MLB.com Columnist

Lindsay Berra

Renovated steps commemorate Polo Grounds

Officials from Yankees, Mets, Giants attend ceremony to honor NY's baseball history

Renovated steps commemorate Polo Grounds

NEW YORK -- On Thursday afternoon, the 102nd anniversary of the building of the John T. Brush Stairway, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation cut the ribbon on the newly renovated set of 80 steps running through Highbridge Park in Harlem, connecting Edgecombe Avenue to Harlem River Drive. For 50 years, from the opening of the stairway in 1913 to the demolition of the Polo Grounds in 1964, the stairs carried millions of sports fans from the top of the famous Coogan's Bluff to the ticket booths behind home plate.

NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver officiated a ceremony that included remarks from San Francisco Giants executive vice president Staci Slaughter, New York Yankees chief operating officer Lonn Trost, former Mets and Yankees player Lee Mazzilli, New York City Assemblyman Herman D. Farrell Jr. and New York City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez.

"I'm so thrilled this has finally come to fruition," said Slaughter. "We are still so deeply connected to New York and deeply honored to be a part of this. This is a perfect example of good things happening if you wait a little while. I thank you all for your patience and your perseverance. This is an incredible addition to the community and a fitting tribute to the rich history of the Giants and the entire baseball family and what this area meant to baseball in its early beginnings."

For nearly half a century following the demolition of the Polo Grounds, the stairway ran to and from the high-rise housing project that sits on the former site of the stadium. But by the early 2000s, the stairwell had fallen into such a state of disrepair that it was closed, adorned by the Parks Department with signs that read, "Danger: No Trespassing."

A decade-long campaign, spearheaded by the New York Daily News, brought attention to the deteriorating landmark. Funds for reconstruction were allocated by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer (now New York City comptroller). Donations made by the Yankees, Mets, New York Jets, New York Giants and San Francisco Giants -- the five teams who called the Polo Grounds home -- totaled $500,000, and Major League Baseball contributed another $50,000. The $1.4 million renovation was completed in the spring of 2013, the stairway's 100th anniversary, and had a soft opening. On Thursday, though, the opening became official.

"Growing up in this city, I know what the Polo Grounds and Coogan's Bluff stood for," Mazzilli said. "We know how iconic Yankee Stadium is, but before Yankee Stadium was the Polo Grounds. It was a part of baseball history, but people forget it was also a part of American history. This is hallowed ground."

John T. Brush, the stairway's namesake, was the owner of the New York Giants from 1890 until his death in 1912. The steel and concrete stairway was commissioned by Brush's son-in-law, Harry Hempstead, and gifted to the city of New York on July 9, 1913, shortly after Brush's death.

About halfway up the stairway, there is a landing, before the steps turn left to the top of the hill. Steel letters in the concrete read, "The John T. Brush Stairway. Presented by the New York Giants."

The original steel lettering remained intact for the past century, but corners of the landing had broken away. Now the landing has been restored to its original form.

Assemblyman Farrell, who lived at the top of Coogan's Bluff on 157th Street, recalled playing in caves in the rock near the stairway, and the first game he saw at the Polo Grounds, which pitted the Giants against Cincinnati. "The stadium was beautiful," he said. "The green grass, the red and blue on the uniforms. I didn't know a baseball game could be so pretty. It's nice to see this redone and rebuilt."

Members of the New York Giants Youth Baseball Club, which is dedicated to promoting baseball to inner-city youth on Manhattan's Lower East Side, were also present for the dedication, along with Gary Mintz, president of the New York Giants Preservation Society.

"There is a plaque that indicates where the approximate location of home plate was," Mintz said. "Other than that, this stairway is the last piece of real evidence that the Polo Grounds existed."

And now, it will stand for years to come.

Lindsay Berra is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.