Forgotten Stadiums: Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium
Memorial Stadium, Photo Courtesy of Historic American Buildings Society
Located in Baltimore’s Waverly neighborhood, Memorial Stadium was the home field for Major League Baseball’s Orioles, the National Football League’s Colts and for a few years in the late 1990’s, the NFL Ravens. The Canadian Football League’s Stallions, Minor League Baseball’s Bowie Baysox and the North American Soccer League’s Bays and Comets also called Memorial Stadium home. Memorial Stadium was the site of six World Series and an NFL Championship Game. Over the years the facility came to be known as “The Old Gray Lady,” or thanks to the frenzied devotion of Baltimore fans, “the world’s largest outdoor insane asylum.”
Designed to be a replacement for Municipal Stadium, which had stood on the site since 1922, construction on the horseshoe-shaped, double-decked stadium began in 1949. The first games were played here in 1950 once the lower deck was completed. The upper deck was finished in 1954. Today Memorial Stadium is seen by ballpark aficionados as an example of the transition in ballpark design from the classic ballparks of the 1910s and 20s to the multipurpose stadiums built in the 60s and 70s.
Memorial Stadium Interior, Photo Courtesy of Historic American Buildings Survey
The defining feature of this mostly nondescript facility was the 116-foot tall brick and stone exterior façade and memorial wall. The wall featured the city seal of Baltimore and the following dedication, spelled out in stainless steel letters ranging in height from twelve inches to ten feet tall:
ERECTED BY THE
CITY OF BALTIMORE
THE MAYOR AND THE CITY COUNCIL
AND THE PEOPLE OF BALTIMORE CITY
IN THE STATE OF MARYLAND
AS A MEMORIAL TO ALL
WHO SO VALIANTLY FOUGHT
AND SERVED IN THE WORLD
WARS WITH ETERNAL
GRATITUDE TO THOSE WHO
MADE THE SUPREME
SACRIFICE TO PRESERVE
EQUALITY AND FREEDOM
THROUGHOUT THE WORLD
TIME WILL NOT DIM THE GLORY OF THEIR DEEDS
The Stadium was formally dedicated on May 30, 1956. A parade and memorial service were held, and Army General Raleigh B. Hendrix presented stadium management with a bronze urn filled with soil from every American military cemetery on foreign ground. The urn was later encased in the memorial wall. The Orioles defeated the Red Sox 2-1 on that day.
Memorial Stadium Facade, Photo Courtesy of Historic American Buildings Survey
Over the years, Memorial Stadium developed a reputation as a good place to watch a baseball game but not so great for football (as someone who attended both sports at Memorial Stadium, I can confirm). As the stadium aged, the Colts attempted to get a new home built. Their impasse with the city ended with their infamous escape in the middle of the night to Indianapolis and the Hoosier Dome. The Orioles continued the push for a new facility, finally getting it in 1992 with the game changing Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
After the departure of the Orioles, there was much debate over what to do with the vacant stadium. Memorial Stadium was granted a reprieve when the Ravens played their first two seasons in Baltimore on 33rd Street while Ravens Stadium (now M&T Bank Stadium) was built. After the Ravens’ last game in 1997 Memorial Stadium once again stood empty. Efforts to designate the facility as a historic landmark fell short, making demolition inevitable. For Baltimore sports fans, the loss of The Old Gray Lady hit hard, as chronicled in the documentary The Last Season: The Life and Demolition of Memorial Stadium.
Memorial Stadium was demolished in March 2001. As a compromise to those who opposed its demolition, the memorial wall was left standing. This compromise proved to be unpopular with both sides. The ten-story wall seemed very much out of place without a stadium attached to it, and it, too was torn down in December of 2001.
Memorial Stadium’s legacy carried on in a number of ways. 50,000 square feet of turf was transplanted to the new Ravens Stadium. The YMCA built on the Stadium site contains many signs from Memorial Stadium. Of course, many pieces of Memorial Stadium, including seats, lockers, even urinals-found their way into collectors’ hands on the secondary market. For many years pieces of Memorial Stadium could be found at the Sports Legends Museum next to Oriole Park (sadly, this museum is now gone, as well). Both foul poles from Memorial Stadium made their way to Oriole Park.
Memorial Stadium Wall at Camden Yards, Photo Courtesy of Keith Eggener
Most significantly, on the pedestrian mall that was once Eutaw Street, in between Oriole Park and M&T Bank Stadium, is a low, curving wall bearing the last line from the original dedication from Memorial Stadium: “TIME WILL NOT DIM THE GLORY OF THEIR DEEDS.” The bronze urn presented by General Hendrix at Memorial Stadium’s dedication is encased in glass nearby, along with a photo of the old ballpark and a brief history of the facility.
The site of Memorial Stadium is now home to a mixed-use development named Stadium Place. Located in this senior-housing community are retail shops, a youth center, a YMCA, playgrounds and a scaled-down replica of the old field used for youth baseball, with home plate at the same location as it was in the old ballpark. In a nod to Memorial Stadium’s past, the baseball field can be converted to use as a football gridiron. A bronze plaque honors the old ballpark.
For more information about Memorial Stadium, read Keith Eggener’s excellent 2012 article on PlacesJournal.org