Fact Friday 380 - American Legion Memorial Stadium

Fact Friday 380 - American Legion Memorial Stadium

Happy Friday!

Today's Fact Friday comes to you from the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission.


The American Legion Memorial Stadium (1936) was a direct result of substantial Federal assistance to local government and was the first municipal structure in Charlotte, N.C. that could accommodate thousands of visitors. From the outset it became a venue for sporting, entertainment, and civic events that theretofore would have been impossible to hold. Over the years a broad array of happenings have occurred at the stadium, most notably football games – high school, collegiate, and for many years the Shrine Bowl from 1937 through 2000. The stadium has also hosted July 4th concerts, professional wrestling matches, and performances by entertainers.

This photograph of American Legion Memorial Stadium appeared in the 1947 Central High School Annual. You are looking east. Note that Independence Boulevard had not yet been built.

Spectator sports, both amateur and professional, rose in popularity in the 1920s and 1930s largely because of an increase in middle class income, greater availability of automobiles, and the growth of urban centers. Charlotte’s population burgeoned in the early 1900s, from 18,091 in 1900 to 134,052 in 1950. Clearly, the need for a facility such as the American Legion Memorial Stadium was becoming increasingly defensible. Indeed, a major expansion of the stadium took place in the 1960s and 1970s, when upper level seating was added first on the north side and then on the south side of the playing field.

Photograph Of The Shrine Bowl (1966)

The stadium bore dramatic testimony to a shift in attitudes in the 1930s about the role of the Federal government in societal affairs. The construction of the American Legion Memorial Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. was intimately bound up with the relief programs of the Great Depression. President Franklin D. Roosevelt persuaded the U.S. Congress to create the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.) in April, 1935, with an initial appropriation of $4.88 billion dollars ($107 billion in today's dollars) to provide jobs for millions of unemployed laborers, artists, writers, scholars, and others. The W.P.A. provided most of the funding to construct an assortment of structures, including airports, seaports, bridges, schools, museums and stadiums. The W.P.A. also supported programs in the humanities, including the Federal Arts Project, Federal Writers Project, Federal Theatre Project, National Health Survey, and the Historical Records Survey. 


Mayor Arthur E. Wearn (1933-1935)

Charlotte leaders, including Mayor Arthur E. Wearn, were eager to benefit from the dollars provided by the Works Progress Administration. Wearn, who had become mayor by appointment on May 3, 1933, had already secured $70,000 of Federal funds from the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (F.E.R.A.) and the Civil Works Administration (C.W.A.) on January 3, 1934, to enable the City to begin work on a stadium in Independence Park. There was considerable public opposition to the City's accepting the money to start the stadium. One property owner was particularly outspoken. "I am a lover of beauty," he began. "I object to having a beautiful thirty or forty trees cut down, a beautiful natural amphitheater turned into a concrete bowl surrounded by a high fence -- to say nothing of the attendant noise and dust." Strong political support for Mayor Wearn’s efforts to build a major outdoor sports facility in Charlotte had come from the Hornet’s Nest Post Number 9 of the American Legion. That patriotic organization wanted the stadium to serve as a memorial to those soldiers from Mecklenburg County who had served the United States during The Great War, now called World War One. The City Council agreed on June 13, 1934, to name the facility "American Legion Memorial Stadium.

The Stadium As It Appeared In December, 1935. Notice that there are no seats.

Earth had been moved by December, 1935, to create a playing field that was bordered by a rock wall and that was surrounded on three sides by grass embankments. Enough money to install seats was not initially available, however. This meant that the stadium was essentially unusable.

Soon after the House of Representatives gave its assent to the creation of the W.P.A. in January, 1935, City officials provided a tentative list of the projects they planned to submit to the new agency if it was approved by the U.S. Senate. These included an array of undertakings, including street improvements and even placing public restrooms below ground at the intersection of Trade and Tryon Streets, locally known as the Square.

Mayor Ben Douglas (1935-1941)

The impetus for new construction projects in Charlotte increased substantially when Ben Douglas defeated Arthur Wearn by popular election and became Mayor in May, 1935. A native of Iredell County, Douglas had moved to Charlotte from Gastonia in the mid-1920s and had established a funeral home at the corner of Fox Street and Elizabeth Avenue, which was later Independence and Elizabeth (no longer exists since Independence was rerouted). A tireless and adroit politician, Douglas was Mayor from 1935 until 1941, and earned the reputation of being the "Builder of Modern Day Charlotte." Douglas loved the drama and passion of the political arena and devoted his enormous energies and talents to leading the people into what he hoped was a bright and prosperous future. Born in the 1890s, he reached adulthood during the "roaring twenties," when it seemed that everybody was making piles of money in the stock market. Then came the crippling Great Depression of the 1930s. Douglas saw himself as a cheerleader, as an urban booster, who would rally the people of Charlotte and give them hope.

City Manager J. B. Marshall

Douglas hired James B. Marshall as City Manager. A native of Anderson, S.C., Marshall was a brilliant engineer who had graduated from the College of Charleston before settling in Charlotte in the 1920s. By the end of May, 1935, Marshall was busily at work preparing a list of projects for submission to the Works Progress Administration for possible funding.

The W.P.A. had a major presence in Charlotte. A district office of the Works Progress Administration was established on Tryon St. in July. John Grice, its Director, urged Charlotte-Mecklenburg officials and those in surrounding counties to submit applications for projects. On August 28, 1935, local attorney Marvin Ritch appeared before the City Council and urged that "some immediate action" be taken "toward completing the stadium in Independence Park." Not surprisingly, Marshall included the completion of Charlotte’s stadium on his list of W.P.A. applications. The largest project for which the City sought W.P.A. funding was the creation of a municipal airport.

