Friends of Hinchliffe aims to restore historic baseball stadium
“There are times when I’ve been inside and I can faintly hear the roar of the Great Falls, and when I close my eyes, I can just imagine the roar of the crowds here during Negro League games...” Brian LoPinto, cofounder, Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium.
In Paterson, NJ sits a historic landmark that once was the home of the Negro Baseball Leagues during the Jim Crow era – the Hinchliffe Stadium. It played host to some of the greatest black stars of that time who had no access to the major leagues that included Josh Gibson, Monte Irvin and Larry Doby, a baseball Hall of Famer who broke the color barrier in the American League in 1947. Hinchliffe is among a handful of surviving baseball venues in the country that were home to professional black sports and today; it is condemned and covered with graffiti.
Built in 1932, the 10,000 seat stadium was modeled after Rome’s Circus Maximus with concrete and decorative tile inlays invoking Olympic sports. Through the Depression and into the war years, Hinchliffe remained distinctive for its integrated play and unsegregated stands. In addition to baseball, the stadium promoted sports that were to become American mainstays—league football, star-level boxing, pre-NASCAR auto-racing, and major track and field meets. The stadium also hosted star-studded music and entertainment with Duke Ellington playing one of his last concerts on the field in 1971.
Upgrades to the stadium occurred in 1964, soon after ownership was passed to the City Schools and in the early 80's. Over the next decade, the general decline of the school system diverted funds away from the stadium, resulting in neglect and eventually, closure. This prompted calls for the stadium’s demolition, which sparked renewed interest in preserving and restoring Hinchliffe to its rightful glory.
In 2002, a group of local volunteer citizens formed Friends of Hinchliffe, a nonprofit organization to protect the stadium and ensure its recognition as a national historic landmark. Their goal is to rehabilitate the venue and have it returned to its rightful owners, the youth of Paterson. Paterson has a high African-American population that wishes to have the city's Negro League tradition live for future generations.
The group successfully argued the stadium’s place on the State and National Registers in 2003-2004 and in 2010, Hinchliffe was placed on the “Eleven Most Endangered” list of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Today, the Friends of Hinchliffe is seeking support from their local community and from individuals across the nation who want to help keep this landmark alive. The National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) has now declared the stadium a “National Treasure,” the first National Landmark associated with the history of the Negro Leagues. The group hoped that this designation would help support fundraising efforts, but an error by the NJ State Office of Historic Preservation cost the stadium restoration money. Coordinated efforts are now underway through two major New Jersey Historic Trust grants and with support from the Mayor and Schools Administration. The estimated cost for rehabilitation is $15-25 million.
Brent Leggs, Project Manager for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s National Treasure project at Hinchliffe Stadium shares, “The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a champion of the Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium and the work of local advocates to save this National Historic Landmark. Saving history is a shared responsibility. We welcome a broader constituency of funders and supporters to join our cause. Hinchliffe Stadium is a national treasure worthy of preservation.”
Three members of the Friends of Hinchliffe: Chris Coke, Donna Ivy and Brian LoPinto. Photo by Friends of Hinchliffe VP Dr. Flavia Alaya
To learn how you can get involved with the Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium and to support their efforts, contact Brian LoPinto at firstname.lastname@example.org or 973-773-8646. Visit their website at http://www.hinchliffestadium.org.
Photos courtesy of Jeffs4653/Flickr