Thursday, September 13, 2012

Inspiration In Decay : Negro League Hinchliffe Stadium In Paterson NJ

I always wondered why somebody doesn't DO SOMETHING about that. Then I realized I was somebody. ~ Lily Tomlin

Just behind the Great Falls of Paterson is a large battleship grey concrete wall that, at first glance appears to be the remains of some industrial building that has fallen into a state of decay. Step a little closer, peer through the iron gates and it comes clear that this structure was at one time a stadium. It's huge, and despite the school busses parked on the infield, and rubble strewn about, the imagination cannot help but wonder how many people used to fill this place for sport and recreation.

Hincliffe Stadium in Paterson is one of the many forgotten gems of the Silk City that are waiting to be rediscovered and repurposed. Built in the depths of the Great Depression with Government Funds, construction of the stadium gave hundreds of laid off mill workers a job at a time when there were none to be had in the private sector. That history of the stadium is akin to the stimulus package that our President supports so strongly. Like the stimulus, the government funds spent on Hinchliffe benefitted the region during the immediate period of construction, and continued to do so for decades to come.

During World War II, Hincliffe hosted war bond rallies featuring popular celebrities of the time including Bud Abbott and Paterson Native Lou Costello. Imagine the experience, at a time when our nation was in such turmoil to come together with friends, neighbors, and strangers in support of something so worthy in an environment of light heartedness. It must have been magical.

During the Jim Crow Era, Hinchliffe was a major stadium for Negro League Baseball. The Negro League team affiliated with the Yankees played here. Sadly most of the old Negro League stadiums in the US have been torn down. Hinchiffe is special because much of the Art Deco structure is solid so any restoration and renovation would not diminish those parts of the original structure. I'm a strong believer in the idea of buildings having souls, think of it as a variation of "if these walls could talk." With so much of that period architecture intact any future use of the stadium will not only echo with the cheers of those fans, but I am 100% confident that if one listens closely enough they'll hear ever so quietly the last echoes of the last cheers of the last Negro League Baseball game played at Hinchliffe.

In 1971 the stadium hosted one of Duke Ellington's last major concerts. In the years that followed high school teams from both Paterson and Clifton used the field.

Today much of Hincliffe has fallen into disrepair. Perhaps sharing this story and these photos that show this decayed yet beautiful piece of American History will reach someone with the power and authority to affect change.

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