Breese Stevens Field
|Location||Madison, WI, USA|
|Owner||City of Madison|
|Architect||Claude & Starck|
|University of Wisconsin–Madison
Madison East High School
Breese Stevens Municipal Athletic Field is an athletic field owned by the city of Madison, Wisconsin and operated by Big Top Baseball. Located eight blocks northeast of the Wisconsin State Capitol on the Madison Isthmus, it is the oldest extant masonry grandstand in Wisconsin.
The field is named in honor of Breese J. Stevens (1834–1903), a mayor of Madison and a University of Wisconsin–Madison regent, on the wishes of his widow who sold the land to the city. This complex is a Madison Landmark and was nominated by the Madison Trust[clarification needed] in 1995. It was accepted for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places and the Wisconsin State Register of Historic Places by the Wisconsin Historic Preservation Review Board on November 21, 2014.
Breese Stevens Field is home to Edgewood College teams; Madison East High School teams, the Madison 56ers amateur soccer team; and the professional Ultimate frisbee team, the Madison Radicals. It has hosted Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association's girls' soccer tournaments and an exhibition match of Australian Football. The field has also hosted ice skating, boxing, wrestling, track and field, midget car racing, rodeos, circuses, drum and bugle corps competitions, concerts, and fraternal and religious gatherings.
Acquiring the park
Addressing the concern that Madison's sports facilities were insufficient, the city council began efforts to establish a new athletic field in 1922. After first trying to obtain the land by donation, a joint committee of the council and the Association of Commerce considered sites such as Olbrich Park and what is today's Georgia O'Keeffe Middle School playground. The council ultimately selected a block of 18 lots fronting East Washington Avenue and bounded by Mifflin, Brearly and Paterson streets. The site also had the advantage of being midway between Central High School and East High School. The property was owned by the widow of Breese Stevens. To help raise money for the project, Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Burr W. Jones consented to the selling of property at Livingston and East Washington that he had previously donated to the city as a playground, on condition the new athletic field be named for him. On September 28, 1923 the city council acceded to Mrs. Stevens's terms that the field be named for her late husband instead, and purchased the property for $35,000.
The city of Madison built the brick grandstand in 1925. The original grandstand, designed by the Madison architectural firm of Claude and Starck in the Mediterranean Revival style, was constructed from 1925 to 1926 and dedicated on May 5, 1926. The stone wall surrounding the perimeter was built in 1934 as a project of the Civil Works Administration using quarry rock from Madison's Hoyt Park. The concrete bleachers were also built in 1934, and the wooden press box was added in 1939. Three heating units were installed in 1945, and two years later the field's first electric scoreboard was erected.
The first night baseball game in Wisconsin was held at the field on July 7, 1930, resulting in a defeat of the California Owls, a team that toured with its own floodlights. Attendance was impressive enough that the field was outfitted with lights the next year. Until the mid-1960s, the field was the only city park with floodlights.
Upon its inception, Breese Stevens Field became the premiere site for Madison's major athletic events outside the University of Wisconsin. A multi-purpose facility with a cinder track, the field was employed year-round for sports, ranging from marbles tournaments to National Football League games.
Breese Stevens Field was the home of semi-professional baseball team the Madison Blues from 1924 to 1942. Administered by the Madison Athletic Association and captained by manager Eddie Lenehan, the Blues played in various leagues, joining the Wisconsin State League in 1928, and the Wisconsin-Illinois League four years later. They won the championship of the newly formed Tri-State League in 1938, defeating the Sheboygan Chairs. They joined the Three-I League in 1940.
The field also held special exhibition games with major league teams such as the Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox and the St. Louis Browns, in addition to games against Negro League teams and traveling clubs like the House of David. In 1947 legendary ace pitcher Satchel Paige of the Negro Leagues' Kansas City Monarchs defeated the Industrial League All-Stars 14-5. Warren Spahn, later the star left-handed pitcher for the Milwaukee Braves, took the Breese mound many times in 1941 as a member of the visiting Evansville Bees. Although he was known as a University of Wisconsin football player, Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch belted a grand slam home run in an exhibition game/war bond rally in 1944. In 1946 the New York Yankees held a three-day tryout camp at Breese.
In the spring of 1932 the Madison city council opened the field's gates to amateur baseball, allowing twenty teams in two leagues to play free games on Sundays. The diamond was also used by the University of Wisconsin Badger baseball team, and the Madison Industrial League, which formed in 1943.
High school football games were a staple of the field's schedule, with nearly all local high school home games played there. For many years Madison East and Central High Schools made a tradition of facing off on Armistice Day.
Only three National Football League games were played at Breese: In 1927 the Milwaukee Badgers were beaten by the Duluth Eskimos, 32-0. In 1929 legendary halfback Red Grange helped his team, the Chicago Bears, defeat the Minneapolis Red Jackets, 19-6. In 1931 star fullback Ernie Nevers led his Chicago Cardinals to trounce the Chicago Mills, 25-0.
