The American Legion Memorial Stadium
(1936) was a direct result of substantial Federal assistance to local
government and was the first municipal structure in Charlotte, N.C.
that could accommodate thousands of visitors. From the outset it
became a venue for sporting, entertainment, and civic events that
theretofore would have been impossible to hold. Over the years a
broad array of happenings have occurred at the stadium, most notably
football games – high school, collegiate, and for many years the
Shrine Bowl from 1937 through 2000. The stadium has also hosted July 4th
concerts, professional wrestling matches, and performances by
This photograph of American
Legion Memorial Stadium appeared in the 1947 Central High School
Annual. You are looking east. Note that Independence
Boulevard had not yet been built.
Spectator sports, both amateur and
professional, rose in popularity in the 1920s and 1930s largely
because of an increase in middle class income, greater availability of
automobiles, and the growth of urban centers.2
Charlotte’s population burgeoned in the early 1900s, from 18,091 in
1900 to 134,052 in 1950. Clearly, the need for a facility such as
the American Legion Memorial Stadium was becoming increasingly
Indeed, a major expansion of the stadium took place in the 1960s and
upper level seating was added first on the north side and then on the
south side of the playing field.
Photograph Of The Shrine Bowl
The stadium bore dramatic testimony to
a shift in attitudes in the 1930s about the role of the Federal
government in societal affairs. The construction of the American
Legion Memorial Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. was intimately bound up
with the relief programs of the Great Depression. President Franklin
D. Roosevelt persuaded the U.S. Congress to create the Works Progress
Administration (W.P.A.) in April, 1935, with an initial appropriation
of $4.88 billion dollars to provide jobs for millions of unemployed
laborers, artists, writers, scholars, and others.
The W.P.A. provided most of the
funding to construct an assortment of structures, including airports,
seaports, bridges, schools, museums and stadiums.4
The W.P.A. also supported programs in the humanities, including the
Federal Arts Project, Federal Writers Project, Federal Theatre
Project, National Health Survey, and the Historical Records Survey.5
Mayor Arthur E. Wearn (1933-1935)
Charlotte leaders, including Mayor
Arthur E. Wearn, were eager to benefit from the dollars provided by
the Works Progress Administration. Wearn, who had become
mayor by appointment on May 3, 1933, had already secured $70,000
of Federal funds from the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (F.E.R.A.)
and the Civil Works Administration (C.W.A.) on January 3, 1934, to
enable the City to begin work on a stadium in Independence Park.
There was considerable public opposition to the City's accepting the
money to start the stadium. One property owner was particularly
outspoken. "I am a lover of beauty," he began. "I object
to having a beautiful thirty or forty trees cut down, a beautiful
natural amphitheater turned into a concrete bowl surrounded by a high
fence -- to say nothing of the attendant noise and dust."6
Strong political support for Mayor Wearn’s efforts to build a major
outdoor sports facility in Charlotte had come from the Hornet’s Nest
Post Number 9 of the American Legion. That patriotic organization wanted the
stadium to serve as a memorial to those soldiers from Mecklenburg
County who had served the United States during The Great War, now
called World War One. The City Council agreed on June 13, 1934,
to name the facility "American Legion Memorial Stadium.7
The Stadium As It Appeared In December, 1935.
Notice that there are no seats.
Earth had been moved by December,
1935, to create a playing field that was bordered by a rock wall and
that was surrounded on three sides by grass embankments. Enough money
to install seats was not initially available, however.8
This meant that the stadium was essentially unusable.
Soon after the House of
Representatives gave its assent to the creation of the W.P.A. in
January, 1935, City officials provided a tentative list of the
projects they planned to submit to the new agency if it was approved
by the U.S. Senate.9
These included an array of undertakings, including street improvements
and even placing public restrooms below ground at the intersection of
Trade and Tryon Sts., locally known as the Square.10
Mayor Ben Douglas (1935-1941)
for new construction projects in Charlotte increased substantially
when Ben Douglas defeated Arthur Wearn by popular election and became Mayor in May, 1935.11
A native of Iredell County, Douglas had moved to Charlotte from
Gastonia in the mid-1920s and had established a funeral home at the
corner of Fox Street and Elizabeth Avenue, now Independence and
Elizabeth. A tireless and adroit politician, Douglas was Mayor from
1935 until 1941, and earned the reputation of being the "Builder of
Modern Day Charlotte." Douglas loved the drama and passion of the
political arena and devoted his enormous energies and talents to
leading the people into what he hoped was a bright and prosperous
future. Born in the 1890s, he reached adulthood during the "roaring
twenties," when it seemed that everybody was making piles of money in
the stock market. Then came the crippling Great Depression of the
1930s. Douglas saw himself as a cheerleader, as an urban booster, who
would rally the people of Charlotte and give them hope.12
City Manager J. B. Marshall
James B. Marshall as City Manager.13
A native of Anderson, S.C., Marshall was a brilliant engineer who had
graduated from the College of Charleston before settling in Charlotte in
By the end of May, 1935, Marshall was busily at work preparing a list of
projects for submission to the Works Progress Administration for
The W.P.A. had
a major presence in Charlotte. A district office of the Works Progress
Administration was established on Tryon St. in July.16
John Grice, its Director, urged Charlotte-Mecklenburg officials and
those in surrounding counties to submit applications for projects.17
On August 28, 1935, local attorney Marvin Ritch appeared before the City
Council and urged that "some immediate action" be taken "toward
completing the stadium in Independence Park."
