October 5, 2020

Hinchliffe Stadium’s Comeback is a Home Run

In 2010 Hinchliffe Stadium was listed as one of the National Trust's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, see the recently released 2020 list.

On an escarpment with views overlooking picturesque waterfalls that once powered Paterson, New Jersey’s mills, sits a neglected baseball park called Hinchliffe Stadium—one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s National Treasures. Multiple generations of Paterson's residents have only seen Hinchliffe closed and in a state of disrepair, but soon our nation will celebrate its return.

“At a time when baseball was an indisputable game of greats, Hinchliffe Stadium featured some of the greatest ballplayers in America and served as the home field for the elite New York Black Yankees, the New York Cuban Stars, and the Newark Eagles,” says Brent Leggs, executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. “Thanks to a broad coalition of partners with an affirmative voice for historic preservation, this National Historic Landmark has a bright future and unique story to tell.”

Hinchliffe Stadium

photo by: Melissa Murphy

The National Trust named Hinchliffe Stadium as one of our National Treasures in 2010.

Built by the city of Paterson from 1932-33, the 10,000-seat, open air stadium was a place with purpose, meant for holding outdoor athletic events, music concerts, and even auto races. It was a place for the people of Paterson to come together and run into friends and reconnect.

For Black Americans, the amphitheater-style stadium was home to and embodied the incredible spirit of Negro Leagues baseball. Hall of Famer Larry Doby had his tryout there and went on to become the first Black player to integrate the American League and help lead the Cleveland Indians to a World Series title in 1948. One of only a few stadiums nationally that have survived from that era, a new rehabilitation project will serve to revitalize it and help it to tell its story once more.

Bringing Hinchliffe Back to Life

Declared a National Historic Landmark in 2013, a year later Hinchliffe Stadium was included within the Paterson Great Falls National Historic Park, making it the only baseball venue in the National Park Service system.

Members of the New York Cubans

photo by: Negro Leagues Museum Archives

Members of the New York Cubans at Hinchliffe Stadium.

While the restoration of the Art Deco-style stadium has been a challenge, momentum picked up in 2014, when a team of 700 volunteers from HOPE Crew, Youth Corps, and other affiliations worked together to repaint Hinchliffe’s walls. In 2018, with a $300K grant from American Express, phase one of Hinchliffe’s rehabilitation project saw the restoration of its cast concrete façade, ticket windows with ornamental grilles, terracotta coping and entrance tiles, ironwork gates which were restored in 2018.

This addressed issues such as concrete spalling, repainting, and lead paint removal. Phase Two would include restoration of four negative cast concrete “Hinchliffe Stadium” sign panels and façade rehabilitation work along its most public side that slopes down towards the Falls.

A lawyer and Paterson native, Baye Adofo-Wilson’s experience as Newark, New Jersey’s Deputy Mayor and director of economic and housing development inspired him to create his own company, BAW Development LLC, which will lead Hinchliffe’s preservation and rehabilitation as co-developer of the project. With a groundbreaking for Phase Two in October 2020, the Hinchliffe project will not only rehabilitate the stadium itself, but it will also be the centerpiece of a multipurpose destination to support it, including housing, a restaurant, museum/exhibition space, and a multilevel garage.

Calling the project challenging, but also rewarding, “all of the race and practical aspects are important as the Negro Leagues didn’t exist without Jim Crow, white supremacy, the legacy of slavery, and discrimination,” said Adofo-Wilson. “People need to know about the Negro Leagues and how Black folks had to create their own spaces to play. There are ties to the present-day and the challenges we have now. Right now, we are in an environment of backlash and this is not the first time that backlash has happened: after the Civil War, after the right to vote. That is glazed over in history books, but it is important to tell as we are living that moment again now.”

Looking Forward to the Future

Gianfranco Archimede, director of historic preservation for the City of Paterson, sees the Stadium as a bright return to the future for the city—a place where all Patersonians can participate in one thing and celebrate the achievements of the community. He says, “this is a tremendous social event that will make a difference in Paterson’s fabric and its conversations. It means a lot to the community, not just to the 30,000 kids who will have the thrill of playing where Josh Gibson did as they look into their future.”

Adofo-Wilson said that he wants to be respectful of this space—a cultural and social center for Paterson and thinks that it can have that impact. “I’m really excited about the future. Paterson is long overdue for a revitalization. I’m hopeful about COVID, about this election and what happens next.”

photo by: Duncan Kendall

In 2014, a team of 700 volunteers, including members of HOPE Crew, worked together to repaint Hinchliffe Stadium.

This hope is reflected in the effort to restore Hinchliffe as the result of collaborations between Adofo-Wilson, the City’s agencies, Mayor and the school system that owns it; as well as the Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium, the NPS and the National Trust, among others. Archimede states that preservation also often happens at the local level with commissions, where “people volunteer, they care, they share their expertise and are a really cool part of our preservation system.” He also stresses the importance of a community having full-time preservation professionals involved as they not only can navigate the preservation aspects of the project, but understand the community itself and its needs.

Archimede sees the potential of the stadium as a point of pride again: “Every community likes to be proud of itself and if there was one place that galvanizes the community, it’s the stadium. And to have a restored national landmark next to a natural national landmark? It’s not just the waterfalls, but the waterfalls and stadium.”

This is the central promise of Hinchliffe Stadium: a place where the past and present can coexist. Archimede continues, “It’s about possibilities, achievements, pride. They are very much anticipating the rehabilitating and reuse of the stadium, which will be preserved much as people remember it—or even better.”

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Lawana is the associate program officer for the National Trust's African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund

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