Hosted WIAA soccer tournaments from 1989 to 2002, also being the home field for the East and La Follette high school teams.
The Madison Stampede rodeo event was held over six days in 1931.
In 1938 midget auto races were held before being banned the next year over concerns of noise and damage to the field's track.
Decline and revival
By the late 1960s, Breese Stevens Field lost its status as the city's premier athletic complex as modern facilities, such as Mansfield Stadium, began to appear in suburban Madison.
On August 3, 1968 a weekly teen dance held at Breese broke out in racially charged fights, with the violence escalating outside when a black teenager was struck by a car that was then attacked. The "Breese Stevens incident" prompted criticism of Madison police, and led to a city investigation of local race relations.
As Breese further showed its age in the 1970s, proposals were made for the city to use the property for other facilities. In 1972 Madison Mayor Bill Dyke supported placing a long-anticipated civic auditorium there. Three years later the city removed legal obstacles to making the field part of a planned East Washington Avenue campus for Madison Area Technical College, but support for site dropped. A 1979 estimate for restoring the facility was put at $240,000.
In 1981, the city council voted to allocate $60,000 to demolish the grandstand and shore up the exterior wall and Mifflin Street bleachers. "It's a matter of liability,' said Parks Department Superintendent Dan Stapay. "We've got letters on file dating back to 1967 that warn of structural problems."
A public outcry led instead to the establishment of the field as a soccer venue in 1982. Minor league baseball returned to Breese on April 27, 1982 when the Madison Muskies made their debut there before adopting Warner Park as their home field. In 1983 the city council voted to allocate $230,00 to gradually restore the park by fixing the grandstand roof, sagging walls and broken toilets. Artificial turf replaced the original grass field in 2014.
- "Breese Stevens Field enters a new phase in its history", Isthmus, 1 October 2014
- "Plan Joint City, School Athletic Field", The Capital Times, August 21, 1922.
- "Engineers Draw Map of New Athletic Field", The Capital Times, August 22, 1922.
- "Committee To Work For City Athletic Field", The Capital Times, January 13, 1923.
- "Athletic Field On East Side Is New Plan", The Capital Times, April 17, 1923.
- "Council Votes to Buy Municipal Athletic Field", The Capital Times, September 29, 1923.
- "Blues Battle Owl Nine in Night Game", The Capital Times, July 7, 1930.
- "30 Champions of School Mibs To Enter City Finals Saturday", The Capital Times, April 30, 1939.
- "Eddie Lenehan Signed to Manage Madison Club", Wisconsin State Journal, April 9, 1924.
- "Madison Blues Join Nine-Team Baseball Circuit", Wisconsin State Journal, April 19, 1932.
- "Blues Clinch Title in Tri-State With Room to Spare", Wisconsin State Journal, September 6, 1938.
- "Blues Hold Cubs to 1 to 1 Tie Through Eight Innings", Wisconsin State Journal, July 12, 1935.
- "White Sox Lambast Blues, 13-3", The Capital Times, August 10, 1928.
- advertisement, Wisconsin State Journal, June 26, 1936.
- advertisement, Wisconsin State Journal, June 16, 1937.
- "Monarchs Crush All-Stars, 14-5", Wisconsin State Journal, July 18, 1947.
- "'Crazy Legs' Blasts Home Run in Fifth With Bases Loaded", Wisconsin State Journal, June 27, 1944.
- "Bobby Mattick Will Conduct Yankee Camp", Wisconsin State Journal, August 10, 1946.
- "No Foolin' Now" column by Henry McCormick, Wisconsin State Journal, May 27, 1932.
- "Madison is 21-1 Victor in Opening Softball Contest", Wisconsin State Journal, May 23, 1933.
- Wisconsin State Journal, August 20, 1944.
- "A part of history will die when Breese Stevens falls", Wisconsin State Journal, June 6, 1981.
- Stevens Point Journal, October 18, 1927.
- "Grange Wins and Draws", Decatur Herald, September 23, 1929.
- "Cardinals Swamp Mills, 25 to 0", The Capital Times, September 17, 1931.
- "Madison Merchants Feature Special 'Stampede' Bargains", The Capital Times, July 12, 1931.
- "Council May Shelve Midget Race Request," Wisconsin State Journal, June 18, 1940.
- "Madison Stares At Own Racism", The Capital Times, May 2, 1969.
- "Full Review Urged on Auditorium Sites", Wisconsin State Journal, March 2, 1972.
- "City Clears Way to Give Breese Field to MATC", The Capital Times, June 4, 1975.
- "Support fades for MATC site", Wisconsin State Journal, August 29, 1975.
- "Breese Stevens stands to come down", The Capital Times, June 5, 1981.
- "Muskies get 'A' for debut", The Capital Times, May 6, 1982.
- "New life for an old ballpark", The Capital Times, March 25, 1982.
- Breese Stevens Field website
- "A Glimpse at Breese Stevens Field"[permanent dead link] from the Newsletter of the Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Association
- "Breese Stevens Field gets recognized as a national landmark", Isthmus, 5 December 2014