Yale is home to two of the oldest and most storied athletic facilities in the history of college sports: the Yale Bowl and the Armory, home to the Equestrian and Polo Facility. But parts of these facilities have not been renovated since their construction in the 1910s.
The deteriorating state of these two Yale landmarks launched fund-raising campaigns and initial studies by the Yale Athletics Department. But actual renovations are still far off.
At the moment, the Athletics Department is still awaiting Yale’s approval to proceed from its preliminary studies of the Yale Bowl to the design phase of its renovation. The design phase likely would take several months to complete.
And the polo and equestrian program has struggled to raise funds for more than basic renovations to the Armory. The Athletics Department said the program needs to establish a financial base before the improvement process can proceed.
In recent years, the University has performed basic cosmetic improvements to Yale Bowl.
The Yale Bowl opened in 1914, and the 64,269-seat arena has subsequently hosted hundreds of football games without any full renovations. In 1993, new drainage and irrigation systems were installed, and, in 1995, Portal 7 was remodelled in preparation for the World Special Olympic Games, for which the Yale Bowl was the primary venue.
The stadium itself is more or less built around an excavation, with the concrete foundations for the upper bleachers resting on the dirt removed to create the central depression. Athletics Department Director of Capital Projects Jack Merrill said the structural integrity of the stadium remains intact, despite the deteriorated facade.
“If you look at the Bowl, it does look like a Roman ruin,” Merrill said. “But there’s six to eight feet of solid concrete underneath.”
A number of substantial renovations to the facility would benefit both players and spectators alike. The foremost priority of the Athletics Department is to repair the stadium’s half-mile long exterior wall, including its 29 arched portals — following the example of the revamped Portal 7 — and to shore-up the interior wall around the playing field. Additionally, the seats and concrete seating risers could be replaced. Beyond that, other potential renovations include replacing the antiquated entrance portals and creating an improved entrance plaza to the Bowl.
But Merrill said Yale seems unlikely to fund the entire cost of such an expensive undertaking, which is estimated to require at least $25 million in alumni donations alone.
“We’re being asked by the University to scale the project down and deal with the essential elements,” Merrill said.
Athletics Director Tom Beckett said the project was likely to receive University support, but perhaps not to the extent necessary for every proposed change.
“The University is going to help make this happen, but there are many competing priorities,” Beckett said. “We’ve raised a few million dollars to date [$2.6 million as of September 2001], but as we’ve said earlier, the scope of this project depends on what we want to do immediately.”
While the plight of the Yale Bowl, arguably the crown jewel of Yale’s athletic facilities, continues to be a priority for the Yale community, members of the polo and equestrian teams are struggling for attention for another long-neglected project, the renovation of the Equestrian and Polo Facility.
Built in 1916 as a training center for the U.S. Cavalry during World War I, the Armory was later converted into an athletic facility which is now the home of the equestrian and polo teams, as well as the rifle club. But the facilities have deteriorated to the point where the majority of the equestrian team must practice at a private barn in Bethany.
“Just this year, we moved back our beginners to the armory,” equestrian captain Philippa Pavia ’05 said. “The facility is [only] adequate for that kind of level — the footing is bad, horses would get injured if they jumped there.”
The polo team continues to practice and hold competitions in the facility, but their sport uses a different kind of horse than those needed for equestrian events. Equestrian team members said the run-down state of the Armory has made alumni and community members less likely to donate equestrian horses to the team, which does not have the funds to buy its own steeds.
“People tend to be very attached to their [equestrian] horses,” Pavia said. “Sometimes, we have to turn away donations, because we know the horses wouldn’t thrive there.”
Team members would therefore like to see certain basic improvements made, such as improving the footing in the arena and repairing stalls by adding floor-mats, fixing holes in the walls, and making higher partitions between the horses so they cannot harm each other. Pavia said any more extensive repairs would entail remodelling the entire facility to meet New Haven fire codes.
“Because the facility is so old, it doesn’t pass any current fire codes,” Pavia said. “If any walls are moved, it has to be completely rehauled.”
However, both the polo and equestrian teams remain frustrated because the administration has not shown any signs of proactive financial support for the project, despite the teams filing a “Proposal for the Reconstruction and Support of the Yale Polo and Equestrian Center” with the Athletics Department and the University President’s Office in April 2000.
“The hope was that the University would provide the momentum, [but they say] we need to start the ball rolling,” polo captain Michael Dawson ’04 said.
The Athletics Department favors renovation plans, but administrators maintain the full project will only be attained with outside funding.
“Alumni have been very supportive, but it’s a multi-million dollar project,” Beckett said. “It’s just a matter of trying to pick our priorities.”
Administrators acknowledge that finding financial support for a renovated facility has been unusually complicated.
“The Armory has always been unfortunately a difficult facility,” Merrill said. “It doesn’t seem to get the attention it deserves. At times, we’ve heard that money would be provided, but it never has.”
While the fund-raising continues, the Athletics Department has set no time table for the renovations of either the Yale Bowl or the Armory.