Posts Tagged ‘Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur Athletic Sports Pavilion’

The Rockpile – Buffalo’s War Memorial Stadium

January 30th, 2015

War Memorial Stadium was a multi-use sports facility located at 285 Dodge Street in Buffalo, New York. The name of the venue changed over time, from Roesch Memorial Stadium (named after former Buffalo Mayor Charles Roesch) in 1937, to Grover Cleveland Stadium (in honor of the former President, Chief Justice, and Buffalo Mayor) from 1937-38, to Civic Stadium from 1938 to 1960, and finally to War Memorial Stadium from 1960 to 1987. Although it was a stadium of many names, Buffalo residents often referred to the ballpark as “The Old Rockpile.”

Buffalo Civic Stadium (Photocrome postcard, Metrocraft, Everett MA)

Buffalo Civic Stadium (Photocrome postcard, Metrocraft, Everett MA)

The derivation of the nickname Rockpile is not readily ascertained (believe me, I looked), but  perhaps it is a reference either to the condition of the stadium in its later years or the impressive wall constructed of large stones that once surrounded portions of the stadium as well as Masten Park (located directly west of the stadium). The stone wall was once part of the boundary for Prospect Reservoir. The stadium was built on top of the former reservoir site.

Stone Wall along Masten Avenue, western boundary of Masten Park, Buffalo, New York

Stone Wall along Masten Avenue, western boundary of Masten Park, Buffalo, New York. A Similar Wall Once Surrounded Portions of War Memorial Stadium

Although the stadium was completed as a Works Project Administration initiative in 1937, it did not have a professional sports tenant until 1940 with the arrival of the American Football League Indians, who played at Civic Stadium through the 1941 season. Football returned to the stadium in 1946 with the arrival of the Buffalo Bills of the All-American Football Conference, who played at Civic Stadium through the 1949 season. The Bills returned to War Memorial Stadium in 1960 as an American Football League franchise, after the stadium underwent a major renovation. In 1970 the Bills switched to the National Football League and played through the 1972 season at War Memorial.

War Memorial Stadium (Linen Postcard, Photo by Fitzgerald)

Civic Stadium, Buffalo, New York (Linen Postcard, Photo by Fitzgerald)

Professional baseball arrived at War Memorial Stadium about the same time professional football returned to venue at the beginning of the 1960s. With the closing and demolition of Offermann Stadium after the in 1960 season, the International League Buffalo Bisons moved to War Memorial Stadium the following year. The Bisons departed War Memorial during the 1970 season when the franchise was transferred to Winnipeg. The Bisons returned to War Memorial in 1979 as an AA Eastern League franchise. In 1985, the Bisons returned to AAA status as an American Association franchise, playing three full seasons at War Memorial Stadium before departing for a new ballpark, Pilot Field, after the end of the 1987 season.

Aerial View, Buffalo War Memorial, Buffalo, New York

Aerial View, War Memorial Stadium, Buffalo, New York

In 1983 baseball Hollywood style arrived at War Memorial Stadium. The ballpark used as a primary location for filming of the movie The Natural.

Movie Lobby Card Depicting Robert Redford at War Memorial Stadium (photo copyright Tri-Star Pictures)

Movie Lobby Card Depicting Robert Redford at War Memorial Stadium (photo copyright Tri-Star Pictures)

War Memorial Stadium’s distinctive vintage features provided an almost eerie back drop for the movie.

War Memorial Stadium (photo courtesy of Buffalo Baseball Museum)

War Memorial Stadium (photo courtesy of Buffalo Baseball Museum)

For additional information about the filming of The Natural at War Memorial Stadium, and at other locations in and around Buffalo, New York, see forgottenbuffalo.com.

Robert Redford at War Memorial Stadium (photographer unknown)

Robert Redford at War Memorial Stadium (photographer unknown)

War Memorial was demolished in 1988 and the City of Buffalo constructed in its place a youth sports complex. In 1997 the site was renamed the Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur Athletic Sports Pavilion in honor of a former Buffalo resident.

Football Scoreboard at Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur Athletic Sports Pavilion, Buffalo, New York

Football Scoreboard at Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur Athletic Sports Pavilion, Buffalo, New York

Although the stadium structure is long gone, fortunately for fans of the game, the City of Buffalo preserved two of the four distinctive entrance gates, both located on the eastern side of the former ballpark site.

