OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW

It’s said you can tell what a society values most by ts skylines. Through much of history, it was the steeple of the local church that pricked the sky above any other edifice, giving living testament to the role of faith and the religion in the lives of the people. So, too, did the imposing castles of kings and their feudal lords speak power to the peasants who toiled in their service.  Then, with the arrival of the American experiment in self-rule, we began to see the majestic state capitals rising as cathedrals of civic pride. And with the coming of the industrial age and its vast commercial fortunes, towers of brick, then glass and steel sprang up in urban centers to reflect that wealth, bearing witness to the rank that commerce now held in modern society. To witness the order in one place, visit Salt Lake City, Utah where the sacred, the secular, and the governmental stand in close ordered ranks beside one another.

Today, it’s cathedrals of sport that burst with devotion, even as the teams are comprised of free agents selling their talents to the highest bidder.

While the Coliseum in Rome still stands some 2000 years after its erection, modern-day stadia seem to come and go like castles of sand. Remember the Astrodome in Houston, dubbed the eighth wonder of the world? Construction began in 1962, and it officially opened in 1965, home to the Houston Astros until 1999, and to the NFL Houston Oilers from 1968 until 1996.  But by the 1990s, the Astrodome was considered past its prime.  Today, NRG Stadium is the major stadium in Houston while the Astrodome was mothballed onto the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. The same out with the relatively old, in with the brand spanking new can be seen with ballparks in Atlanta, Dallas, St. Louis, San Francisco, and San Diego among others.

These days up to $2 billion is spent to erect houses for games, even as the infrastructure of our cities – roads, bridges, schools, tunnels, and airports – continues to crumble because of lack of funding. We have indeed become a society with its priorities turned upside down.

Existing Hayward Field
Rendering of New Hayward Field

In Eugene, Oregon, the debate over the future of historic Hayward Field has been completed, and it’s out with the old, in with the new.  While there was a compelling argument to be made for a new stadium – not to mention private funding – there remained a measure of how and why that still lingered, most notably by a group of concerned local citizens hoping to preserve a renovated  Hayward Field for future generations.

The argument for a new construction centered on the requirement for a larger venue to host the 2021 IAAF World Track & Field Championships.  But just as there was a movement that sought to bring the Olympic Games to Boston for 2024, which ultimately fell apart because, please, Boston can’t even get a normal day’s business travel in and out of town easily, how the eff were they ever going to dump an Olympics into that twisting maze of a 300 year-old city?

So does Eugene have a small, college town feel to it exemplified by its unique little bandbox of a track stadium. Over many NCAA, USATF Championships and six Olympic Trials, the place has taken on its patina, fit serenely within the confines of the U. of O. campus.

When the Boston Red Sox went up for sale in the early 2000s, there was a move afoot to replace historic Fenway Park with a new stadium that had luxury boxes, brand new clubhouses, and the amenities that are state-of-the-art all over Major League Baseball.  But what those sparkling new facilities don’t have is the power of imagination that animates every visit to Fenway and Hayward Field.  And Boston’s new TD Garden, home of the NBA Celtics and NHL Bruins, is a wonderful facility, but it doesn’t bring people into communion with history like the old Boston Garden did, regardless of its obstructed sight-lines and ratty old facilities.  Fortunately, the men who took control of the Red Sox decided against building a new park and instead renovated Fenway as best they could.

The plan in Eugene is to disassemble the historic lumberyard and erect a modern stadium in its place, one large enough to hold 30,000 spectators for the World Championships.  But there are those who wonder if the tradeoff is worth the price.  Like Fenway Park in Boston and Wrigley Field in Chicago, like Bislett Stadium in Oslo and the 1912 Olympic Stadium in Stockholm, there are venues that transcend the comforts of modernity, that hold history close, and bridge generations in a way that something new never can.

It’s been said that only fools and fabulists fail to understand that time marches on.  But you can’t design tradition into blueprints.  Eugene has something very rare right now, something that took nearly a century to create, something that a modern facility for all its upgrades can’t duplicate, regardless of the price or the prize that a new construction will bring with it.

END

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17 thoughts on “OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW

  1. So perfectly said, Toni. I’m no fan of baseball, but even I felt the pain when they ripped down the “house that Ruth built” to put up a generic stadium that will be replaced in 30 years. HF shouldn’t have been replaced. You don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.

  2. In my new book, “When Running Made History,” I discuss this in similar terms, Toni. “Track and field has been building venues since ancient Greece. They get worse and worse.” Anonymous and standardised, most modern stadia lack all sense of being local, having contact with the terrain, being unique, which Hayward Field in its unpretentious way supremely has (had). “The replacement of geography by geometry,” John Bale calls it in “The Landscapes of Modern Sport.”

    1. Thanks for jumping in, Roger. Congrats on the book. Look forward to it.

      Man hasn’t changed much over time. Higher primate dominance display behavior. Big ducks everywhere. Hi to K. Toni

    2. That’s an excellent point….White City was a great atmosphere from what I have read and watched…especially Clarke’s 12:51 in 1965….I never liked Crystal Palace where I saw many meets over the years…the stands are way too far away from the track…with officials with nothing to do standing in the way…and the new London Stadium is even worse…

      1. Cricket is lucky in that the great grounds in England such as Trent Bridge, Headingley, the Oval and Lord’s, while being modernised have kept their characteristic buildings…

        It’s a shame track is intent on destroying its iconic structures.

