Modern Coliseum: Stadiums and American Culture

Modern Coliseum: Stadiums and American Culture

Modern Coliseum: Stadiums and American Culture

Modern Coliseum: Stadiums and American Culture


From the legendary Ebbets Field in the heart of Brooklyn to the amenity-packed Houston Astrodome to the "retro" Oriole Park at Camden Yards, stadiums have taken many shapes and served different purposes throughout the history of American sports culture. In the early twentieth century, a new generation of stadiums arrived, located in the city center, easily accessible to the public, and offering affordable tickets that drew mixed crowds of men and women from different backgrounds. But in the successive decades, planners and architects turned sharply away from this approach.

In Modern Coliseum, Benjamin D. Lisle tracks changes in stadium design and culture since World War II. These engineered marvels channeled postwar national ambitions while replacing aging ballparks typically embedded in dense urban settings. They were stadiums designed for the "affluent society"--brightly colored, technologically expressive, and geared to the car-driving, consumerist suburbanite. The modern stadium thus redefined one of the city's more rambunctious and diverse public spaces.

Modern Coliseum offers a cultural history of this iconic but overlooked architectural form. Lisle grounds his analysis in extensive research among the archives of teams, owners, architects, and cities, examining how design, construction, and operational choices were made. Through this approach, we see modernism on the ground, as it was imagined, designed, built, and experienced as both an architectural and a social phenomenon. With Lisle's compelling analysis supplemented by over seventy-five images documenting the transformation of the American stadium over time, Modern Coliseum will be of interest to a variety of readers, from urban and architectural historians to sports fans.


Griffith Stadium drew fans from all over the District of Columbia and its suburbs to attend baseball and football games in the 1950s—“like a street lamp draws mosquitoes,” one area resident recalled. the park was distinctive. Its stands framed an asymmetrical field; the outfield fence cut and jagged around the far reaches of the lot as if it were a stumbling drunk, just dodging a massive tree and five row houses—property the builders were unable to acquire in the ballpark’s first days. the winking, mustachioed mascot for National Bohemian beer peeked above the right-field wall as if he were trying to scramble over it. Like so many other old ballparks, this one was squeezed by the neighborhood, producing an effect of either warm embrace or uncomfortable claustrophobia, depending on one’s mood and inclination. It was located on the east end of the U Street corridor—one of the country’s centers of African American life and culture. Howard University was blocks away. Ralph Bunche, Josh Gibson, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Thurgood Marshall all lived nearby at one time or another. Duke Ellington had once worked at the ballpark, selling peanuts, candy, and cigars.

Griffith Stadium—and U Street more generally—was one of the city’s main sites of interracial, interclass congress. Loretta Parker Brown, who grew up in adjacent LeDroit Park, remembered, “The only time that white people (other than policemen and firemen) came onto our neighborhood was to attend events at Griffith Stadium.” the area had changed since the end of World War ii. Some of its more affluent black residents had left with the loosening of residential segregation in the district and availability of newer, more spacious homes—homes often vacated by whites who fled for the suburbs when Brown v.

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