The Polo Grounds, Coogan’s Bluff, and the Brush Memorial Stairway

January 9th, 2013
by Byron Bennett

The Polo Grounds was located in Harlem, New York, at 157th Street and 8th Avenue. Various incarnations of ballparks at that location were home to three different major league teams: the National League New York Giants from 1891 to 1957, the New York Yankees from 1913 to 1922, and the New York Mets in 1962 and 1963, as well as a team from the Players’ League in 1890 also known as the Giants) .   Prior to 1890, a sports venue known as the Polo Grounds was located in Manhattan near Central Park, and a second venue, also known as the Polo Grounds, was located at 155th Street and 8th Avenue on a plot adjacent to the Polo Grounds at 157th Street.

Postcard of the Polo Grounds Postcard Showing Newly Rebuilt Ballpark After Fire Destroyed the Original Ballpark (Success Postal Card Co., photo New York Times)

The original wooden ballpark at 157th Street was destroyed by fire in 1911 and a new concrete and steel ballpark was constructed on the site.

Postcard of the Polo Grounds (H. Pinkelstein & Sons, American Art Publishing)

The new Polo Grounds were the third concrete and steel ballpark in the country.

Polo Ground’s Concrete and Steel Construction (Library of Congress  Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.)

Coogan’s Bluff  (not to be confused with the movie of the same name starring Clint Eastwood) was located northwest of the Polo Grounds just beyond home plate at 155th Street and Edgecombe Avenue. The playing field of the Polo Grounds sat in Coogan’s Hollow

New York City Park Sign Advertising Coogan’s Bluff

Rock outcroppings just northwest of the ballpark at Harlem River Driveway (which dissects Coogan’s Bluff) provided an excellent vantage point for free viewing of at least portions of the ball field.

View of Polo Grounds From Coogan’s Bluff at Harlem River Driveway (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.)

Those rock outcroppings remain to this day along Harlem River Driveway, providing an excellent view now of Polo Grounds Towers.

Looking Southeast Toward Polo Grounds Tower No. 4 from Coogan’s Bluff and Harlem River Driveway

In 1913 a stairway at 157th Street and Edgecomb Avenue in Harlem was constructed to allow subway riders who departed the 155th Street station more direct access to the ballpark at Harlem River Driveway. That stairway remains, a lasting baseball relic of the Polo Grounds at its former site.

Stairway at 157th Street and Edgecomb Avenue.

The stairs, whose inscription states  “The John T. Brush Stairway Presented by the New York Giants,” was dedicated in 1913 to the former Giants’ owner.

“The John T. Brush Stairway Presented by the New York Giants”

The Brush Memorial Stairway emptied onto the sidewalk at Harlem River Driveway, allowing fans direct access into the Polo Grounds from Harlem River Driveway.

Polo Grounds and the Harlem River Driveway (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.)

A second stairway that would have taken fans north of the ballpark at ground level still exists alongside Harlem River Driveway.

Looking Northeast Down Harlem River Driveway and Stairway to Former Site of Polo Grounds

Old Yankee Stadium was located southeast of the Polo Grounds, just across the Harlem River.

Aerial View of Yankee Stadium and Polo Grounds (photo from stuffnobodycaresabout.com)

Aerial View of Old Yankee Stadium and the Polo Ground Towers

Aerial View of Old Yankee Stadium and the Polo Ground Towers

In 1923, Yankee Stadium was visible from inside the Polo Grounds, across the Harlem River.

Polo Grounds, Opening Day 1923, with Yankee Stadium Visible Beyond Center Field (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.)

Prior to its demise in 2009, Old Yankee Stadium was still visible from Coogan’s Bluff at Harlem River Driveway looking southeast past the Polo Grounds Towers.

View of Old Yankee Stadium Looking Beyond Former Site of Polo Grounds, Circa 2001

The Polo Grounds Towers, which were built on the ballpark’s former site and completed in 1968, consist of four high rise apartments with a total of over 1600 units.

Entrance to Polo Grounds Towers on 8th Avenue

A plaque marking the approximate location of home plate is located on a column of Tower No. 4.

Plaque Honoring Polo Grounds and Former Location of Home Plate

The apartment building located at 155 Edgecombe Avenue is visible from the former location of home plate looking back toward Coogan’s Bluff.

