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Recalling an old stadium

Temple’s football team used to have a stadium before it shared its home field with the Philadelphia Eagles.

For the past few months, university trustees and officials have discussed whether a $100 million, 35,000-seat stadium on Main Campus would be beneficial to Temple’s football program and campus life.

During much of the Owls football team’s history, however, a stadium that was roughly the same size stood a little more than seven miles north, at Cheltenham Avenue near Vernon Road.

Temple Stadium, with a maximum capacity of more than 30,000—actual counts vary depending on numerous newspaper articles, press releases and history books—was completed in time for the 1928 season, according to the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. Temple opened the stadium Sept. 29 with a 12-0 win against the University of St. Thomas, and dedicated the stadium before a 7-0 victory against Western Maryland Oct. 13, the Bulletin reported.

Then-university president Charles Beury and Mayor Harry Mackey addressed a crowd of more than 25,000 at the dedication, explaining the stadium’s importance to Temple and Philadelphia.

Nearly seven decades later in 1996, university trustees approved the demolition of the stadium, according to university historian James Hilty’s book, Temple University: 125 years of Service to Philadelphia, the Nation, and the World. In 1997, the structure was torn down, and in April 2001, the university sold the 32-acre site for $4.5 million.

Before construction even started on the stadium, the university bought 12 acres for $75,000 at the eventual site, The Temple News—then Temple University Weekly—reported Sept. 18, 1924. Then-dean Laura Carnell told the newspaper the location would primarily be used for physical education classes, but would also be utilized for the university’s athletic programs.

Soon enough, however, plans for a football stadium at the site started. The Bulletin reported in December 1927 that Charles Erny—a prominent contractor in the city and a university trustee from 1928-51—donated $100,000 to the program at the team’s football dinner at the Ben Franklin Hotel. Ground broke at the site in mid-February, and construction workers, with the help of more than a dozen Temple football players, completed the stadium in September, in time for the opener against St. Thomas.

Hilty said Erny’s expertise in contracting was instrumental in Temple Stadium being built.

“[Erny] was involved in virtually every real estate deal that Temple got involved with from the early 1930s to the 1940s and early 1950s,” Hilty said. “He would’ve like to see the whole campus move up there to the Cedarbrook area, where the football stadium was, and tried to arrange to buy Cedarbrook Country Club, which was on the other side of the street from the stadium.”

Along with Erny’s influence in real estate, he continued to help fund the stadium past his initial donation. According to the Bulletin’s obituary of Erny in January 1963, the former trustee loaned the university an additional $300,000 during the 21 years following Temple Stadium’s opening. The final total cost of the stadium was $350,000, which equates to more than $4.8 million in 2015 U.S. dollars.

Erny’s vision for Temple Stadium mirrored that of Beury, who was “caught up” in big-time college football in the 1920s, Hilty said. Temple’s football team went 12-4 in the 1926 and 1927 seasons under coach Harry “Heinie” Miller, according to team records.

Beury’s ambition to constantly add structures to Temple’s campuses earned him the nickname “Beury the Builder,” Hilty added.

“Beury not only built a football stadium, he built a Health Sciences Campus too,” he said. “He was a guy who had good connections with bankers and contractors, and knew how to get things done and how to get them financed.”

Not long after Temple Stadium was completed, the facility was frequently filling up for games. According to Hilty’s book, the largest crowd at a football game was in November 1934, when the Owls beat Villanova 22-0 in front of 40,000 people. A year later, however, nearly twice as many people would fill the stadium for a different type of event.

At dawn of April 21, 1935, more than 75,000 people met at the stadium for an Easter sunrise service, led by Rev. Ross Stover, according to multiple reports. Another 20,000 were not allowed in due to overcrowding.

“A lot goes on in this town besides athletic events,” Hilty said of the service with a laugh.

Following the 1930s—which featured prominent coach Glenn “Pop” Warner from 1933-38—popularity in the program declined and stadium attendance for football dropped as Temple tried to focus more on academics, Hilty said.

In February 1953, The Bulletin reported the Eagles were interested in purchasing the stadium, which was valued at $1 million. According to Hilty’s book, Temple had been renting out the stadium to the Eagles to help defray costs.

Temple never sold the stadium, and popularity in football continued to plummet. In August 1972, the Bulletin reported the Cheltenham Township committee rejected Temple’s request to build directional signs to the stadium in its township.

The decision proved costly eight years later. By then, the Owls had been playing most of its games at Veterans Stadium, which had opened in 1971.  The Bulletin reported in a game against Akron Nov. 7, 1980, that 2,872 people showed up to the Vet, drawing complaints by then-coach Wayne Hardin, who said he believed the reason Temple Stadium wasn’t being used was because people couldn’t find it.

Hilty said because of vandalism and failure to maintain and rebuild deteriorating parts of the stadium, the university stopped using it on a regular basis by the late 1970s.

According to multiple reports, the Owls continued to play at the Vet until 2002, and then signed a lease with the Eagles to play at Lincoln Financial Field when it opened in August 2003. The team continues to play at the Linc, where it finished 5-1 in 2015.

Currently, Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church’s “East” church lies on part of the former site of the stadium. The church bought the 32-acre site in 2001, and opened its doors in 2006. The church also has a location on West Coulter Street near Newhall in Germantown.

While talks about building a similarly-sized stadium are ongoing, Hilty said differences between the location of the old and newly proposed structure could ultimately make the seating capacity much different.

“In some respects, the number 35,000 is kind of ahead of the game,” he said of the current proposed capacity. “They may find they may be restricted by the land and access to much less. If the City Streets [Department] want support of the traffic … I don’t know how 15th Street, 16th Street, Norris and Montgomery are going to support that traffic.”

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@temple.edu or on Twitter @Steve_Bohnel

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