Coral Gables

Sports stadiums have a long, complicated history in South Florida

Sports stadiums and controversy certainly go hand-in-hand in Miami these days, but the two have been intertwined from the start. For as long as professional sports have had a presence in South Florida, stadiums have been plagued by a number of complicated issues.

Howard Kleinberg, a former sportswriter and editor of the Miami News, traced the contentious history behind the rise and fall of several sports stadiums at the Coral Gables Museum on Thursday evening.

From the first in 1916 to Marlins Park, Kleinberg discussed Miami’s most revered and condemned stadiums.

Miami’s professional sports date back to the days of Babe Ruth, who played at Tatum Field in Miami.

The 1916 baseball diamond opened at Northwest Third Street and 16th Avenue as the spring training home of the Boston Braves, South Florida's first spring resident team.

“… [Tatum Field] survived the Orange Bowl being built next door for many years after it opened,” said Kleinberg.

But the new football stadium created problems for the field as it struggled to exist in its shadow. Gone were the days that baseball greats played there, and football stadium expansions pushed the baseball field into further decline. Center field was shortened to accommodate a double deck for the Orange Bowl in 1947. Eventually, the stadium gave way to a wrecking ball in December 1965.

The Miami Orange Bowl Stadium also had its own complex history.

Most notable as the home of the annual college football bowl game, the yearly championship faced several venue and name changes.

Looking to attract tourists after a hurricane in 1926, the concept of the annual football classic was conceived.

“They had wanted to kick-start tourist season by a couple of weeks, so they came up with the ‘Orange Bowl,’ which was called the ‘Palm Festival’ at the time,” Kleinberg said.

The first game was played between the University of Miami and Manhattan College in 1933 at Moore Park in Miami. It was not until 1935 that the games adopted the name “Orange Bowl” after moving to its new site at Northwest Fourth Street and 14th Avenue.

A stadium bearing the name Burdine Stadium was built there in 1937 to accommodate the Miami Hurricanes football team and the annual bowl game. Later, the venue was renamed Miami Orange Bowl Stadium in 1957.

Orange Bowl games were attended by the likes of presidents such as John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower.

Despite years of memorable moments, the Miami Orange Bowl Stadium met its fate in 2008 when it was demolished to make way for Marlins Park.

The new park brought a wave of new controversies.

“I don’t want to comment on it other than that it is a beautiful, air-conditioned stadium,” Kleinberg said, tongue in cheek.

However, it goes without saying that Miami stadiums have not only created controversy but hosted it, as well.

Miami Marine Stadium made headlines in 1972 during a public rally.

The Virginia Key stadium was the site of a youth rally for the Republican National Convention, where Sammy Davis Jr. famously came on stage and hugged Richard Nixon.

“These guys were complete opposites when it came to everything, and here Sammy Davis Jr. just showed up and hugged Nixon,” Kleinberg said.

Miami Marine Stadium has since seen better days. The stadium was the first in the country built for the purpose of powerboat racing competitions, but it later fell victim to Hurricane Andrew and was declared unsound for public use.

“The stadium was such an interesting piece of architecture,” Kleinberg said. “It really was a major part of Miami sports.”

Kleinberg’s comprehensive look at each Miami sports venue was part of a series hosted by the The Coral Gables Museum, in conjunction with the American Institute of Architects Miami chapter.

“For talks like these, you need someone like Howard Kleinberg who has been in Miami for so many years,” said Christine Rupp, Coral Gables Museum executive director. “He is the go-to person when it comes to Miami history and sports.”

The Stadium Series has hosted several presentations to address the impact sports have had on Miami and its architecture.

“Everyone has been really engaged with the talks and exhibits, especially with the soccer buzz this summer,” Rupp said.

For the final presentation of the series, a panel discussion will be held Thursday to look at the questions local officials and urban planning experts face with David Beckham’s proposal for a Miami soccer stadium. The presentation will take place at 6 p.m. at the Miami Center for Architecture and Design. Admission is free for members and $5 for nonmembers.

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