Saturday, November 4, 2023

Grant Park Stadium was renamed Soldier Field at the urging of Chicago’s Gold Star Mothers on November 11, 1925.

Opened on October 9, 1924, Grant Park Stadium was designed by the architecture firm of Holabird & Roche. Neo-classical in style, the design pays homage to the ancient Roman Colosseum, creating a venue that exudes strength, resilience, and a sense of grandeur. The original configuration was shaped like a U, with the structure's opening facing the Field Museum. This allowed for easy access to the field and a direct view of the Field Museum for spectators.

According to the Chicago History Museum, the stadium was never officially known as Municipal Grant Park Stadium. The name was used in some news articles and promotional materials, but it was never officially adopted by the city or the Chicago Park District (founded on July 1, 1934).

Not originally intended to be a football stadium, the idea was to create a space to host various events, including sports, military drills, concerts, exhibitions, and community gatherings, while also serving as a place of remembrance. The design was inspired by classical architecture, featuring a colonnade facade with Doric columns that encircled the stadium. The seating bowl of the stadium was initially built using a wooden grandstand, which could accommodate around 45,000 spectators.

On November 11, 1925, the stadium was renamed Soldier Field to honor the city's World War I veterans. The name change was officially dedicated on November 27, 1926, during a football game between Army and Navy.

In 1968, Soldier Field hosted the first Special Olympics. The City of Chicago changed the address of Soldier Field to 1410 Special Olympics Drive on June 24, 2018. This was done to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the Special Olympics and to recognize the stadium's role as the birthplace of the movement.

The stadium became the permanent home of the Chicago Bears of the National Football League (NFL) in 1971.

In 1978, the plank seats were replaced with individual seats. To offer fans a better view, seats were moved closer to the field, increasing the stadium seating capacity to nearly 57,000. 

Throughout the mid-20th century, Soldier Field underwent renovations, including the construction of a grandstand in the open end of the U, the replacement of plank seating with individual seats in 1978, seats were moved closer to the field, a new press box, and the addition of more than 100 skyboxes. This increased spectator capacity to more than 66,000.

Early  years hosted events included:
  • The 1926 Army-Navy Football Game. 
  • The second Dempsey-Tunney World Championship boxing match. 
  • The University of Notre Dame has played 13 football games at Soldier Field, including. Notre Dame defeated Northwestern 13-6 on November 22. 
  • Opening day Century of Progress ceremonies were held in Soldier Field on May 27, 1933. 
Ticket № 3. Opening Day World Fair Ceremonies at Soldier Field.

Major sporting events at Soldier Field include:
  • The January 5, 1986, NFL Divisional playoffs and the January 12 Championship games were held at Soldier Field, leading to the Chicago Bears winning Super Bowl XX against New England Patriots, 46 to 10, in the Louisiana Superdome on January 26, 1986.
  • Three 1994 FIFA World Cup Games Held at Soldier Field: 
    • June 17, 1994: The opening ceremony, emceed by Oprah Winfrey, and the opening game, featuring defending champion Germany.
    • June 21, 1994: Germany vs. Spain.
    • July 2, 1994: Germany vs. Belgium; Brazil won the 1994 FIFA World Cup.
However, the most controversial chapter in Soldier Field's architectural journey occurred in the early 2000s when the stadium underwent a major renovation. The Chicago Park District, which owns the property, faced substantial criticism when it announced plans to alter the stadium with a design by Benjamin T. Wood and Carlos Zapata of Wood & Zapata in Boston. The stadium grounds were reconfigured by local architecture firm Lohan Associates, led by architect Dirk Lohan, grandson of Mies van der Rohe.

The renovation aimed to modernize Soldier Field while preserving its historic façade. Completed in 2003, the updated Soldier Field retained its classic colonnade while incorporating a bold and contemporary design. Adding a glass and steel structure, known as the "Grand Concourse," brought a jolt of modernity to the stadium, while the two elliptical seating structures on either side of the original colonnades are striking additions to the structure.

While the innovative design allowed for enhanced amenities, increased seating capacity, and improved accessibility for fans, many preservationists, architecture critics and residents were not thrilled about the renovation. The modern additions were seen as incongruous with the stadium's neoclassical origins. "It looks like a spaceship landed." Debates about the design of the stadium continue today.

Despite the controversy, Soldier Field attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators for NFL games, athletic events, concerts and more. As the Chicago Bears look to move their home field to another location, the future of the iconic field by the lake is yet to be determined.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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