To the citizens of Greensboro, the significance of War Memorial Stadium functions at different levels. To some, it’s a living memorial to those who gave their lives during World War I. To others, it serves as charming piece of North Carolina’s athletic history. Others see War Memorial Stadium as an opportunity for economic development exemplified by its use as a location for George Clooney’s 2008 film Leatherheads. Many citizens see the historic site as a key to their neighborhood’s revitalization. They contrast to those in Greensboro who have no connection to the building at all.
Without doubt, War Memorial Stadium functions as one of the most significant historic sites in Greensboro, and one that figures prominently in the popular consciousness and identity of the city. Listed to the National Register in 2001, the site was found to hold “statewide significance in areas of architecture, entertainment/recreation, politics/government, and social history, as a unique embodiment of civic sympathy and responsibility, respectively, for those citizens of Guilford County who gave their lives during World War I and for its sons (and daughters) who would participate in athletic contests in the stadium for a period now approaching three-quarters of a century.”
The stadium was designed by Greensboro architects Leonard White, Jr. and Harry Barton on land donated to the city by the Cone family. At the stadium’s dedication in 1926, Greensboro’s mayor Edwin Jeffress infused life and purpose into the stadium by stating,
“The soldier boys said they wanted no hollow granite, no useless monument to decorate our street corners, even no statuary or brass to remind us of those who have passed along after doing life’s full duty. But they wanted something that would be useful; that would help develop mind and body; that would in this way be a perpetual memorial to those who have passed…, that those of us who follow after should use our best efforts to make ourselves physically fit to answer any emergency;…; and when the call to duty comes, answer with a clear, strong voice, “We are ready to do our bit”
However, today, the stadium stands at a crossroads. Its use as the longest serving community baseball field in the country was ended in 2004 when it was replaced by the New Bridge Bank Field. Physically, the sand and gravel aggregate used to construct the poured concrete structure is fatally flawed and prone to cracking and deterioration. Recent bond referendums that would have directed funds to restore the facility have been shot down by city voters, and the structure is becoming a burden to taxpayers and city coffers.
What to do?
The answer could lie in adaptive reuse. Adaption is the process of modifying a place to a use other than that for which it was designed. Central to the issue of adaptive reuse is whether the significance of a site can be maintained or enhanced by the repurposing of the site. In this case, its historic form and use is an obstacle to its future function. For reuse, War Memorial’s form may have to be modified to accommodate an updated function.
Greensboro has a notable reputation in North Carolina as a center for adaptive reuse. Examples can be seen in every quarter of our city. The Wafco Mill complex in College Hill was converted from an industrial complex to residential units in 1984. The Southern Railway Depot on Washington Street was converted from a passenger depot to a civic center before being converted back to a passenger depot in 2006. Recent projects such as the conversion of the old Central Library to the Elon School of Law and the reuse of the Revolution textile mill for commercial use have captured numerous new headlines. Why not do with War Memorial Stadium what Greensboro already does so well by allowing a new function to take place that honors its historic form.
If the function of War Memorial Stadium follows its form, its use will be restricted to a narrow window of opportunity. If the function is allowed to be altered – albeit in a way that honors Mayor Jeffress declaration that the memorial “would help develop mind and body” – then the utility and life of this iconic landmark may be extended. War Memorial Stadium has served the community well in the capacity of a baseball venue for most of the twentieth century. Is now the time to see it serve in new ways?