Cars in the Infield: Indianapolis’s Bush Stadium and Historic Preservation

21 Mar

by Christina Carlson-

What happens to a baseball field when it falls into disrepair and can no longer be used? Busch Stadium in downtown St. Louis was demolished and a new one built recently, but this is not always the fate of historic sports complexes. A couple of weekends ago I was in Indianapolis when I noticed a rundown, old baseball stadium on 16th Street. I stopped to take a look and noticed the entire playing field was filled with old cars. With my interest piqued, I decided to do some further research. What I found out about this old stadium provides an interesting and unique look into historic preservation in industrial cities.

Exterior of Bush Stadium

The art deco exterior of Bush Stadium

Built in 1931 as Perry Stadium, this landmark in Indianapolis was once home to Indianapolis’s minor league team, as well as two Negro League teams. The stadium was built by Osborn engineering which also constructed Fenway Park and other ballparks of the early 20th century. The stadium is of architectural interest due to its art deco façade. In the 1940s, the ballpark was renamed Victory Stadium to reflect American patriotism during the Second World War. After the city purchased the stadium in 1967, it was again renamed, this time after former major league baseball star, Donnie Bush.

In 1996, the Indianapolis Indians moved to a new stadium and Bush Stadium was converted to a dirt race car track. However, this venture did not last long and the ballpark has now stood vacant for almost thirteen years. The landmark was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, ensuring its survival. However, the longer it sits vacant, the more in danger it is of deteriorating beyond repair. Already, the walls and stands are overgrown and much of the exterior is chipping away.

So why are the cars inside the stadium? They’re not wrecked or abandoned vehicles from when the park served as a race track, which is what I first assumed.  They are actually automobiles that were traded in during the “Cash for Clunkers” program in Indianapolis in 2009. Currently, there are no plans to redevelop or restore the stadium and its future remains uncertain.

Cars in Bush Stadium

Unwanted cars inside Bush Stadium

Although the story of Bush Stadium’s rise and decline in Indianapolis is interesting, I believe it also raises important questions about historic preservation and urban renewal. For one, it might be apt to question why a space which is considered an important fixture of Indianapolis – both in historic and architectural terms – is being utilized as a graveyard for old cars. Was there simply not enough room to house them somewhere else? Or is historic preservation of such low priority in Indianapolis that the preservation of the old ballpark is of little concern to the city? We have to question if the city of Indianapolis is actually doing its job in preserving a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places, or if it is simply ignoring the meaning of preservation.

Finally, I think we have to note the revealing irony of this entire situation – an old ballpark which residents desperately want to preserve is housing cars that no one really wants. This strange spatial relationship might call us to question why we choose some landmarks or objects to preserve and not others. Naturally, the cars may not be of much use, but is the ball field, either? We could say that the park is preserved due to its architecture, but it is not the only example of its kind still standing. Or is the ball park preserved simply because it is so strongly tied to regional memory and identity?

Aerial view of Bush Stadium

Google Maps view of Bush Stadium showing cars

Perhaps some of the answers to these questions will come if the city decides to restore Bush Stadium. Until then, it remains an intriguing place at the crossroads between the drive to preserve and the desire to demolish.


4 Responses to “Cars in the Infield: Indianapolis’s Bush Stadium and Historic Preservation”

  1. Jacob Carlson March 28, 2011 at 10:47 am #

    Another thing that I thought was interesting was the danger involved in working with the stadium. If I recall correctly, you found that much of the stadium still contains high amounts of asbestos. I’d like to know how cities deal with the hazardous conditions of historical preservation, from the health hazards to the workers to how much physical change the structure would have to undergo to rid it of the chemicals. Cost is another issue–one report claims that the removal of the asbestos and lead paint could cost as much as $10 million.

    • Christina March 29, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

      That’s true, and the cost seems to be the main reason that the stadium is not being reused already. I should have put more about that in my post; it certainly adds another dimension to the debate over what should be done with historic structures such as Bush Stadium.

  2. alec October 1, 2012 at 9:19 pm #

    Looks like Indianapolis is doing something about this place. They are turning the site into apartments and a tech park. Interesting, because there isn’t much around this area of Indy, but this could be the start of something great.


  1. Preserving Baseball Stadiums « Preserving the American Past - May 8, 2011

    […] finds ways to preserve their landmarks. When the day comes that these ballparks are replaced, will they become storage for old cars seen earlier in class, or possibly become a museum in itself.  Becoming a museum would be very […]

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