterton for a reconnaissance trip to Rochester, Cleveland, Montreal, Boston, and Philadelphia, according to the New York Times.
On June 5, 1929, Mayor Frank Hague made the announcement about the city getting a new stadium with a capacity to host 50,000 people. The Times reported, “Work can start in three months, it is expected, and the stadium should be finished by the Spring of 1930.”
It took a bit longer, as is the tradition with construction projects.
On December 10, 1935, groundbreaking began at the site, adjoining Newark Bay, and which formerly housed Jersey City Airport; the Jersey Observer noted, in particular, Hague’s positive proclamation after making the initial dig: “This is a great day for Jersey City. You must realize that all the money needed for the construction of the stadium was donated by the government. The city merely furnished the ground and pays the architect’s fees.
“This stadium has been the dream of the Jersey City officials for a number of years.”
Hague, a politician who exerted the right amount of pressure on the levers, switches, and buttons of Jersey City’s political machinery to get things accomplished, often colored outside the lines of the law to get things done.
Less than a year and a half later, the dream became reality—named for President Franklin Roosevelt, under whose aegis the Works Progress Administration governed the construction, Roosevelt Stadium débuted on April 23, 1937; the Jersey City Giants occupied home team status in the International League contest, losing a 12-inning game to the Rochester Red Wings. Final score: 4-3. In attendance were New Jersey luminaries, including Jersey City Hague and Senator A. Harry Moore, who was a former governor.
Future Dodgers skipper Walter Alston banged the pitching of Giants hurler Rollie Stiles like a southerner swats flies on a humid night in August—the Red Wings first baseman went four-for-five and drove in two runs, including the game winner.
Roosevelt Stadium’s architecture affected the crowd. “All who attended yesterday’s imbroglio gasped at the layout which Mayor Hague and the W. P. A. have provided,” reported New York Herald Tribune scribe Stanley Woodward. “The grandstand and bleachers are of yellow fire-brick and a wall of the same substance surrounds the whole layout. The end seats of each row are emblazoned on the aisle side with cast-iron shields, painted with ferryboats and square-rigged ships and bearing the motto, ‘Let Jersey Prosper.'”
Nine years after it opened, Roosevelt Stadium became the site of history—on April 18, 1946, Jackie Robinson played his first professional baseball game. It was a 14-1 pounding of the Giants by Robinson and the Montreal Royals. Robinson turned in an impeccable performance at the plate:
- 4 RBI
- 2 Stolen Bases
- 2 Putouts
- 3 Assists
There was, however, one blemish—Robinson made a throwing error to first base on a double play ball. In turn, the Giants batter, Clefton Ray scampered to second base and then home, when Bobby Thomson swatted a single.
In August of 1984, the Historic American Buildings Survey, an arm of the National Park Service, compiled a detailed history of Roosevelt Stadium, including, among other items, descriptions of the stadium’s interior, layout of seating areas, geographic location, flooring, and landscaping. Like other stadia lost to history—Mack, Navin, Ebbets et al.—Roosevelt Field marked a specific place in time, when men wore fedoras, newspapers in larger cities had evening editions, and generations of families stayed in the same area code. “In short, it was a meeting place for all the people of Jersey City and as such, the stadium embodies a time, an era, an overwhelming feeling of the essence of a city in its heyday in the 1930s and 1940s that simply no longer exists,” states the HABS report.
Roosevelt Stadium was demolished in 1985. Society Hill, a gated community, occupies the site.
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 3, 2017.