  3. Not sure why anyone thinks the Rome soccer stadium is a great place for a meet…it’s way too big with the stands far from track…I’ve been in stadiums in Europe and the U.S. that are 1/3rd full like this year’s Diamond League meet and it kills the atmosphere.

    [img]http://i66.tinypic.com/kbqd55.png[/img]

    1. The best parties have too many people for the room. The energy is contained. It’s why indoor track is so exciting, small 200-meter footprint with the sound reverberating in the enclosed space. Hayward Field is as close to an indoor atmosphere as there is outdoors with those overhangs focusing the sound back down on the athletes. It’s special. Why lose it.?

  4. I live in Eugene….and having the World’s at 15th and Agate is the dumbest idea imaginable…like having the Super Bowl at South Eugene High School…it’s a residential area with zero parking….they could build the dumb stadium and the Tower of Orthanc near Autzen but no ….

    So Knight is ignoring Tinker Hatfield Nike’s head designer who came up with the original design that incorporated the East Grandstand and listening to Agent Orange…Howard Slusher…and the secrecy is disgusting …still no idea what the plans are except one cartoon.

    1. Truesdon,

      Too true. It’s a college neighborhood, not a proper setting for a World Champs. And where would all these visitors stay? And where would they fly in to? Thanks for the local perspective. Toni

  5. I have been to the first two Worlds and everyone since 205.Eugene in its present form will be the worst venue to hold the Worlds.Is it too much to ask for stadium seating.They got the bid without any voting.You think Phil Knight had any influence.Now he is being bashed.You want nostalgia bring back a cinder track

    1. Dennis,

      Totally agree, Eugene would be poor choice to hold the Worlds. So don’t! This is right out of square-peg-in-round-hole. The scope of the event is too big for the venue. Just like Boston was no place to hold the Olympics. Don’t lose what you have to gain something you don’t need.

      So maybe the Olympic Trials is the far end of Hayward Field’d capacity. Fine, leave it at that rather than change one of the classic venues for a once or maybe twice Championship. The sport needs Hayward Field more than Eugene needs the World Champs. Thanks for chiming in.

      Toni

  6. Toni, having been to Eugene for the last 3 Olympic Trials, I have enjoyed the view inside Hayward Field, as well as seeing it from the distance of walking to it (and of seeing it on TV, of course). Hayward Field is iconic, and thanks to Bill Bowerman, stayed that way. He once stated that not a single dollar of his money would go to the U of O if it tried to turn HF into a football stadium, as you well know. So the U of O has a new football stadium that shadows Pre’s Trail, which has some irony I suppose.
    And yet, in watching Diamond League events such as Rome and Monaco in their beautiful track facilities, one wonders why there is not ONE such stadium in all of the USA, so why not build one? We cannot ask Bill B, but Phil Knight certainly has shown great vision for the sport in many ways (thanks Bill, those Pegasus from 1 through the current 35 still carry my memories).
    And yes, a recent World Champs in Helsinki’s venerated but old Olympic stadium carried on memories and history, but it was the races on the track (Kipchoge’s win the 5000 so memorable), and not the stadium, that counted. So I guess my two cents is that a stadium is just a stadium, but a state-of-the-art stadium can herald track a 21st Century view (even if it’s a bit late into the century), and so let’s have at least ONE in the USA, so why not where so many memories have come from (NIKE, Pre, etc.).

    1. Mike,

      Thanks for the reply. And I agree that the sport needs more showcase performance arenas. And the new rendering proposed for the University of Oregon site is great, just put it somewhere else and leave Hayward Field the way it is.

      There are new stadia all over major-league baseball, but they don’t rip up Wrigley Field or Fenway Park to have another. You can’t replace a century’s worth of tradition and history no matter how beautiful a new construction might be. Plus, the charm of Hayward Field is its fitting organically onto the campus. The new place looks like it may overwhelm the space. Thanks again for the considered opinion.

      Toni

  7. Another excellent piece Toni. Your parallel between Fenway Park and Hayward Field is most fitting. Upgrading Hayward makes a lot of sense. Destroying its charm and along with that its history by replacing it with this proposed modern (sterile) edifice is abominable .

    1. Thanks, Jack. You don’t see the BAA changing the Boston Marathon route to conform to modern record standards. Sometimes you can’t improve on the past.

      Toni

      1. Thoroughly agree Toni. It’s worth preserving iconic aspects of society’s various interests. My ole hometown in NW PA tore down a number of their century old classic buildings thinking they needed to keep up with modern times. Now that the coal, oil and steel industries have dried up, tourism is – much to my surprise – a big draw and revenue stream for the area…and those building would have / could have, truly made the small town a “Leave-it-to-Beaver” destination place. Too late now.

        They might fill this new stadium a few times every 5 – 10 years……or maybe the home of all major USA track events in the future? TBD.

        Happy Summer – cheers -Jack jfultz@comcast.net 617 835 3087 (C) __o _’\

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