Not surprisingly, Marshall included the completion of Charlotte’s
stadium on his list of W.P.A. applications.18
The largest project for which the City sought W.P.A. funding was the
creation of a municipal airport.19
This is the Armory Auditorium
which stood just west of the stadium. If you look carefully
you can see part of the natural area that once occupied the space
behind the building.
Charlotte Observer reported on November 7, 1935, that the City would
be submitting its formal application to the Works Progress
Administration for the stadium.20
George W. Coan, Jr., State Administrator of the W.P.A., informed Mayor
Douglas and City Manager Marshall on December 27, 1935, that funding for
finishing the stadium had been approved. “Completion of the stadium
will give Charlotte one of the finest bowls in North Carolina,” stated
the newspaper. Mayor Douglas greeted the news with his usual
enthusiasm. “It will put a lot of people to work,” he said. “I am
mighty glad to hear that it is going through.” City Manager Marshall
announced: “Our plans are ready and we ought to get started on it right
The Charlotte Observer commented editorially on the project the
next day. “Gratifying the information that the completion of the local
stadium through the medium of Federal funds is to be undertaken at
once,” the newspaper proclaimed.22
of newly-elected Mayor Douglas and the Charlotte City Council
appeared in the Charlotte Observer in May 1935. Seated left
to right on the front row are Claude L. Albea, W. N. Hovis, Mayor
Ben E. Douglas, L. R. Sides, and John F. Boyd. Standing left to
right on the back row are J. S. Nance, Herbert H. Baxter, J. H.
Huntley, Mayor Pro-Tem John L. Wilkinson, J. S. Tipton, W. Roy
Hudson, and John F. Durham.
Jr. left to local officials the decision as to whether the stands would
be constructed of concrete or native stone. Stone, which had been used
in the recently completed wall at the edge of the playing field, would
have been more aesthetically appropriate; but the City selected concrete
as the building material for the stands, primarily because the
installation of stone would have required a pool of skilled labor that
was not locally available.23
The W.P.A. awarded $51,617 for the stadium project, and the total City
contribution was less than $5000.24
to the site in early January, 1936, and work continued during the next
eight months. The need to complete the stadium intensified after June
22nd, when word arrived that President Roosevelt would be
visiting Charlotte on September 10th and would be making a
major public address at the American Legion Memorial Stadium. According
to the Charlotte Observer, the President would be participating
in an “old-time Democratic love-feast,” labeled a Green Pastures Rally,
to which the party faithful of seven states would be invited.25
On July 11th, John Grice stated that the concrete stands would be
finished soon and that installation of the seats would commence shortly
thereafter. “The stadium positively will be completed by September 1,”
The newspaper reported on August 25th that the seats were
being installed, and the Charlotte Observer published a
photograph of the completed stadium on September 1, 1936.27
The Stadium Completed (1936)
The editors of
the Charlotte Observer understood the role of the Federal
government in making the American Legion Memorial Stadium possible.
“If New Deal spending all over the country could be accurately, fairly
and truthfully measured by that which was locally done to provide our
community the handsome, elaborate and commodious stadium, the mouth of
the critics of the Roosevelt administration would be sealed. . . .
Federal financial aid designed at once to relieve unemployment and to
provide communities the realization of some improvements of which they
stood in need, this stadium would have remained, perhaps, only as a
forecasted fantasy, the dream of a project, sorely needed, but never to
be realized as a result of the investment of purely localized funds.”28
Crowd Lines West Trade Street
Awaiting President Roosevelt's Motorcade. Picture from Haywood Robbins Collection, Special
It was altogether fitting and proper
that President Roosevelt was the first speaker at the American Legion
Memorial Stadium. The Chairman of the Green Pastures Rally of September
10, 1936, was Charlotte attorney Haywood Robbins. He and his colleagues
worked diligently to assure that the event would be successful.29
President Roosevelt arrived
by motorcade from Asheville, N.C. in the early afternoon of September
10th in a heavy rainstorm and traveled directly to the
American Legion Memorial Stadium. From a platform erected at the
western end of stadium, just behind the Armory Auditorium, the President
gave a rousing address to an enthusiastic throng of well wishers.30
The Crowd Listens To President
Roosevelt. Picture from Haywood Robbins Collection, Special
Even though he professed to be making a
nonpartisan speech, Roosevelt insisted that the nation would only
prosper if the common man fared well.31
This is the podium from which
President Roosevelt spoke. Picture from Haywood Robbins
Collection, Special Collections, Atkins Library UNCC
The Charlotte Observer commented editorially on the Green
Pastures Rally and insisted that the event had indeed been political.