Former Entrance  to War Memorial Stadium at the Intersection of Best Street and Jefferson Avenue, Buffalo, New York

Former Entrance to War Memorial Stadium at the Intersection of Best Street and Jefferson Avenue, Buffalo, New York

The entrance at the northwest corner of Best Street and Jefferson Avenue was considered War Memorial Stadium’s main gate. During the years that the stadium was configured for baseball, the Best and Jefferson entrance was located just beyond center field.

Steel Gates, Former Entrance  to War Memorial Stadium at the Intersection of Best Street and Jefferson Avenue, Buffalo, New York

Steel Gates at the Former Entrance to War Memorial Stadium, Intersection of Best Street and Jefferson Avenue, Buffalo, New York

A similar entrance at the southwest corner of Dodge Street and Jefferson Avenue also remains at the site. The gate was located behind what was once the left field corner. The left field grandstand was located just to the right of the entrance.

Former Entrance  to War Memorial Stadium at the Intersection of Dodge Street and Jefferson Avenue, Buffalo, New York

Former Entrance to War Memorial Stadium at the Intersection of Dodge Street and Jefferson Avenue, Buffalo, New York

An entrance gate (now demolished) behind the right field corner of War Memorial Memorial was located near the intersection of Best Street and Peach Street.

War Memorial Stadium Exterior Best Street Near Peach Street (photo courtesy of Buffalo Baseball Museum)

War Memorial Stadium Exterior, Best Street Near Peach Street (photo courtesy of Buffalo Baseball Museum)

The City of Buffalo constructed on Best Street a new gated entrance with ticket windows near the location of the original gate.

Entrance to Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur Athletic Sports Pavilion at  Best Street Near Peach Street

Entrance to Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur Athletic Sports Pavilion at Best Street Near Peach Street

A new gated entrance on Dodge Street sits behind what would have been War Memorial Stadium’s home plate.

Entrance to Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur Athletic Sports Pavilion (looking Toward Dodge Street).

Entrance to Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur Athletic Sports Pavilion (looking Toward Dodge Street).

Home plate itself was located in what is now the turf football field, at approximately the 15 yard line on the field’s north end. It is unfortunate that the city did not place a marker where home plate once sat, or where the original goal posts once sat, for that matter.

War Memorial Stadium Former Infield, Johnnie B. Wiley Pavillion, Looking Toward Left Field

War Memorial Stadium Former Infield, Johnnie B. Wiley Pavilion, Looking Toward Left Field

Much of the former infield is now part of the running track that surrounds the northeast end of the turf football field.

War Memorial Stadium Former Infield, Johnnie B. Wiley Pavillion, Looking Toward  Home Plate

War Memorial Stadium Former Infield, Johnnie B. Wiley Pavilion, Looking Toward Home Plate

Metal bleachers placed along side the football field sit near what was once the western most portion of the stadium structure.

Bleachers, Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur Athletic Sports Pavilion, Former Site of First Base Grand Stand

Bleachers, Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur Athletic Sports Pavilion, Former Site of First Base Grand Stand

Concession stands and storage facilities sit in the approximate location of a facilities building that sat just to the west of War Memorial Stadium.

Concession Stands and Storage Areas, Wiley Amateur Athletic Sports Pavilion, Buffalo, New York

Concession Stands and Storage Areas, Wiley Amateur Athletic Sports Pavilion, Buffalo, New York

The right field foul line ran parallel to what is now the running track.

War Memorial Stadium Former Right Field Foul Line Corner, Johnnie B. Wiley Pavillion, Looking Toward Right Field Corner (New York' State Division of Military and Naval Affairs Armory in Background).

War Memorial Stadium Former Right Field Foul Line Corner, Johnnie B. Wiley Pavilion, Looking Toward Right Field Corner (New York’ State Division of Military and Naval Affairs Armory in Background).

The youth baseball infield  at the Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur Athletic Sports Pavilion sits in what was once War Memorial Stadium’s right field.

Baseball Field, Johnnie B. Wiley Pavillion, Former War Memorial Stadium Outfield

Baseball Field, Johnnie B. Wiley Pavilion, Former War Memorial Stadium Outfield

The current left field of the youth baseball diamond was once War Memorial Stadium’s left field.

War Memorial Stadium Former Center Field, Johnnie B. Wiley Pavillion, Looking Toward Home Plate

War Memorial Stadium Former Left/Center Field, Johnnie B. Wiley Pavilion, Looking Toward Home Plate

The two preserved entrances to War Memorial Stadium loom large over the current youth baseball outfield.

Backside of Former Entrance  to War Memorial Stadium at the Intersection of Best Street and Jefferson Avenue, Buffalo, New York

Backside of Former Entrance to War Memorial Stadium at the Intersection of Best Street and Jefferson Avenue, Buffalo, New York

Backside of Former Entrance  to War Memorial Stadium at the Intersection of Dodge Street and Jefferson Avenue, Buffalo, New York

Backside of Former Entrance to War Memorial Stadium at the Intersection of Dodge Street and Jefferson Avenue, Buffalo, New York

Directly to the west of the former site of War Memorial Stadium is Masten Park. The park, like the stadium, was built on top of Prospect Reservoir.

Masten Park, Buffalo, New York

Masten Park, Buffalo, New York

A swimming pool dating to the time of War Memorial Stadium sits just beyond the eastern boundary of Masten Park.

Masten Park Swimming Pool, Buffalo, New York

Masten Park Swimming Pool, Buffalo, New York

The stone wall that once surrounded Prospect Reservoir terminates just prior to the Dodge Street entrance near the turf football field.

Entrance to Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur Athletic Sports Pavilion From Dodge Street

Entrance to Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur Athletic Sports Pavilion From Dodge Street

In addition to the stone wall, Masten park boasts several distinctive concrete stairways into the park which date back to the time of War Memorial Stadium.

Masten Park, Steps to Dodge Street, Buffalo, New York

Masten Park, Steps to Dodge Street, Buffalo, New York

In 1988, the Buffalo Bisons moved to a new downtown ballpark on Washington Street, built just two miles southwest of War Memorial Stadium.

Coca-Cola Field, Buffalo, New York, Home of the Buffalo Bison

Coca-Cola Field, Buffalo, New York, Home of the Buffalo Bisons

Coca-Cola Field (originally known as Pilot Field) includes a wonderful museum with many displays dedicated to the history of War Memorial Stadium.

War Memorial Stadium Display at the Buffalo Baseball Museum

War Memorial Stadium Display at the Buffalo Baseball Museum, Coca-Cola Field

The museum’s curator, John Boutet, has spent the last 25 plus years acquiring mementos and pieces of War Memorial Stadium, as well as Offermann Stadium, to help educate fans about Buffalo’s rich baseball history.

Buffalo Baseball Historian John Boutet With War Memorial Stadium Sign at Buffalo Baseball Museum

Buffalo Baseball Historian John Boutet With War Memorial Stadium Sign at Buffalo Baseball Museum

The museum includes a wooden stadium chair from War Memorial Stadium, painted grey, which resembles the seats once used at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland.

War Memorial Stadium Seat on Display at Buffalo Baseball Museum

War Memorial Stadium Seat on Display at Buffalo Baseball Museum

An authentic War Memorial Stadium turnstile sits at the entrance to the museum.

War Memorial Stadium Turnstile on display at Buffalo Baseball Museum

War Memorial Stadium Turnstile on display at Buffalo Baseball Museum

The museum includes memorabilia of famous Buffalo Bisons, including the uniform once worn by Hall of Famer Johnny Bench.

Johnny Bench's Buffalo Bison Locker at Buffalo Baseball Museum

Johnny Bench’s Buffalo Bisons Locker at Buffalo Baseball Museum

The City of Buffalo has done an admirable job paying homage to memory of historic War Memorial Stadium. A visit to the former site is worth the trip if only to stand in front and take a pictures of the once-grand War Memorial Stadium entrances preserved by the city. For an excellent site devoted to the memory of War Memorial Stadium, with many vintage photographs of the ballpark, visit Rockpile Buffalo. And if you haven’t already, be sure to visit the Buffalo Baseball Museum on the concourse at Coca-Cola Field.

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