Franklin Field is one of the main athletic sites for the University of Pennsylvania with a rich history.
Backstory and Context
Franklin Field lies in Philadelphia at the eastern edge of the University of Pennsylvania’s campus, across the Schuylkill River from Center City. The stadium may not stand out right away compared to Philadelphia’s modern skyline, but its place in history makes up for its size. Franklin Field has meager beginnings as wooden bleachers for the Penn Relays and was refurbished in 1922 to become the two-tiered stadium made of brick arches as it stands today. The NCAA deems it as the oldest stadium still operating for college football. Franklin Field holds the honor of being the first stadium to broadcast a football game over the radio. Aside from the Penn Relays and the University of Pennsylvania’s football team, the Philadelphia Eagles were tenants from 1958 to 1970. The Democratic Party, the band U2, and movie cameos add to Franklin Field's history given its use for special events.
Franklin Field was opened for the University of Pennsylvania in 1895. It was a simple wooden bleacher designed for the first running of the Penn Relays. The stadium's cost was $100,000 ($2.8 million today). It was the first stadium in the United States to have a functioning scoreboard. In 1922, Franklin Field was remolded by Frank Miles Day as a more permanent structure for the university; the redesign included more of an ornamental exterior, consisting of high open arches and Italian style brick and mortar work. Internally, a two-tier seating arrangement was introduced, making it the first stadium with an upper deck of seats. The stadium was not a large financial burden to the people living in Philadelphia, as the University of Pennsylvania’s Athletic Association balance sheet surviving from June 30th, 1896 provides insight on how the financing for Franklin Field took place. Football receipts showed the largest income to the university, supporting over half of the cost for the entire varsity sports programs. All the other sports teams did not add up to a third of footballs success. Association Dues, contributions and building donations from wealthy alumni bridged the gap and lessened the overall cost.
Franklin Field did not cause much political turmoil for the city or the university. In 1916, George Neitzche introduced a plan to build a 100,000 seat half sunken stadium for $750,000 on the southeastern side of Woodland Cemetery. Neitzche’s plan fell through because if its complexity. The new design would also require a new public transport station called Union Station which featured a Pennsylvania Railroad stop and an elevated subway line connected to the Market- Frankfort line. The University of Pennsylvania choose instead to renovate Franklin Field with Frank Miles Day’s design. The costs did not vary by much, but the costs associated with additions to two modes of transportation in Philadelphia weighed heavy in the choice.
There is a rich history of teams that played at Franklin Field. The University of Pennsylvania Quakers are one of the original teams to introduce collegiate football. The NCAA considers the Quakers one of the most historic programs and their home field is the oldest in the United States. 1,364 football games have been played so far on Franklin Field and teams included famed players like Chuck Bedinark and John Heisman in their rosters. Both are namesakes of college football’s highest awards. From 1958 to 1970, the National Football League’s Philadelphia franchise, the Eagles, had many memorable moments in the stadium. The team witnessed Vince Lombardi’s only playoff loss, Bert Bell’s heart attack, and the infamous Philly fans booing and throwing snowballs at Santa Claus. The famed Army-Navy game was held at the stadium eighteen times from 1899 through 1935. Even though no longer played at Franklin Field, the city of Philadelphia still acts as a neutral site for the heated rivalry. When the FIFA World Cup was held in the United States in 1994, Franklin Field was in consideration to be used in the tournament but did not make the final selection. Staying on the international sport scene, the stadium was host for a rugby match on the 30th of November 2004. Even though the United States lost the match to Australia, the close result raised eyebrows across the international scene.
Some important events that have taken place at Franklin Field include the yearly Penn Relays, the 1936 Democratic Party nomination, a U2 concert, and movie cameos. The Penn Relays is one of the oldest, largest and continuing track and field events in the country. They first were held on April 21, 1895, one of the main reasons why Franklin Field was built. An average of 15,000 participants attend yearly from high schools, colleges, and track clubs throughout North America and abroad compete in more than 300 events over five days. Attendance typically tops 100,000 over the final three days and has been known to surpass 50,000 on Saturday. Historically, the event has been credited with popularizing the running of relay races. The first team to win a Penn Relays championship was Harvard University after they defeated University of Pennsylvania with a time of 3:34 in the 4x400 meter. Other colleges that competed in the first meet were Cornell University, Columbia University, Lafayette, Lehigh, Rutgers, Swarthmore, College of the City of New York and New York University. In 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for a second term as president. It is estimated that a crowd of about 100,000 sat through light rain to hear his speech. In 1997, Franklin Field hosted Irish band U2 during the first leg of their Pop Mart tour. This was the stadium’s first concert since 1970. In popular culture, Franklin Field made a few cameos in movies. The 2000 M. Night Shyamalan-directed movie Unbreakable prominently features Franklin Field as one of the main locations in the film. The film's main character, played by Bruce Willis, plays a security guard at the stadium. In the 2006 movie Invincible, Franklin Field served as a stand-in for the demolished Veterans Stadium, images of which were digitally created on some of the football action sequences, and pays homage to one of the Eagles original stadiums.
There were changes in stadium design over time, but the overall structure has remained the same. Some major points in the evolution of stadium design include the original wooden grandstands in 1895, permanent grandstands and a scoreboard in the years 1903-1905, and the final two-tier brick design in 1922. Franklin Field maintained a grass field until 1969, when it switched over to AstroTurf. It was the first National Football League stadium to use artificial turf. The stadium's fifth AstroTurf surface was installed in 1993. The current Sprinturf field replaced the AstroTurf in 2004. Besides the minor changes to the surface of the quarter track, the layout has been the same around the grass field its whole existence.
Franklin Field is located on South
33rd and Spruce Streets, Philadelphia PA, 19104. Quoted from the
University's website, “The U-shaped stadium is one of the University of
Pennsylvania’s landmarks, occupying the entire block on which it sits, facing
the main part of campus, on the banks of the Schuylkill River from center city.”
It may not be as popular as other historical landmarks in the city of
Philadelphia, but Franklin Field has a rich sports history that only adds to a historic city.
Center, U. A. (1995-2017). Unversity of Pennsylvania. Retrieved from University Archives & Records Center: http://www.archives.upenn.edu/people/1800s/day_frank_m.html
Past Stadiums. (2001-2017). Retrieved from Stadiums of Pro Football: http://www.stadiumsofprofootball.com/stadiums/franklin-field/
Philadelphia Eagles. (2017). Retrieved from 5 Things to Know About Franklin Field: http://www.philadelphiaeagles.com/news/article-1/5-Things-To-Know-About-Franklin-Field/6245a31d-738f...
University of Pennsylvania. (2017). Retrieved from U Penn Athletics: http://www.pennathletics.com/sports/2016/6/24/_131485206786697883.aspx