A Brief History
On April 16, 1910, Boston Arena opened for the first time, an indoor ice hockey arena that is still in operation, the oldest such building still operating. We use this occasion in sports history to list 8 of the really old and great sports stadiums, arenas, venues, or whatever you want to call them, but only those that still exist. All but the last are still in use. As always, feel free to tell us of places we “should have” listed or if any we listed do not deserve mention.
Boston Arena, 1910.
Although the name was changed to Matthews Arena in 1982, the venerable venue remains the oldest still in use hockey arena in the world as well as the oldest multi-use indoor sports arena in continuous use in the world. Back when the National Hockey League (NHL) had only 6 teams, the Boston Bruins played at the Boston Arena from 1924 to 1928. In fact, the World Hockey Association (WHA) New England Whalers (who are now the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes) also played there in the 1972-1973 season. The arena is also used for basketball and has been the secondary home site of the Boston Celtics of the National Basketball Association (NBA) from 1946 to 1955. The arena is owned and operated by Northeastern University of Boston, Massachusetts, and that college plays their hockey and basketball games there. The arena is also available to local high school athletic programs as well. Too small for professional sports by modern standards, the arena holds only about 5000 spectators.
Fenway Park, 1912.
The oldest of all the major league baseball parks, Fenway is the home of the Boston Red Sox. The stadium got a makeover in 1934, 1946, 2002-2011, and again in 2017. Fenway Park holds fewer than 38,000 fans, putting it among the smallest of the major league ball parks. Famous for its odd shape resulting in the short but high left field wall known as “The Green Monster,” Fenway has also hosted games by the Boston Patriots (now the New England Patriots) of the NFL from 1963 to 1968, and also the Boston Yanks of the NFL (1944-1948). Did you know there was another Boston NFL franchise, the Boston Redskins? They played at Fenway Park from 1933 to 1936. In fact, a couple of other professional football teams (of the AFL) also played at Fenway, the Boston Shamrocks (1936-1937) and the Boston Bulldogs (1926). In 2013 the all time record of continuous sell out games by the Red Sox ended at 794 consecutive sell outs!
Wrigley Field, 1914.
Even though this Chicago institution loses out for the oldest MLB stadium to Fenway Park, Wrigley is arguably the quainter of the pair. What you may not know is that Wrigley Field started its career under a different name, Weeghman Park, named for Charles Weeghman and his baseball team, the Chicago Whales of the Federal League. The Cubs, the main tenant of Wrigley Field, did not play a game there until 1916 and the stadium got a new name from 1920 to 1926, known as Cubs’ Park. In 1927, the owner of the Cubs who also owned the stadium, William Wrigley, Jr., renamed the park in honor of the name of his company, the chewing gum giant. Famous for its ivy covered outfield fences (which happen to be made of bricks), Wrigley Field is about as charming as a modern ball park can possibly be. (Of all the venues listed in this article, Wrigley Field is the only one this author has personally visited, watching a Cubs game there in 1996, a wonderful experience.) While tenants of Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs had never won a World Series (their last triumph coming in 1908) until the 2016 event, in which they beat the Cleveland Indians 4 games to 3, with the final game going into extra innings. (The Tribe had blown a 3-1 lead in games won to fritter away the World Series once again.) The 2016 World Series was the match-up between the 2 teams that had gone the longest without a World Series victory, in fact, a combined 176 years without a World Series Championship! Sadly for Cubs fans, the momentous World Series game 7 was played in Cleveland and not Wrigley Field. Capacity is about 41,000.
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, 1923.
