Legendary SI Stadium hosted DiMaggio of the Yanks, epic New Dorp-Curtis football clashes, demolition derbies
STATEN ISLAND, NY – Staten Island was once home to a number of legendary stadiums and sports fields, places where professional and semi-professional players have faced off over decades of the past century.
The names are emblematic of former Islanders, including Thompson Stadium, home of Stapleton Stapes football, which played in the NFL from 1929 to 1932.
Or Aquehonga Field in Tottenville, where exiled Black Sox outfielder Shoeless Joe Jackson played in a barn match in 1922.
But one of the most sustainable places was on Richmond Terrace at the foot of Heberton Avenue in Port Richmond.
Known for many years as the Weissglass Stadium, the field in previous years was called Sisco Park and Braybrooks Oval.
Name your sport – baseball, football, wrestling, boxing, auto racing, demolition derby – and Old Port Richmond Park has a memory for you.
On October 13, 1946, island sports icon Lou Marli, who led the Gulf Oilers semi-professional baseball team, brought the immortal Joe DiMaggio of the New York Yankees to the island for a benefit match.
The game, played when the park was called Braybrooks Oval, featured players from the Staten Island major and minor leagues and semi-pro Twyford-Muche League All Stars.
According to Advance Records, the great DiMaggio went smoothly in two at-bats and made a pair of steps.
Majeski, a native of the island, enjoyed a rich major league career that spanned nearly two decades, playing for the Yankees, Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox, among other teams.
In 1951, Gabe Rispoli, who ran Gabe’s stadium on the island, took over the operations of the park, which would now be known as Weissglass Stadium.
That year, Rispoli grabbed another Yankee star for an exhibition game: Hall of Fame pitcher Whitey Ford.
Ford was a rookie in 1950, going 9-1 and winning the World Series, but the following year he no longer served baseball in the military.
Rispoli had known Ford from his minor league days and traveled to Fort Monmouth, NJ, where Ford was a radar operator.
“I went over there and offered Whitey $ 75 to pitch three innings,” Rispoli told the Advance in 1995.
Ford, playing with a group of Army comrades, allowed one run of two singles to batsmen who included future island sports legends Sonny Grasso and Tom Tierney.
The Weissglass Stadium takes its name from the former Weissglass Gold Seal dairy, remembered by generations of Staten Islanders as the vendor and deliverer of milk in the borough.
With the park in need of restoration, Rispoli turned to Weissglass for money in exchange for the name of the stadium after the dairy. Rispoli in subsequent years could not recall whether Weissglass paid $ 500 or $ 750 each year, in one of the earliest examples of stadium naming rights in sport.
Memoly Motors, a neighboring Dodge car dealership, was the real owners of the stadium, leasing the property to Rispoli.
The Memoly dealership building served as the fence for the stadium’s right field, about 275 feet from home plate.
In the 1950s, Weissglass Stadium was the site of one of the most legendary sports series in Staten Island history: the annual Thanksgiving Day football clash between rivals New Dorp High School and Curtis High School.
Griliron’s grudge match spanned most of five decades on grounds like Weissglass, Thompson Stadium, Gabe Stadium and the WPA-era Port Richmond High School football field.
And even though the series was one-sided, with New Dorp winning 16 out of 17 at one point, the Thanksgiving tilt was still an event circled in the calendars of thousands of islanders every year.
The series ended in 1978 amid the growing importance of the citywide football playoffs.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Staten Islanders traveled to Weissglass Stadium on Saturday nights for stock car races and demolition derbies.
In 1999, former Islander Pete Delaney spoke about racing with Advance Memories columnist Mike Azzara.
“Away from today’s slick NASCAR venues, the track’s fifth-mile asphalt oval, rickety pits and gritty appearance created a palpable air of excitement,” he said. -he declares. “Cars were old jalopies from the late 1940s and 1950s that were given one last chance at junkyard fame.”
Delaney said crowds of around 3,000 would watch from the hard benches at the stadium as hundreds more lined the fence on the elevated tracks of the abandoned North Shore Rail line a short distance away for a free gaze.
“It was a real sensory experience,” said Delaney. “The combination of the massive roar of the flathead motors, the dazzling floodlights, the enthusiastic crowd, the bite of the giant mosquitoes from Kill van Kull and the unintelligible commentary from the screaming track announcer from the sound system presented a sort of surrealism not often found on Staten Island.
Professional wrestling became a major event at Weissglass in the late 1950s, with grapplers appearing at Madison Square Garden and then exiting at Port Richmond Stadium.
At the time, the Islanders could see the biggest names in the sport in Port Richmond: Antonino Rocca, Bruno Sammartino, the Graham Brothers, Haystacks Calhoun and Skull Murphy.
Among the locals who struggled was Islander Al “Samson” Vass.
Vass, who wrestled Sammartino, Gorilla Monsoon, Andre the Giant and George “The Animal” Steel during his career, later became a wrestling referee.
Sammartino would often ask Vass by name to be referred when he appeared at Madison Square Garden because he knew Vass had been a wrestler himself.
In the early decades of the 20th century, Weissglass Stadium was known as Sisco Park, named after the Staten Island Shipbuilding Company.
During World War I, the best ball players in the island’s thriving shipbuilding industry formed the New York Shipyard League.
Sisco Park and Alaska Field (at Alaska Street and Henderson Avenue, New Brighton) were the homes of the island’s three teams: the Siscos and the Downey and Standard Ship Factory teams.
At the end of the 1918 season, the Standards embarked on a playoff series with the Harlan Shipbuilding Company of Philadelphia, with the Harlans winning in a three-game sweep.
The Harlans returned to play a show against the Siscos and brought with them a rising star named Rogers Hornsby.
Other players in the Shipyard League included Shoeless Joe Jackson, Casey Stengel, Rube Marquard and Burleigh Grimes.
While many events at Weissglass drew large crowds, the largest crowd ever at the stadium is said to have nothing to do with sports. It was at this time that Archbishop Fulton Sheen, known for his preaching on radio and television, hosted a “Rosary Night” event in the park and drew 20,000 people.
Eventually, business collapsed and Weissglass Stadium closed in 1972, ending a truly golden age in Staten Island sports and culture.