History Restored: The Polo Grounds And The John T. Brush Stairway

A friend recently tipped me off to a story in the New York Daily News about the completion of a restored stairway in Highbridge Park. This really isn’t just any stairway, however, but one of the few remnants of history that was torn down over five decades ago.

When the final and most famous Polo Grounds were dismantled in 1963, very little stood to remind you of where Bobby Thompson hit “The Shot Heard 'Round the World,” baseball’s first all-black outfield patrolled one of the deepest outfields in baseball history, and a kid from Alabama dazzled the Harlem and Washington Heights masses on his way to legendary status. The last tenants couldn’t wait to get out of there, as the Mets and Jets took off for the land master builder Robert Moses originally tried to pawn off on Walter O’Malley before his Dodgers eventually departed for Los Angeles.

With the development of one of NYC’s (eventually) most notorious housing projects shortly after the stadium’s demise, the lone reminder of the former stadium for much of the past 51 years was this plaque, which designates the approximate location of home plate.

However, in 2008, the New York Times’ City Room featured a post on a nearby staircase that was disconnected from its destination. The John T. Brush Stairway was in complete disrepair, likely from a mix of the Polo Grounds’ demolition and the incredible amounts of neglect of most things in the area over the subsequent years. The sign at the foot of the second-highest flight of steps toward Edgecombe Avenue was broken. Entire sections of stairs and guardrails were missing. Littered shrubs hid some of the decay.

[Before you ask, John T. Brush was the fourth principal owner of the Giants and former owner of the Cincinnati Reds. He guided the rebuilding of the Polo Grounds after a fire ravaged the stadium’s grandstand in 1911. His Giants won the 1905 World Series as well as five NL pennants in 1904, 1905 and three straight between 1911 and 1913.]

The staircase was redeveloped over the past year, thanks in part to city funds and a combination of donations from the five teams who once played in “The Bathtub”: the San Francisco Giants, New York Yankees, New York Mets, New York (Football) Giants and New York Jets. What you see in the photos below are the city’s continued efforts to maximize its green space while simultaneously providing nearby residents a long-needed history lesson.

It may not seem like a ton to those reading this. In all honesty, it may not seem like much to those in the neighborhood unless they were old enough to remember the stadium or happen to be architectural junkies. However, this is a huge part of the somewhat fading history of Harlem (and a lesser extent, Washington Heights) as the area’s character continues to be undermined by gentrification.

The staircase is a connection, albeit an incomplete one. It doesn’t fully lead you back to the Polo Grounds in the literal and metaphorical sense. The relatively short Harlem River Driveway stands at its end, with vehicle traffic to the Harlem River Drive itself. The current Polo Grounds are still another intrepid flight of stairs away, but it involves traversing the 155th Street viaduct and the tempting views of the Tiffany box in a bodega neighborhood called Yankee Stadium. However, if you are willing to take a stroll through Highbridge Park, down the Brush Stairway and make it to the former home plate, maybe you can catch the ghosts of New York Giants’ past playing a few innings.


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