Historic Hinchliffe Stadium - History Happened Here
Friday, March 8, 2013 • 11:59am
HISTORIC HINCHLIFFE STADIUM
History Happened Here!
This letter is in response to the recent article regarding whether the boundaries of the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park should be expanded to include one of Paterson’s, and America’s, most historic sites - Hinchliffe Stadium.
I’m sure most Patersonians over the age of 25 have fond memories of times spent at Hinchliffe. Hinchliffe Stadium was one of Paterson’s most important places. A place where families could gather for a few hours for a baseball or football game, to watch midget race cars speed around the track and everybody’s favorite Eastside vs. Kennedy football.
First a little history. Hinchliffe Stadium was built by the City of Paterson during one of the nations most difficult periods - the Great Depression. Workers that couldn’t find work in the mills of Paterson found work constructing Hinchliffe under President Roosevelt’s New Deal. During its construction then Mayor John V. Hinchliffe was attentive to every detail from the art deco style to the Gaetano Federici plaques honoring several Patersonians that had participated in the Olympic Games. On opening day, July 8, 1932, every seat in the stadium was filled when Mayor Hinchliffe said the new stadium would be a “paying investment” for the people of Paterson.
That “paying investment” immediately played host to the Negro Leagues and in 1934 the New York Black Yankees would make Hinchliffe their home until 1945. Patersonians were blessed to watch some of the greatest baseball players of all time: Monte Irvin, Josh Gibson, “Cool Papa” Bell, Satchel Paige and of course Paterson’s own Larry Doby. American League scouts came to Hinchliffe to recruit Larry Doby and he made history by becoming the first black ballplayer in American League history.
In 1963 Mayor Frank X. Graves sold the stadium to the School District for the sum of $1.00. But by 1983 serious improvements were necessary to the 51 year old stadium and the School District, short of funds, turned to the city for financial help. Mayor Graves and the taxpayers of Paterson paid for substantial improvements to the stadium creating permanent stands, adding handicap access facilities, and installing a new Astroturf field.
From the time these City improvements were made until 1996 the School District allowed this great Paterson asset to deteriorate until they were forced to close it in 1996. Since then Hinchliffe Stadium has become a blighted and abandoned stadium. It seems the owners, Paterson’s School District, has a complete disregard for its rich historical significance to the people of Paterson and the country.
When I was elected Mayor for my first term I set several priorities:
- Development throughout the city beginning with Center City, the Route 20 Corridor and the River Main Project.
- Establishing State Park status for the Great Falls Historic District.
- And saving Hinchliffe Stadium (and the Armory).
In a process that started shortly after my election, at my request the planning board examined Hinchliffe Stadium and concluded that the Stadium meets the Municipal Land Use Law “for the redevelopment, promotion and conservation of historic sites.” The Municipal Council then commissioned planner, Heyer, Gruel & Associates.
Almost simutaneously I began working closely with Governor McGreevey to start the process of naming the Great Falls Historic District a State Park. About 18 months later Governor McGreevey designated the Great Falls as a State Park (a process that normally takes 10 to 15 years). In the original site plans for the State Park Hinchliffe Stadium was included as an “adjacent development” site and subject to rehabilitation.
On November 3, 2009 a ballot question in the General Election stated: “The residents of the City of Paterson... hereby voice their support for funding by the City, on behalf of the Board of Education of the City of Paterson... of an amount not to exceed $15,000,000 to restore Hinchliffe Stadium and the Armory ($2,000,000 would go to the Armory), provide for improvements to and the development of same, including athletic fields and related sporting facilities, in keeping with the State and National Park designations received for the Great Falls area including but not limited to recreational and tourism use.” Paterson voters approved the bond referendum three to one.
Once the voters had voiced their support in 2010 I negotiated a Shared Services Agreement with Dr. Evans where the City would lease Hinchliffe Stadium for 30 years at $1.00 per year. The City would then be responsible for all repairs, use and operation of the Stadium. The lease states “the tenant (City) agrees to rehabilitate, repair, and renovate (Hinchliffe Stadium) so that it is fit for athletic events including football, baseball soccer and field events.” Under the terms of the lease the Stadium would be used for cultural and recreational activities for the benefit of the residents of the City of Paterson. Additionally, the Stadium would also be used for recreational activities by School #5 and any other school in the system.
One additional consideration was to explore the possibility of Hinchliffe Stadium for its potential use as a permanent location for the New Jersey Hall of Fame. Paterson is well represented in the Hall by William Carlos Williams, Lou Costello, Bucky Pizzarelli and Larry Doby. This would be a great addition to the historical significance of Hinchliffe Stadium.
- February marks Black History Month and sadly today there are only three stadiums still standing that hosted the Negro Leagues. Hinchliffe is one.
- The New York Black Yankees made Hinchliffe their home for 12 seasons.
- Hinchliffe Stadium with its Art Deco style is architecturally significant.
- For 65 years nearly every Paterson celebration has included Hinchliffe.
Hinchliffe Stadium is a Paterson treasure that has been neglected for 16 years. It has been abandoned and allowed to become a blight on the city. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has named Hinchliffe Stadium one of the top most endangered historic places in the nation. Unless something is done quickly Patersonians will lose Hinchliffe Stadium forever.
Eighty-one years ago Mayor Hinchliffe said that Hinchliffe Stadium would become a “paying investment” for the people of Paterson. And for most of those eight decades Paterson taxpayers reaped the benefits that come from a successful recreation and sports facility.
It’s time to seize this opportunity for the taxpayers of Paterson and for the children of Paterson by returning Hinchliffe Stadium to a fully functioning community asset. As I said at the National Park ceremony “Paterson’s future will be built of the history of Paterson’s past.”
Paterson was fortunate to have the support of former Governor’s McGreevey and Corzine by recognizing the unique place the Great Falls Historic District has in American history. I would respectfully ask Governor Christie to support bringing Hinchliffe Stadium back to its former glory.
I would request that former Mayor Pat Kramer, Chairman of the Great Falls Federal Advisory Commission, and former Mayor Tom Rooney, a member of the commission, set a meeting with NJ Department of Education Commissioner Cerf, NJ Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Martin and Governor Christie to address this urgent issue.
I remember something Rep. Pascrell said at the dedication ceremony for the State Park: “If we do not protect the relics of the past, we will have nothing but ruins to hand to our children and grandchildren.”
The first step in the process should be that rather than allow this Paterson treasure to fall further into disrepair the School District should either adopt the Shared Services Agreement proposed by my Administration in 2010 or return Hinchliffe Stadium to the City of Paterson for the sum of $1.00. Leaving nothing but ruins to our children and grandchildren should not be an option.