“It is as impossible to divorce the President . . . from politics,” the
newspaper proclaimed, “as it would be for a minister of the Gospel to
announce when he enters the pulpit that such a step involves no
Haywood Robbins Was Chairman Of The
Green Pastures Rally. Picture from Haywood Robbins Collection,
Special Collections, Atkins Library UNCC
The first of many college football games in the
American Legion Memorial Stadium in Charlotte occurred in the afternoon
of September 26, 1936. The University of North Carolina and Wake Forest
College played. According to the Charlotte Observer, it was “by
far the largest (crowd) ever to see a football game in Charlotte.” U.N.C.
won by a score of 14 to 7.33
Dedication ceremonies for the stadium were held before the game.
The American Legion Memorial Stadium has
continued to occupy an important place in the cultural life of the
community, especially as a host for high school football games.
The completion of Ericsson Stadium in the 1990s, however, meant that
Memorial Stadium was no longer the largest outdoor sports facility in
Charlotte. Also, high schools have acquired their own football stadiums.
Inevitably, the level of civic commitment to the site has begun to wane. Its illustrious history notwithstanding, the stadium is
now in jeopardy.
Influential institutions and individuals would like to demolish it,
possibly to make way for a new professional baseball park.
Wake Forest College vs. U.N.C. Football Game (Sept.
1 Charlotte Observer (July 18, December 7,
1985; June 6, 30, July 17, 1986).
2 For an overview of sports history in the United
States , see Baker, William J. and Carroll, John M., Sports In
Modern America (River Side Publishers, 1981).
3. Morrill, Dan L., “A History of Charlotte and
Mecklenburg County." (cmhpf.org).
4. For an overview of the New Deal programs of the
1930s, see Davis, Kenneth S. , The New Deal Years. 1933-1937
(New York: Random House, 1986).
5. W.P.A. construction projects in Mecklenburg
County included, among many others, the rebuilding of the former
United States Mint Building as the Mint Museum of Art and the
construction of Charlotte’s first municipal airport, now Charlotte
Douglas International Airport.
6. In May 1933, the Federal Emergency Relief
Administration was founded principally to give assistance to the
needy. The Civil Works Administration was established on November 8,
1933, to provide money to states to build roads, schools, and
athletic fields. F.E.R.A. and C.W.A. provided a total of $70,000
for the stadium project (Charlotte Observer ,December 29,
1935) Charlotte City Council Minutes Book 22, p. 507.
Charlotte City Council Minutes Book 23, p.130.
The Hornet’s Nest Post proposed that it lease the stadium from the
City to assure that the troops who had served in World War One would
be properly honored (Charlotte Observer, July 8, August 9,
1936). The Charlotte City Council approved a resolution on
June 13, 1934, naming the stadium "American Legion Memorial Stadium"
(Charlotte City Council Minutes Book 23, p. 426.)
8. For a photograph of Memorial Stadium without
seats, see Charlotte Observer (December 29, 1935).
9. Charlotte Observer (January 25, 1935).
10. Charlotte Observer (February 3, 9, 10,
15, 16, 1935).
11. Charlotte Observer (May 8, 1935). For a
photograph of Douglas shaking Wearn’s hand, see Charlotte
Observer (May 9, 1935).
12. Morrill, Dan , “The Building Of Independence
Boulevard.” (cmhpf.org). Hereinafter cited as “Independence.”
13. Charlotte Observer (May 16, 1935). This
article contains a photograph of Marshall.
15. Charlotte Observer (May 31, 1935).
16. Charlotte Observer (July 10, 14, 21, 28,
1935). D. M. Rea was the Assistant Director of the Charlotte
District Office of the Works Progress Administration.
17. Charlotte Observer (July 13, 1935).
18. Charlotte City Council Minutes Book
25, p. 17. Charlotte Observer (September 7, 8,
19. Charlotte Observer (September 4, 1935).
The principal airport in Charlotte was a private facility located on
Tuckaseegee Road (September 18, 1935).
