This is a model of Cleveland Municipal Stadium that sits in my home office. The Stadium was built during the Great Depression, and opened for business in 1931. There was some talk of Cleveland trying to host the Olympics when the Stadium was being built. When it opened, it was the largest open air arena in the world, with a seating capacity of over 78,000. The first event held there was a championship boxing match in July of 1931. The Cleveland Indians played their first game at the Stadium in July of 1932, but they still played the majority of their home games at League Park, their original home, at East 66th Street and Lexington Avenue in the Hough neighborhood on the eastside of Cleveland. (A community baseball diamond is on the League Park site today.) The Indians did not make Cleveland Stadium their permanent home until 1947.
The Stadium was home to the NFL’s Cleveland Rams until the end of the 1945 season, which saw the Rams win the NFL championship. Their owner, Dan Reeves, then announced in early 1946 that he was moving the Rams to Los Angeles. One of the reasons that he moved was the fact that Cleveland was awarded a franchise in the new All-American Football Conference, an upstart league that wanted to challenge the NFL. This would not have been a big deal, except that the new team was going to be coached by former Ohio State football coach and Ohio legend Paul Brown. The Cleveland Browns began playing in Cleveland Stadium in September of 1946. In their first 10 years of existence, they appeared in 10 straight league championship games, winning 7 of them. The Browns also played in the very first Monday Night Football game vs. the New York Jets at the Stadium in 1970.
Cleveland Stadium also hosted a number of huge rock concerts during its lifetime. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Aerosmith, Bruce Springsteen, U2, and many others. The first concert that I ever went to was to see the Stones on their “Steel Wheels” tour in September of 1989 at the Stadium.
The Stadium was a great venue for football, but it was terrible for baseball. The playing field was too far away from the stands, and the upper deck and the partial roof were supported by steel pillars throughout the building. A number of these pillars had seats right behind them! I sat in one of these “pillar seats” at a Browns/49ers Monday Night Football game in 1993! During the late 80’s, the owners of the Indians were being courted by other cities with newer stadium plans to move the franchise. The taxpayers of Cuyahoga County approved a “sin tax” on alcohol and tobacco in 1990 to build a new baseball only stadium and an arena in the Gateway area of Downtown Cleveland. These became Jacobs Field (now Progressive Field) and Gund Arena (now RocketMortgage Field House.)
The Indians moving out left the Browns’ as the only tennant of Cleveland Stadium in 1994. Sadly, the Browns’ owner (who I will not mention by name) moved the franchise to Baltimore in 1996. His main complaint was that the Stadium could not compete with newer facilities that generated more revenue for the team. Cleveland Stadium was slated for demolition in November of 1996. Fans were given one last opportunity to walk through the Stadium and say goodbye in September of 1996. I still have a chunk of the 40 yard line’s turf in a ziplock bag here in my house.
Cleveland Stadium was cold, would get bug infestations off of Lake Erie in early summer, did not have enough restrooms, and many other faults. However, there was no better place in the world to be win the Browns were winning. There’s no venue that could get as loud as that old steel and concrete fortress on Lake Erie. Even if the Browns ever are competitive again, nothing will replicate the old days at the Stadium. Late Browns’ radio announcer Nev Chandler called it “Pandemonium Palace” and with good reason. There was nothing like it, and there never will be again.