Braves Field and the Afterlife of a Baseball Stadium

This article is an edited version of student research by David Lewis’ (MA 2022) on the history and adaptive reuse of the historic Braves Field baseball stadium, now known as Nickerson Field at Boston University’s campus. David prepared the research for the course on Adaptive Reuse and Revitalization and went on to undertake an internship at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Summer 2022. He presented the findings as a paper for The Society for American Baseball Research 50th Annual Convention in Baltimore, Maryland in August 2022, and as a poster at the Historic New England Summit in Worcester, Massachusetts, October 2022.

Braves Field as the home to the National League’s Boston Braves
The land and building structures of Braves Field would become, through adaptive reuse, the cornerstone of Boston University’s West Campus. It was originally home to the National League’s Boston Braves. Opened in 1915 and featuring a capacity of 46,000, the stadium was a phenomenon, simultaneously the first of a new breed of super stadiums, while at the same time, being the last of the old “jewel-box” concrete and steel parks.

1948 World Series, Played at Braves Field (The Associated Press, 1948)

Stadium structures included three large grandstands, and a small bleacher in right field. There was also contained another building, used as both office space and as an entry point for fans. The building, designed in the Spanish Colonial style of architecture, had office space on its top level, and open archways on the bottom for ticketing. The ballpark saw plenty of history, from World Series games, an All-Star game, the longest game in major league history, and the final home games of Babe Ruth’s career. Aside from Babe Ruth, Braves Field hosted baseball legends such as Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Rogers Hornsby and Lou Gehrig, among others.

Braves Field seating diagram from 1916 World Series (Boston Globe, 1916)

Boston University Acquires the Field
After consecutive seasons with the lowest attendance in the National League, the Braves announced their move to Milwaukee on March 13, 1953. The team’s exodus proved to be perfect timing for Boston University (BU). Up to this point, Boston University had played their football games at a field in Weston, Massachusetts, about a 30 minute train ride away from Boston. The school and the team came together over the summer of ’53 and made a deal for the 10 acre plot of land, which included the stadium as well as the clubhouse building along Gaffney Street. Boston University envisioned the site as the central location for their athletic facilities, planning to host its football, baseball, track, swimming, fencing, wrestling, and tennis teams on the grounds. The school foresaw right away that tearing down most of the existing structures relating to the field would be necessary to achieve their vision for the site.

Braves Field shortly after Boston University purchased the venue (Leslie Jones, 1955)

Adaptive Reuse of an Early Twentieth Century Ball Field
The redesign of the field began as an almost grassroots effort, with the Boston University Football players and coaches working around their practice schedule to overhaul the playing surface from a baseball diamond to a football field. Over the next few decades, Boston University transformed the Braves Field site through what Paul Rinaldi, the University’s Assistant Vice President for Planning, referred to as “a junk shop of approaches to solve for a very dense campus.”

The original right field grandstand is the one structure that has remained mostly unchanged since Boston University’s purchase. Walking in the concourse underneath the grandstand feels like a time capsule, as it appears almost exactly as it did when the Braves were in town. A few other minor pieces of the original structure also remain on the grounds, including a small section of the outfield fence, which is near the Nickerson Field scoreboard, and a ramp sloping downwards from the street to the playing surface.

Demolition of Braves Field Grandstand (Leslie Jones, 1955)

After the demolition of Braves Field structures was completed in 1960, and Boston University began to build new structures within the space in order to meet the demands of their growing campus. In 1963 and 1964, Boston University created the first dormitory buildings in west campus, and the biggest at the school up to that point, on the site of the former Braves Field. Sleeper, Claflin, and Rich Hall dormitories were constructed in an angular pattern around the base of the field, resembling from above the layout of the original home plate grandstand.

Students living in these three buildings would have views of the athletic field from their dorm rooms. In 1972, Case Athletic Center opened on the site, housing the majority of BU athletic facilities. Located next to Rich Hall dormitory, Case is located where the original third base grandstand stood at Braves Field. The completion of the Case Center fulfilled one of the University’s major original goals for the Braves Field site: to serve as a central location for all Boston University athletic facilities.

Commencement exercises held at the stadium in 1971. Case Athletic Center under construction in the background (courtesy Boston Public Library, 1971)

The Spanish Colonial-style building along Harry Agganis Way that originally held the Braves’ administrative and ticket offices served as the home of BU’s athletic offices until the Case Center was completed. After athletic offices moved to the Case Center, the building became the headquarters of the Boston University Police Department (BUPD), which it remains to this day. In 1978, the school completed simple construction on the lower half of the building, walling in the open areas to create more usable space. When this construction was completed, the Boston University Children’s Center, a childcare center and preschool for dependents of Boston University faculty and staff, assumed the newly created space.

Boston University West Campus
The acquisition and transformation of Braves Field had a major impact on the campus and general trajectory of Boston University. In a September 1953 edition of the Boston University News, university president Harold C. Case boasted, “Braves Field is a new source of pride… [the field] stirs our imagination and upgrades our confidence.” As time wore on, Braves Field would prove to do more than just improve the confidence around campus. It created the campus. The purchase of Braves Field and its transition into Nickerson Field served to ground Boston University within the city of Boston and along Commonwealth Avenue.

The Braves Field lot was just the second land acquisition by the school west of the BU Bridge, after what is now the College of Fine Arts, purchased in 1952. Adding Braves Field down the street gave Boston University an end point, something to continue growing towards, and in the years since they have acquired nearly all the real estate on Commonwealth Avenue between the BU Bridge and Braves Field. Boston University had been spread out throughout the City of Boston in its early years. Boston University’s Sargent College was located in Cambridge in 1953, but immediately after purchasing Braves Field, the school made plans to move Sargent to the Charles River Campus, where it remains today.

Finally, the purchase of Braves Field dramatically increased the size of the campus. Today, Boston University holds just over 110 acres of land, 10 of which came from the Braves Field. Boston University and other partners have worked to commemorate the history of Braves Field through various interpretive devices. In the concourse of the remaining grandstand, photographs are hung alongside informative placards, depicting Boston Braves and Boston University history.

A historic photograph of Braves Field showing the view from the same location on the original grandstand. From this point at Braves Field, the spectator would have been looking straight towards home plate and the third base grandstand. Today, one would see the soccer field and the Case Athletic Center in the distance. (David Lewis, 2022)

Braves Field into Nickerson Field and the center of Boston University’s West Campus has proved to be an excellent example of adaptive reuse and urban planning. It has solved an issue of housing, while still providing adequate outdoor space for recreational activities. Furthermore, it retained key pieces of the historic structure. Through the adaptive reuse of Braves Field, Boston University was able to buck the trend of urban sprawl and remain a part of the city of Boston. The adaptive reuse of Braves Field may not be what we think of when we imagine the ideal adaptive reuse project, but its results should be what we strive for.

Contributors: David Lewis (author), Kristen Dahlmann and Jan Haenraets (editors), 2023



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