Plaque Marking Location of Home Pate, with Apartment Building at 555 Edgecombe Avenue in Background

A sliver of that same apartment building is visible in top right corner of the postcard below.

Postcard of the Polo Grounds Showing Buildings Lining Edgecombe Avenue on Coogan’s Bluff (Alfred Mainzer, NY, NY, Curteich-Chicago)

The New York Giants abandoned the Polo Grounds in 1957, moving to San Francisco and Seal Stadium in 1958 and then Candlestick Park in 1960. Subsequent to the Mets move to Shea Stadium in 1964, the Polo Grounds was demolished.

Polo Grounds During the 1912 World Series (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Although nothing remains at the actual ballpark site, the Brush Memorial Stairway does provide a link to the past. The stairway has sat in obscurity and disrepair for years, however an effort is now underway to restore the stairway and, with it, a piece of New York’s baseball past and baseball glory. See MLB.com article about restoration of John T. Brush Stairway [Editor’s Note: The Brush Memorial Stairway has been restored and is open for use. Woods surrounding the stairway have been turned into a small park with lighting, making the stairway quite accessible. A sign has been placed on Edgecombe Avenue at the entrance to the stairway.]

Polo Grounds During the 1913 World Series (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

 

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Posted in New York ballparks, Polo Grouinds | Comments (8)

  • […] The Polo Grounds, Coogan’s Bluff, and the Brush Memorial Stairway […]

  • Andy Hadel says:

    I have lived across the street from the stairs for nine years. During the many years before they were fenced off, they remained blighted and decrepit, serving only thugs who used them as egress after committing crimes. My concern now is that the new and improved stairway will once again facilitate thugs.

    To prevent this, I suggest installing plenty of lighting and also a video camera at each end to help identify the thugs fleeing. If they fear having their pictures taken, perhaps they will think twice about what they are doing? In addition this the police should make a point of getting out of their patrol cars and walking this beat during the day and evening.

    I don’t recall being asked for feedback about this project and would have voted to do something other than this to celebrate the historical importance of the stairs. But now they are a fact that we the neighbors get to live with. I hope the ball clubs who contributed to this project take these concerns for security seriously and add budget so their well-intentioned tribute to a bygone era doesn’t actually do more harm than good.

  • […] at one time Rickwood Field could boast having wooden box seats and wooden row seats from the Polo Grounds, with wrought iron “NY” emblems at the end of each row. In the 1970s the seats were […]

  • Bob Kimberly says:

    I’m planning a walk along the Harlem River to see Coogan’s Bluff, High Bridge, and other points of interest not usually of interest to the casual tourist. Can you suggest any other interesting things to check out in that general neighborhood-and should I be concerned about muggers? I’ll be there midday in February. (Not too worried). Nice article.

  • Byron Bennett Byron Bennett says:

    Hello Bob

    A friend of mine confirmed that the Brush Memorial Stairway is now open so I would encourage you to take a stroll down those steps. They have placed a large sign at the entrance on Edgecombe so you can’t miss it. Apparently they have done a nice job of clearing out the area of overgrown vegetation, so you shouldn’t feel as if you going deep into the woods. Also, the city has put in a nice public park at the top of Coogan’s Bluff just to the right of the entrance to the stairway. The park includes a kid’s playground. None of this area was accessible when I last visited the area. Of course, one hundred years ago the area of Coogan’s Bluff, which is now a park, provided an excellent view of the Polo Grounds. In addition to a visit the Polo Grounds towers and the plaque marking home plate, I would suggest, if you have the time, to take the less than a mile drive to 165th and Broadway for a visit to the Yankee’s first home in New York, Hilltop Park. Information about that ballpark is available on my web site as well: https://deadballbaseball.com/?p=958. DBS

  • Randi says:

    what is the address at the Polo Grounds Towers where the plaque marking home plate is?

  • Byron Bennett Byron Bennett says:

    The street address of the Polo Grounds Towers is 2931 Frederick Douglass Blvd, Manhattan, NY 10039. There are four high rises on the site. The plaque is located near the entrance to Tower No. 4. Tower No. 4 is northern most tower of the four.

  • […] that appears at the beginning of this blog. Although not quite as historically significant as the John T. Brush Memorial Stairway located near the former site of the Polo Grounds, the fence certainly is worth noting given its […]

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