The “memorial” part of the name refers to the veterans that died in World War I, a recent event when the big stadium began construction in 1921 as the venue with the largest capacity of any Los Angeles outdoor stadium, then just over 75,000. Opened in 1923, the Coliseum got a major upgrade in 1930 in anticipation of hosting the 1932 Olympic (Summer) games, increasing its seating to a whopping 101,574, and for a while was known by the alternate name, Olympic Stadium. An enormous number of college and professional teams have called the Coliseum home over the years, notably the USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins college football teams, and the following NFL franchises: Rams, Raiders, and Chargers. The Coliseum was the first home to the Los Angeles Dodgers of the National League of MLB, hosting the team from 1958 to 1961, and the big facility also hosted the Pro Bowl, the NFL’s all-star game, from 1951 to 1972 and again in 1979. The Coliseum has also hosted a myriad of other sports teams, from soccer to lacrosse and other pro football leagues. Capacity of the stadium was reduced in a 1964 renovation to 93,000 and then again in 2018 to its current capacity of 77,500. The Coliseum also lays claim to hosting the first ever Super Bowl in 1967, then known as the “First AFL-NFL World Championship Game.”
Franklin Field, 1895.
Franklin Field, home of the University of Pennsylvania Quakers, is the oldest college football stadium in the US. It has hosted 18 Army-Navy football games as well as its home team. Franklin Field was the scene of the first college football game to be broadcast live on the radio in 1922. Franklin Field, named after native son Benjamin Franklin, is also the venue of the famed Penn Relays track and field competition, the stadium of course hosts many other sports and activities, and has a seating capacity of just under 53,000.
All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, 1870.
Located at Wimbledon, London, England, this is of course where the Wimbledon tennis championship tournament is held, the premier professional tennis event each year and one of the most prestigious sporting events in the world. Held on grass, it is the only one of the major tennis tournaments (Grand Slam events, including the US Open, French Open and Australian Open along with Wimbledon) still held on grass courts. The club started life as a croquet venue, and still hosts such events. The club itself was started in 1868 as croquet became a sensation across Britain. In 1882 the “croquet” part of the name was dropped, as the venue had become almost exclusively a tennis stadium, but the “croquet” part was added back to the name in 1899. Along with the 18 iconic grass courts, Wimbledon also boasts an additional 8 courts with a clay surface and 2 more with an acrylic surface, as well as 5 indoor courts. The #1 court can seat 11,500 spectators, the most of any of the courts. Renovations are ongoing.
Old Course at St Andrews, 1552.
The oldest golf course in the world, St. Andrews is basically the birthplace of golf, and its spiritual home. Located at St Andrews, Fife, Scotland, it is the home of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, along with several other golf clubs. Golf was first played at or near St. Andrews as much as a century before the establishment of the Old Course. In fact, King James II of Scotland actually banned golf in 1457 as he thought the frivolous pastime was taking up too much time of the young lads that should have been practicing archery. James III kept up the ban, but James IV relaxed the ban when he himself became infatuated with the game in 1502. The 18 hole course plays 7305 yards and has a par of 72. (Course record by Ross Fisher in 2017 was a blistering 61.) The British Open, the oldest golf tournament in the world, was first played at St. Andrews in 1552, and is sometimes played there (about every 5 years) as part of the rotation among British courses.
Roman Colosseum, 80 AD.
Commissioned by Emperor Vespasian in 70-72, it fell to Vespasian’s son, Titus, to open the Colosseum (various spellings are out there) in 80. The final construction was completed under the brother of Titus, Domitian. Known then as the Flavian Amphitheater, the opening was grand indeed, with 100 days of games. Gladiatorial contests, fights against and between animals, dramatic plays and all sorts of entertainments were held there for 400 years until the decline of the Roman Empire saw the great stadium go into disuse and disrepair. The great edifice became a source of building materials to be stolen from, until the 18th Century when such plunder was stopped. By then, 2/3’s of the original structure was gone. A roughly circular stadium with a diameter of 600 feet (about), it differed from other large stadiums in that it was a free standing structure rather than being dug into the ground as the others usually had been. The Colosseum could hold 50,000 tightly packed fans, seated according to social status. The Colosseum became a tourist attraction long after it ended its career as a stadium, and continues to draw thousands of tourists daily. Restoration began in the 1990’s.
Question for students (and subscribers): What is your favorite sports venue, and why? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Knupke, Gene. Profiles of American / Canadian Sports Stadiums and Arenas. Xlibris Corporation, 2006
Stewart, Alva. College Football Stadiums: An Illustrated Guide to NCAA Division I-A. McFarland & Company, 2000.