This is the Armory Auditorium which stood just west of the stadium. If you look carefully you can see part of the natural area that once occupied the space behind the building.

The Charlotte Observer reported on November 7, 1935, that the City would be submitting its formal application to the Works Progress Administration for the stadium. George W. Coan, Jr., State Administrator of the W.P.A., informed Mayor Douglas and City Manager Marshall on December 27, 1935, that funding for finishing the stadium had been approved. “Completion of the stadium will give Charlotte one of the finest bowls in North Carolina,” stated the newspaper. Mayor Douglas greeted the news with his usual enthusiasm. “It will put a lot of people to work,” he said. “I am mighty glad to hear that it is going through.” City Manager Marshall announced: “Our plans are ready and we ought to get started on it right away.” The Charlotte Observer commented editorially on the project the next day. “Gratifying the information that the completion of the local stadium through the medium of Federal funds is to be undertaken at once,” the newspaper proclaimed.

This picture of newly-elected Mayor Douglas and the Charlotte City Council appeared in the Charlotte Observer in May 1935. Seated left to right on the front row are Claude L. Albea, W. N. Hovis, Mayor Ben E. Douglas, L. R. Sides, and John F. Boyd. Standing left to right on the back row are J. S. Nance, Herbert H. Baxter, J. H. Huntley, Mayor Pro-Tem John L. Wilkinson, J. S. Tipton, W. Roy Hudson, and John F. Durham.

George Coan, Jr. left to local officials the decision as to whether the stands would be constructed of concrete or native stone. Stone, which had been used in the recently completed wall at the edge of the playing field, would have been more aesthetically appropriate; but the City selected concrete as the building material for the stands, primarily because the installation of stone would have required a pool of skilled labor that was not locally available. The W.P.A. awarded $51,617 for the stadium project, and the total City contribution was less than $5,000.

Workers came to the site in early January, 1936, and work continued during the next eight months. The need to complete the stadium intensified after June 22nd, when word arrived that President Roosevelt would be visiting Charlotte on September 10th and would be making a major public address at the American Legion Memorial Stadium. According to the Charlotte Observer, the President would be participating in an “old-time Democratic love-feast,” labeled a Green Pastures Rally, to which the party faithful of seven states would be invited. On July 11th, John Grice stated that the concrete stands would be finished soon and that installation of the seats would commence shortly thereafter. “The stadium positively will be completed by September 1,” Grice promised. The newspaper reported on August 25th that the seats were being installed, and the Charlotte Observer published a photograph of the completed stadium on September 1, 1936.

The Stadium Completed (1936)

The editors of the Charlotte Observer understood the role of the Federal government in making the American Legion Memorial Stadium possible.

They wrote: “If New Deal spending all over the country could be accurately, fairly and truthfully measured by that which was locally done to provide our community the handsome, elaborate and commodious stadium, the mouth of the critics of the Roosevelt administration would be sealed. . . .

Except for Federal financial aid designed at once to relieve unemployment and to provide communities the realization of some improvements of which they stood in need, this stadium would have remained, perhaps, only as a forecasted fantasy, the dream of a project, sorely needed, but never to be realized as a result of the investment of purely localized funds.”

Crowd Lines West Trade Street Awaiting President Roosevelt's Motorcade. Picture from Haywood Robbins Collection, Special Collections, UNC Charlotte.

It was altogether fitting and proper that President Roosevelt was the first speaker at the American Legion Memorial Stadium. The Chairman of the Green Pastures Rally of September 10, 1936, was Charlotte attorney Haywood Robbins. He and his colleagues worked diligently to assure that the event would be successful.

Official Program

President Roosevelt arrived by motorcade from Asheville, N.C. in the early afternoon of September 10th in a heavy rainstorm and traveled directly to the American Legion Memorial Stadium. From a platform erected at the western end of stadium, just behind the Armory Auditorium, the President gave a rousing address to an enthusiastic throng of well wishers.

The Crowd Listens To President Roosevelt. Picture from Haywood Robbins Collection, Special Collections, UNC Charlotte. 

Even though he professed to be making a nonpartisan speech, Roosevelt insisted that the nation would only prosper if the common man fared well.

This is the podium from which President Roosevelt spoke. Picture from Haywood Robbins Collection, Special Collections, Atkins Library UNC Charlotte.

The Charlotte Observer commented editorially on the Green Pastures Rally and insisted that the event had indeed been political. “It is as impossible to divorce the President . . . from politics,” the newspaper proclaimed, “as it would be for a minister of the Gospel to announce when he enters the pulpit that such a step involves no religious significance.”

Haywood Robbins Was Chairman Of The Green Pastures Rally. Picture from Haywood Robbins Collection, Special Collections, Atkins Library UNC Charlotte.

The first of many college football games in the American Legion Memorial Stadium in Charlotte occurred in the afternoon of September 26, 1936. The University of North Carolina and Wake Forest College played. According to the Charlotte Observer, it was “by far the largest (crowd) ever to see a football game in Charlotte.” U.N.C. won by a score of 14 to 7. Dedication ceremonies for the stadium were held before the game.

The American Legion Memorial Stadium has continued to occupy an important place in the cultural life of the community, especially as a host for high school football games. The completion of Ericsson Stadium in the 1990s (now Bank of America Stadium), however, meant that Memorial Stadium was no longer the largest outdoor sports facility in Charlotte. Also, high schools have acquired their own football stadiums. 

Wake Forest College vs. U.N.C. Football Game (Sept. 26, 1936)

Today, the Stadium is home to a whole host of events, including Charlotte Independence soccer matches and Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) sporting events. 



The Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, "Survey and Research Report on The American Legion Memorial Stadium (1936)," by Dr. Dan L. Morrill, April 23, 2003.

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