Monday, June 12, 2006

"Stadium plan will destroy neighborhood " The Journal News 05/14/06

Stadium plan will destroy neighborhood

By HERBERT F. GELLER in The Journal News , May 14, 2006

Back in the 1930s, during the days of the Great Depression, I remember seeing the City of New York inspired by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia's love of public parks and play spaces for children, building the Mullaly Playground in Macombs Dam Park. It had a wading pool, swings, slides, seesaws and later handball courts, where my father, fanatically devoted to that sport, often played with handball players of all ages.

Towering a few blocks away was the great Yankee Stadium, the pride of the Bronx, with stars like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and later Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle playing for the team that has won the most world championships in baseball. Complementing the greatest ballfield in America were Joyce Kilmer Park, named after the author of "Trees," and Franz Sigel Park, on whose hill Washington and Rochambeau once stood deciding whether to attack British-held Manhattan or march 300 miles south to defeat Cornwallis in Yorktown, Va.

Now they want to destroy this great historic neighborhood centering around 161st Street, River Avenue, Jerome Avenue and the Concourse. They want to build a new Yankee Stadium in Macombs Dam Park only because George Steinbrenner wants to provide 60 luxury boxes for wealthy people. They want to eliminate 5,000 seats for ordinary people to accommodate those boxes. And, hidden in the statistics telling about the benefits of this project, is how much the taxpayers would have to pay for a new Yankee Stadium. I believe it will cost the city taxpayers at least several hundreds of millions of dollars.

In return for destroying Macombs Park and Mullaly Playground, the developers would provide a series of vest-pocket parks, including some on the top of parking garages. What about the people who live in the area that was my childhood home? Are they are going to lose any semblance of a community to a huge, exclusively commercial area? If children or adults want a playground or recreational area, will they be able to find one on top of a parking garage? What will happen when Yankee Stadium is torn down and replaced by a parking area? Will some of the ground be the site of tailgate parties, like the area around Shea Stadium that I've seen coated with barbecue ashes, cans, bottles and decaying food? Is that what George Steinbrenner is asking for?

Even though I have lived in northern Westchester for the past 50 years, I have many fond memories of Yankee Stadium, and not only involving baseball. I remember the Army-Navy games when cadets marched down 161st Street; and seeing President Harry Truman talking to the great Jim Thorpe in front of the now-vanished Concourse Plaza Hote; and the Joe Louis-Max Schmeling fight in 1938.

As for baseball in 1932, I actually caught a ball hit over the stadium. A friend and I with got the signatures of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the whole 1932 Yankee team. It would be worth a fortune now, but the other kid borrowed it from me. He moved away, and I never saw him or the ball again.

Many of the 1930s Yankees were part of our neighborhood. Pitcher Herb Pennock and other Yankees and their wives would sublet apartments at 923 Walton Ave. and other buildings around Joyce Kilmer Park during those years. And there was a famous steak restaurant on Cortlandt Avenue and 161st Street where the ball players ate and where I met and talked to Mickey Mantle and Enos Slaughter.

My parents, Sam and May Geller, loved that neighborhood because it had everything — a real family community and the feeling of living in a famous neighborhood engendered by Yankee Stadium, the Concourse Plaza Hotel and the Bronx County Courthouse. How will the people who now live there feel when they are surrounded by parking lots, garages and vest-pocket parks?

People of the Bronx, don't listen to the siren song of the developers and the big-usiness interests. Save Macombs Dam Park and the Mullaly Playground. Parks and other recreational areas belong to the people and should never be turned over to commercial interests. Preserve the historic stadium for future generations. As they did with the proposed West Side Stadium, reject the whole deal. We don't need the 60 luxury boxes.

Preserve the stadium as a place where the ordinary people of the Bronx can continue to watch their favorite team, the New York Yankees, continue to win world championships.


At 10:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, nostalgia!! The writer incorrectly states that the old stadium would be torn down for paking lots, but he may be on to something. I still don't trust Parks & Recreation to do what they say they will do.


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