Stadium Notes: The Empty Bowl

When I was preparing my article on ten must-see stadiums for Men’s Vogue, I sent an email to Eric Breit, a stadium afficianado in North Carolina, asking for his favorites. His response, too late to affect my piece, is printed here. -Ed.

Hi Austin,

Sorry that it has taken some time to get back to you. Your article on stadiums is probably published by now. But your question was a nice opportunity for me to reflect on my hobby of stadium visiting, so I want to respond.

Some notes:
• I have stayed away from the classics—the Wrigleys and Fenways.
• I have limited my response to stadiums to which I have actually been. (So there is only one located outside the United States.)
• I have a soft spot for the big, open bowls and horseshoes of the 1920’s, typically rimmed by wonderful arcades of brick and very often still utilizing the pig-trough urinals. The result is that my list would be a more appropriate response to the question, “What are your favorite college football stadiums?”
• Most of my thoughts are based not on visits to stadiums for games, but rather on visits when empty. (Oh, the joy of sitting in an empty stadium.)
• One of my selections is no longer in use, or is used for a different purpose. I think vacated stadiums are still very much worth visiting for “archeological” purposes.

In no particular order:

Kezar Stadium, San Francisco, CA
The former home of the 49’ers, Kezar is now a track and field, with two small stands on either side (I think high school sports are now played there). But the outline and some architectural fragments of the old stadium are still there. The stadium’s position on the city’s grid creates a wonderful, odd moment where Frederick Street cuts severely into the south stand of the original stadium—a moment typically only seen at old baseball parks in their outfields. I enjoyed walking around the perimeter imagining 50,000 fans arriving to the game from the dense neighborhood surrounding the park. Then I would continue my dreaming looking at old picture books of San Francisco and Kezar in its glory.

Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, CA
Staying in the Bay Area, UC’s football stadium is a classic bowl from the 1920’s, with its plaque honoring war dead, clean lines, and all that. It’s up the hill from the campus. I remember being quite out of breath after walking from the center of campus. (I think I was still smoking then, which probably didn’t help.) Because it is on a hill, entering into the stadium from the east is from the top, and entry from the west is from ground level. Thus, the east stand is not encumbered by vomitories and only stairs lead visitors down to their seats. Also, because the stadium is cut into a hill, views vary nicely. The top rows of the east stand provide a panorama of the Bay Area. From the west stand, the wooded, Berkeley hills offer a more bucolic backdrop.

Stanford Stadium, Palo Alto, CA
Remaining in the Bay Area, this “almost-bowl” hosted the 1985 Super Bowl and seats 90,000-ish. I liked approaching Stanford Stadium from the southeast, at the opening of the stadium that leads down a tree-lined procession directly onto the track. It is a common design feature of stadiums that include tracks to have the players enter where the track juts out of its oval to accommodate the sprint races (Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, for example). What is unique about Stanford is its treatment of the south stand in this corner: Because of the opening and the fact that it looks like it wants to continue to join the east stand but doesn’t, the stand comes to a sharp point. (I love stadium moments like these where odd angle creates rows with only one or two seats.) Also because of the track, the stands are quite far from the football field. The lower rows of seats are covered for football games as the views from these seats are worthless.

Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, LA
They keep a real tiger in a cage outside of Louisiana State’s football stadium. And inside one can clearly discern a great stadium puzzle, pieced together over the years—from the original two relatively small main stands mirroring each other along the touch lines, to its current configuration, with different degrees of curve at each end and different seating pitches and numbers of tiers. The end result gives you a taste of many stadiums in one: two-tiered, vertical circulation at the south stand; a single tiered, half-bowl with vertical and horizontal circulation and stacked vomitories at the north stand; and contemporary upper decks with external circulation ramps and luxury suites at the east and west stands. The various additions also have a say in the experience below, as structural necessity built upon structural necessity has led to what appears to be Piranesi-inspired circulation.

Wimbledon, London, England
Wimbledon’s center court taught me that a modest horizontal profile is possible for a great stadium. Like a baseball park from the past, it’s one of those that you happen upon, rather than see from a distance. And its roof line and seating pitch create the feel of a stadium much smaller than I imagined possible given its 13,000-plus capacity (although I understand work is underway to raise the roof, make it retractable, and add more seats). Wimbledon’s center court also was one of the first stadiums I experienced that solved the challenge of creating good sightlines by altering the curvature of rows—depending on their distance relative to the playing surface.

Ryan Field, Evanston, IL
What I like about Northwestern University’s football stadium is the contrast between its unique master plan and what it has become. The original west stand marries a lower tier shaped like an almost-half circle (allowing for the bulk of visitors to sit near the fifty-yard line, a common design element of many football stadiums) with a narrow second tier that boarders the first tier’s outer edge. Because all rows are virtually parallel with the west touchline and don’t follow the curve of the outer edge, the outer edge of the half circle curves up then down. The result is that there are wonderful moments where, for example, a lower row of the second tier might start and end on one side of the field and then pick up again on the other side of the field. The west stand is further enhanced by two weighty circulation towers that stand on either end. While the master plan called for a similar east stand—and an appropriate south stand to join the two—what happened instead were disjointed additions to the original smaller east stand, which attempted to replicate the curvature of the west stand but not its beautiful and unique spirit and plan.

Harvard Stadium, Cambridge, MA
I like the walk across the river to get there. I like the single-tiered and modest horseshoe. I like the colonnade adorning its entire upper edge. I like the five rows of old wooden bleachers sandwiched within the colonnade to provide extra seating for the big games. And I like that the columns blocked much of the view from the wooden bleachers.

Although I could go on, I will stop here, as upon reflection my thoughts are probably going in a different direction that you had envisioned.

Best,
Eric

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