Five things Liam Ford was surprised to learn while researching his recent book,"Soldier Field: A Stadium and Its City":
1. While they were building Soldier Field, the South Park Commission had trouble deciding whether to allow professional football there. The South Parks controlled Chicago’s lakefront parks from Grant Park south, and wanted the new Grant Park Stadium to serve as a venue to showcase the athleticism of the children of the South Side. In the summer of 1925, the commissioners voted to study whether to allow professional teams to play there. Eventually, they decided it would be all right — and bring some money in to support park programs.
2. The original Soldier Field designs called for a giant monument at the south end of the stadium, where the stadium curves to resemble a Greek theater. The memorial would have stood just above Gate 0, where the sign with the stadium’s name is today. Because of cost, the South Park Commissioners decided to forgo the monument. Although the colonnades were designed to recall a great memorial of the past, the Mausoleum of Mausolus, it was only after the original designs were abandoned that South Park Commissioners began referring to the colonnades as the memorial structure at the stadium.
3. Building Soldier Field understandably became a massive undertaking. Much of the site for the stadium was still under water when the park commissioners voted to construct it south of the Field Museum. While it was being built, the New York Times noted that it was the largest building ever to make use of “concrete stone,” that is, concrete made to look like cut stone, with 130,000 cubic feet of the stuff.
4. The Bears regularly played at Soldier Field for years. But, until they moved there from Wrigley Field in 1971, they appeared at the stadium usually only for exhibition or charity games, such as an annual Armed Forces benefit game or the College All-Star Game. The Bears almost didn’t move to Soldier Field, which could have doomed the arena. George Halas had a contract to move his players to Northwestern University’s Dyche Stadium, but the Big Ten conference nixed the idea — and the Chicago Park District quickly offered Soldier Field.
5. For nearly 30 years, from the late 1930 through the 1960s, the most popular professional sport at Soldier Field wasn’t football: it was car racing. The first races were held in the mid-1930s, and for decades thousands of people came to Soldier Field almost every weekend from May through August to see midget stock-car races, demolition derbies and stunt racing. Racing ended at the stadium in the mid-1960s, depriving the Park District of a large revenue source — and probably setting the stage for the Bears’ move there.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun