Walter O’Malley and The Dome That Could Have Been

When the New York Giants moved to San Francisco at the end of 1957, the Polo Grounds was falling apart, fan support was faltering and erratic, and the team had been to only two World Series since 1938. They had finished below .500 in nine of those twenty seasons. The Brooklyn Dodgers had already proposed a move to greener pastures in Southern California, but while their reasons were similar, there were important differences that had less to do with money than they did with racial tensions in the borough.

With the signing of Jackie Robinson, black fans were coming to Ebbets Field by the thousands. Brooklyn’s fans were traditionally white, middle-class and blue-collar types, and many had no idea how to handle this shift in demographics. In addition, the neighborhoods surrounding Ebbets were becoming more and more integrated, a fact which Walter O’Malley took into consideration when he planned the move to the west coast.

The Giants-Dodgers rivalry was a big boost at the gate for both teams, and so O’Malley set about the task of convincing Giants owner Horace Stoneham to move his team as well. O’Malley had made at least a cursory effort to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn; he proposed a plan to build a new stadium for the team, one which would have been the first domed stadium in professional baseball. Originally proposed in 1952 and intended to be a multi-sport facility, O’Malley’s new Dodger Stadium was designed with a movie theater, a shopping area, and an automated ticket system. The concept was laid out by Norman Bel Geddes, who had also designed the Futurama exhibit for the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

omalley idea2-dodger stadium

Rolf Klep’s impression of the Bel Geddes design (source: Collier’s Magazine, Sept 27 1952)

O’Malley decided on the North block at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues as his location of choice. Abe Stark, of “Hit Sign, Win Suit” fame, was at that time an up-and-comer in New York politics, and knew that keeping the Dodgers in town would bring him an absurd amount of cache with his fellow politicos. He actually offered the Dodgers the Parade Grounds as a building location, though he would have had to clear the idea with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

By 1957, however, O’Malley was still wrangling with the city over building a new home for his Bums. When he made one last run at it, New York Parks Commissioner Robert Moses shot his plan down, once more. Moses did make an offer of his own, however: there was a location at Willets Point, Queens, which he felt would be ideal for a new stadium. At this point, O’Malley was well on his way westward, and his plans for the first domed stadium faded into history.

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