The history of Harlem is so vast, it could be the city’s sixth borough, but sadly over time, many of its once-notable areas have disappeared, replaced by endless skyscrapers or long forgotten altogether.
Such is the case of the former Polo Grounds, a stadium that was on 155th Street in Harlem and was home to MLB’s New York Giants from 1883 to 1957, before the team moved to San Francisco in 1958.
In what was known as “The Bathtub” for its unique shape, Bobby Thomson made his game-winning “shot heard ’round the world” against the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951, and Willie Mays made “the catch” in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series.
In an effort to remind New Yorkers of that storied MLB lore while also revitalizing portions of the landscape that was demolished in 1964 to make way for the Polo Grounds Towers and Rangel Houses complexes, hundreds gathered Thursday under the 155th Street Viaduct to take part in Pernod Ricard’s annual Responsib’all Day.
For the second year in a row, the global beverage company partnered with environmental nonprofit EarthShare and the New York Restoration Project to revitalize several acres of land for the more than 7,000 residents living in nearby public housing.
“I live about 10 blocks from here, and it’s kind of isolated from the rest of Harlem,” state Sen. Marisol Alcantara said. “One in seven kids has asthma in this area, and there is not a lot of green space. What you’re doing today is going to make a difference in many kids’ lives.”
Among the work included in the daylong project was clearing vegetation on the complex property, planting wildflowers, assisting with a neighborhood garden and working in nearby Highbridge Park, where Responsib’all Day took place last year.
“This has been a dumping ground for 30 years. I hope this is the beginning of a destination,” Barbara Williams, president of the resident association at the Polo Grounds Towers, added.
For many diehard Giants fans, like those in the New York Giants Preservation Society, the site has always been a destination.
“I’m a San Francisco Giants baseball fan, but I live in New York. Willie Mays was my idol, and Willie’s origins are here,” member Paul Ellis-Graham said.
“It’s a storied history, a storied franchise, and we want people to not forget that there was a team here,” added Gary Mintz, the society’s president, who began the organization in 2011 to honor his father, a longtime Giants fan.
Though the main portion of The Bathtub is long gone, little reminders do exist, like the John T. Brush Stairway. Built in 1913 and named after the man who owned the Giants from 1890 until his death in 1912, the stairway still leads down into the Polo Grounds Towers property from Coogan’s Bluff. It was restored in 2014 using donations from the NFL’s New York Giants and Jets and the MLB, Yankees, Mets and San Francisco Giants.
On one of the Polo Ground Towers buildings is a faded sign that reads, “This development was built on the location that Willie Mays and the Giants made famous.” A little further into the complex on another building is a weathered bronze plaque that commemorates where home plate used to be — and serves as a reminder that the Giants shared the field with the Mets and Yankees for several years as well.
“New York doesn’t really celebrate the history of this country, but this needs to be preserved,” Mintz said. “But today is not about baseball, it’s about restoring neighborhood pride.”
To watch a video about the Pernod Ricard’s and NYRP’s work at the Polo Grounds site as part of its Responsib’all Day, click here.