Hallowed (Polo) Grounds
College Football Action at the Polo Grounds, 1927 (CREDIT: U.S. Naval Academy)
Most Columbia fans know the Lions have had only two true home fields in their football history. The first was South Field right on the Columbia campus and it probably didn't seat more than 2,500 fans or so.
Drawing of South Field, Aerial View Circa 1920
As college football became a national sensation, a number of options were weighed for a larger Lions Den, including a massive Neo-Classical stadium in Riverside Park.
Artist's rendering of the Riverside Park Stadium entrance
But in 1921, Wall Street whiz George Baker donated the land at the tip of Manhattan that would become Baker Field. The "temporary" wooden stands built there for the 1923 season would eventually grow to 32,000 and wouldn't be razed until 1983.
Baker Field, 1944
But Columbia would often call another part of upper Manhattan home in the years before and after Baker Field was built. It was the Polo Grounds, the famed baseball home of the New York baseball Giants, the New York Football Giants, (from 1922-57), the New York Mets in 1962 and 1963, and the New York Titans, later Jets, from 1960-63.
The Lions played about 35 games at the Polo Grounds from 1900-1936, mostly when the crowds were expected to be too large for South Field or Baker Field, (Baker Field had only about 15,000 seats in its first years). It's hard to confirm all the scores and dates of the games below... but I've done the best I could. I'm also not including the exhibition games and the contests between graduate school club teams.
The Polo Grounds/Manhattan Field, circa 1900
Games Played at Polo Grounds II (also known as "Manhattan Field" and even "Columbia Field" by some pundits in the old New York news media)
1883: Yale 93 Columbia 0 (glad I missed that one)
Games Played at Polo Grounds III
1901: Columbia 5 Williams 0; Columbia 12 Hamilton 0; Columbia 29 Haverford 6; Columbia 10 Penn 0; Columbia 18 Georgetown 0; Syracuse 11 Columbia 5; Cornell 24 Columbia 0*; Columbia 40 Carlisle 12
*The 1901 Columbia-Cornell game became infamous after one of the ticket-takers was reported missing along with about $1,000 which was almost all of the ticket receipts for the game. With well over 10,000 people at that game, one can only imagine how inexpensive the ticket prices were.
1902: Columbia 45 Fordham 0; Columbia 5 Buffalo 0; Columbia 12 Swarthmore 0; Columbia 35 Hamilton 0; Brown 28 Columbia 0; Columbia 6 Syracuse 6
1903: Columbia 10 Weslyan 0; Columbia 36 Union 0, Columbia 29 Hamilton 0; Columbia 5 Williams 0; Columbia 5 Swarthmore 0; Columbia 12 Amherst 0; Columbia 18 Penn 6; Yale 25 Columbia 0
The Polo Grounds III. It burned down in 1911
Games Played at Polo Grounds #4
1920: Penn 27 Columbia 7
1921: Cornell 41 Columbia 7
1922: Dartmouth 28 Columbia 7
1923: Cornell 35 Columbia 0; Dartmouth 31 Columbia 6
1924: Syracuse 9 Columbia 6
1925: Cornell 17 Columbia 14; Columbia 21 Army 7; Syracuse 16 Columbia 5
1926: Ohio State 26 Columbia 7; Columbia 17 Cornell 9; Syracuse 19 Columbia 2
1927: Columbia 14 Syracuse 7
1936: Columbia 7 Stanford 0
Overall W-L-T: 21-15-1
It looks like the Lions strayed from the Polo Grounds as soon as Baker Field became more established, but huge games like the Rose Bowl rematch with Stanford forced a return to larger confines in 1936. Also, Fordham made the Polo Grounds its alternate home in the 1920's and kept it that way for many years.
The Polo Grounds, circa 1955
Most game days I actually pass the site of the old Polo Grounds as I drive to Wien Stadium via the Harlem River Drive. The HRD runs past what was the outfield in the picture above from the 1950's. The route I take runs along Yankee Stadium as well, which is in the Bronx just across the river from the old Polo Grounds site. Old New York baseball fans tell me the walk from the Polo Grounds to Yankee Stadium used to take about 10-15 minutes over a footbridge that crossed the Harlem River.
Incidentally, I know of only one game Columbia played at Yankee Stadium, a 1936 contest with Army. The Cadets won 27-16, in a wild game that featured the sterling passing of Sid Luckman for the Lions. Army played a lot of home games at the "House that Ruth Built," as did NYU, so it's likely Columbia played a lot more games there, but I can't confirm that right now.
It's also worth noting that the Polo Grounds often served as the home fields for other Ivy teams like Cornell and even Dartmouth, but usually not more than once a year. Several early Princeton-Yale contests were played at the Polo Grounds II to accommodate the huge boisterous crowds at those games. But for some reason, the 1942 Yale-Princeton game was moved from the Polo Grounds to Baker Field (!), perhaps because the war reduced some interest in the game.
We can only imagine what it would have been like to watch Columbia football with crowds of 50,000-60,000 people in the 1920's. I think it was probably tremendous fun. On the other hand, from what I've read, the parking was still bad!