Full-sized trees now grow between the stands of the Depression-era Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, New Jersey, which last month was named one of the “11 Most Endangered Historic Places” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Built by public funds in 1932, the concrete, horseshoe-shaped structure is one of only three still-standing stadiums that housed the professional Negro League during the Jim Crow era.
The stadium was shuttered in 1997 when the Paterson Public School district, which had been using it for high school sporting events, noticed that one end of the stadium appeared to be sinking into the ground. A flimsy fence, easily breached, now blocks the open end. Inside, the stadium is covered with graffiti and signs of drug use; copper pieces from the original structure have been stolen. By the National Trust’s count, the stadium has suffered 30 instances of attempted arson.
Much of the stadium’s deterioration, such as the trees, is due to sheer neglect. “Those could easily have been taken care of over the years with some very inexpensive weedkiller,” said Brian Lo Pinto, who co-founded the nonprofit Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium and grew up two blocks away from it. But some of the destruction has been intentional. Several years ago, the Paterson School District demolished one of the entrances to make it wide enough to store their portable trailers in the stadium.
Since Hinchliffe made it onto the National Register of Historic Places in 2004, however, revived attention has brightened its prospects. Legislation signed by President Obama last spring directs the National Park Service to study the stadium to determine whether it qualifies as having “national significance” as a historic landmark, said Walter Gallas, Director of the Northeast Field Office of the National Trust. If it succeeds, as he expects it will, that designation could make the stadium eligible for much-needed funds from sources such as the federal Save America’s Treasures program.
In April, Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium won a $32,000 partial matching grant from the New Jersey Historic Trust, which they will be using to commission a report assessing the state of the building, its rehabilitation needs, and a detailed cost breakdown. Lo Pinto estimates a full restoration may require between $15 and $25 million.
Considering that the stadium faces imminent danger but has historic significance and ample popular support, the National Trust realized its listing the stadium as one of this year’s “11 Most Endangered Historic Places” could make a real difference to its fate. “We looked at Hinchliffe and we saw a lot of things going in the right direction,” said Gallas. “It wasn’t a case where only a handful of people are saying ‘We gotta save this place’ and they’re the lone voices in the wilderness.” In addition to support from Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium, he pointed to Paterson’s own citizens, who overwhelmingly voted last year to let the government sell up to $15 million in bonds for a full restoration.