Seven Stadiums from St. Louis's Past
On January 12, 2016, with the announcement that the St. Louis Rams would be relocating to Los Angeles, the St. Louis region began a discussion about the future of the now-teamless Edward Jones Dome. While there are many uncertainties regarding the future of the Dome, it's far from the first St. Louis stadium to see a transition. Here's a chance to test your knowledge of St. Louis's past stadiums and the teams that called them home—some are well remembered, but others might be a surprise!
By 1875, St. Louis had five known amateur baseball teams: the Elephants, Empires, Red Stockings, Unions, and Stocks. Red Stockings Ballpark, at Compton and Gratiot avenues, hosted both amateur and professional baseball games until it was razed in 1898. Both Red Stockings Ballpark and the Grand Avenue Ball Grounds were hotspots not just for baseball, but also for shooting clubs, bicycle racing, fireworks displays, and a whole host of other events.
The Grand Avenue Ball Grounds became host to St. Louis’s first professional baseball team, the St. Louis Brown Stockings. The Chicago White Stockings made frequent trips to St. Louis to play against amateur teams. These trips always ended with embarrassing defeat for St. Louis, so city business leaders took it upon themselves to raise money for a professional team, the Brown Stockings. The fateful day of the Brown Stockings' first game, against Chicago, of course, came on May 6, 1875. The plays were fast and phenomenal, and by the 7th inning the score was 10–0, St. Louis. The Brown Stockings would shut out the Chicago White Stockings to great pandemonium in the grandstand. The Missouri Republican talked about the game as if the city had won a war: “St. Louis decided to appear on the diamond and there, as everywhere else, attest to the supremacy of the western city with the greatest population, the most flourishing trade, the biggest bridge, and the prettiest women.”
After the conclusion of the 1877 season, a game-fixing scandal involving two players of the St. Louis Brown Stockings led the team to resign its membership in the National League. The club then declared bankruptcy and folded. In 1882 the Brown Stockings would be resurrected as a professional team, and this is the club that was eventually named the St. Louis Cardinals in 1900. In 1876, the Grand Avenue Ball Grounds would be renamed Sportsman’s Park.
Before the St. Louis Cardinals moved downtown, they spent 47 years playing baseball at a stadium many older St. Louisans remember fondly. While the Sportsman’s Park they remember was built in 1902, baseball had been played on the site (formerly known as the Grand Avenue Ball Grounds) since at least 1867. It was first home to the St. Louis Browns, and beginning in 1920 became a two-team stadium with the St. Louis Cardinals. In 1944 the Cardinals and Browns shared home field for the World Series when they played against each other at Sportsman’s Park. It became known as the “Streetcar Series,” since fans of both teams had come to the game on St. Louis’s streetcars. The Browns moved to Baltimore in 1953, and Anheuser-Busch purchased the St. Louis Cardinals and renamed the ballpark Busch Stadium. In 1966 the Cardinals relocated to the new Busch Memorial Stadium built downtown. Home plate was ceremonially carried to the new stadium by helicopter on May 8, 1966, and demolition on Sportsman’s Park began soon after. The site is now home to the Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club, which appropriately has a baseball diamond close by.
One of the few stadiums built expressly for Negro League baseball, Stars Park opened in 1922 as the home of the St. Louis Stars. From the 10,000-seat grandstand, fans cheered as they witnessed lightning-fast James “Cool Papa” Bell race around the bases. They were dazzled by the acrobatics of the first wizard to play shortstop in St. Louis—Willie Wells. And they stood and roared as the power-hitting George “Mule” Suttles crushed home runs over the city trolley shed that served as the right field wall but was only 250 feet away from home plate. Suttles and the other Stars swatted so many balls over this shed that, for several seasons, the Negro National Leauge forced the Stars to call any hit over the shed a ground-rule double instead of a home run. The Stars shone brightly in Stars Park, winning titles in 1928, 1930, and 1931. But the Negro National League disbanded in 1931, Stars Park was torn down, and the Stars faded away.
While St. Louis Cardinals baseball was Busch Memorial Stadium’s principal purpose from its 1966 opening, it was also the gridiron for the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals (1966–1987) and a concert venue for everyone from the Beatles to Judas Priest. The stadium was host to six World Series (1967, 1968, 1982, 1985, 1987, and 2004), and baseball history was made there when Mark McGwire smashed the single-season home run record in 1998. The 50,000 seats in a circular arrangement gave everyone a great view. The stadium itself was designed by St. Louis engineering firm Sverdrup & Parcel, but it was architect Edward Durrell Stone’s 96 concrete arches along the roof that live on in many baseball fans’ memories. They echoed the much larger Arch seen just blocks away on the riverfront, and together they were seen as symbols of a “new St. Louis.” A pop-fly out by Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina officially ended Busch Memorial Stadium’s last game at 10:22 p.m. on October 19, 2005. The curtain fell on “Old Busch,” and Busch Stadium III was built on the same site.
Downtown St. Louis would undergo a drastic change in 1923, with the passing of 20 out of 21 city beautification bond proposals totaling $87.4 million. Part of the $87 million 1923 bond issue allowed large-scale urban clearance for a series of park spaces and public buildings. The issue funded a new courthouse (the Civil Courts Building), a war memorial (Soldiers Memorial), and a municipal auditorium and opera house (the present-day Peabody Opera House), interspersed with a series of open green spaces. Finished in 1934, the Municipal Auditorium (renamed “Kiel Auditorium” in 1943) played host to a variety of concerts, wrestling events, and shows, including a 1952 appearance by St. Louis native Josephine Baker, her only return to the city after her childhood. More than anything else however, the Kiel Auditorium was known as the home of the St. Louis Hawks from 1955 to 1968. The Hawks came to St. Louis from Milwaukee in 1955, and would become one of basketball’s premier teams. The St. Louis Hawks' most famous player, Bob Pettit, became the first player in history to score more than 20,000 points in his career. Despite the team’s success, owner Ben Kerner thought the Kiel Auditorium was too outdated and small, and he began looking to move the team. He sold the team to Atlanta real estate developer Tom Couzins and former Georgia governor Carl Sanders, and in 1968 they became the Atlanta Hawks. The Scottrade Center (originally named Kiel Center, then Savvis Center, before the current naming rights were purchased) now stands on the site of the former Kiel Auditorium, which was demolished in 1991.
“The Barn” was quite an appropriate nickname for the St. Louis Arena. It opened in 1929 as a home for livestock shows. After surviving a 1959 tornado that toppled one of its entrance towers, the Arena was host to everything from political rallies to circuses to Led Zeppelin concerts. When St. Louis was chosen to host a new NHL hockey team in the 1967 season, the Arena underwent heavy renovations to become the permanent home for the St. Louis Blues. Between 1967 and 1993, over 1,200 hockey games were seen at the Arena by more than 17 million fans. During the 1994 off-season, the Blues relocated downtown to the newly constructed Kiel Center (now Scottrade Center). The Arena, without an occupant, sat empty and boarded up. Despite great protest and even the possibility of purchase by the late Bob Cassilly (creator of the City Museum), the city moved forward with demolition plans. On February 27, 1999, St. Louisans watched the implosion live on television. In just 30 seconds, the building that supplied more than 70 years of memories disappeared into a cloud of dust.
—Andrew Wanko, Public Historian