20. Charlotte Observer (November 7, 1935).
The application was delayed because City Councilmen Herbert Baxter
feared that funding for the municipal airport might be delayed if
Federal money was sought for the stadium project (Charlotte
Observer, November 3, 1935).
21. Charlotte Observer (December 28, 1935).
22. Charlotte Observer (December 29, 1935).
24. Charlotte Observer (December 28, 1935).
25. Charlotte Observer (June 23, 1936).
26. Charlotte Observer (July 12, 1936). The
original estimate of the date the stadium would be completed was
June 30, 1936.
27. Charlotte Observer (August 25, September
28. Charlotte Observer (September 2, 1936).
29. Charlotte Observer (July 7, 1936).
30. Charlotte Observer (September 11, 1936).
32. Charlotte Observer (September 11, 1936
33. Charlotte Observer (September 27,
1936). The Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation Department has
placards on the site that incorrectly state that the stadium was
completed in 1937. According to historian Legette Blythe, the
first football game held at the stadium was played between Charlotte
Central High School and Barium Springs Orphanage. The first
Shrine Bowl was held at the stadium in 1937. Blythe, Legette
and Brockmann, Charles Raven, Hornet's Nest. The Story of
Charlotte and Mecklenburg County (McNally of Charlotte, 1961).
Architectural Description. The American
Legion Memorial Stadium is a "U-shaped" edifice with a sloping, grassed
playing field in the middle. The enclosed portion of the "U" or
bowl is at the eastern end of the site, immediately adjacent to East
Independence Boulevard. The concrete stands have replacement metal
bench seats and are situated on the north and south sides of the playing
field. Each consists of two sections, the lower halves dating from
1936 and the upper halves dating from the 1960s and the 1970s. The stands at the
closed end of the "U" have only a lower section and except for
the seats are entirely original. Rows of concrete
steps with shallow risers extend at regular intervals from the top to the
bottom of the stands throughout the stadium. Enclosed press boxes
and seating areas exist at the middle of the
top sections of both stands. A rock rubble wall of native stone
forms the bottom of the stands on all sides of the "U." The walls
on both sides of the playing field were extended westward at some date
after 1936 to accommodate a stairway at the base of the north stand and
a concrete ramp on the south stand. Tunnel entrances punctuate the north
and south stands, while the remaining portion of the original
barrier wall has entryways opening at the top of the stairs.
Rock Wall Bordering South Stands
Steps Leading To North Stands From
Architecturally, the original elements
of the American Legion Memorial Stadium reflect the "cool
sophistication" of the Art Deco style. This is especially evident
in the original barrier wall that sweeps around the eastern end of the
bowl and in the two original ticket booths and the four original
bathroom structures that survive. The barrier wall exudes
understated elegance. Smooth unadorned surfaces, newels that were
originally surmounted by lights, and rectangular concrete depressions in
the wall point toward an idealized future and celebrate the rise of
commerce and technology, so typical of design in the 1920s and 1930s.
One can only wish that the addition of the upper level stands in the
1960s had not led to the destruction of all other parts of this
distinctive architectural feature. The name "Art Deco" was derived from
the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs Industriels et
Modernes, held in Paris, which celebrated living in the modern world.
The Elegant Barrier Wall
Ticket Booth AT Northeastern Corner
Two original ticket booths do survive
-- one on the northeastern and one on the southeastern side of the
stadium. They too bespeak of the understated elegance of the Art
Deco style. The smooth masonry walls are devoid of elaborate decoration
and have only widely-spaced, thin horizontal bands to highlight their
surfaces. Three arched panels, most likely used to advertise
upcoming events at the stadium, dominate the center bays of the ticket
booths. The tickets windows themselves are small rectangular
openings, fashioned so as not to interrupt the overall flow of the
massing of the structures. Horizontal metal grates separate the
seller of tickets from his or her customers.
Original Bathroom Structure
The Original Stadium
The architecture of the original
bathroom structures also exhibits Art Deco features. Like the
ticket booths, their wooden roofs are essentially flat and leave the
rafters exposed. The same thin horizontal bands appear in their
Concession Stands Added Beneath
South Stands In 1970s
This New Ticket Window Has No
The expansion of the American Legion
Memorial Stadium in the 1960s was purely utilitarian and exhibited none
of the initial architectural sophistication of the site. The new
bathrooms and concession stands were fashioned to meet the pragmatic
needs of those who attended events at the stadium. There is
sufficient original fabric surviving, however, to permit the visitor to
catch glimpses of the Art Deco style that was once prevalent in public
buildings in Charlotte.
Charlotte's Original Art Deco
Airport Terminal Is In The Background.
Charlotte's Best Surviving Example
Of The Art Deco Style Is The Charlotte Water Works Vest Station