Time Runs Out For Historic Baseball Grandstand In Independence, Kansas

Thursday, July 16th 2015, 1:31 pm
By: Richard Clark

The battle to save what's left of one of the most historic stadiums in the world may be about to end.

Members of the community of Independence, Kansas have been trying to save the old Shulthis Stadium grandstand for three years. 

The grandstand was the site of the world's first night game of organized baseball, which was played on April 28, 1930.

"It's not just national significance, it's world significance," said Independence resident Mark Metcalf. 

Metcalf, 52, is an environmental coordinator for a cement plant who has become an expert on the history of Shulthis Stadium. Metcalf said baseball leagues around the world used Shulthis for inspiration in starting their own night games.

He says the conflict over the structure's future started when the school district announced a plan a few years ago to renovate the grandstand. He and a group of citizens working to get the grandstand added to the National Register of Historic Places objected because the plan included major changes to the structure which would have prevented its addition to that list.

The grandstand was added to Independence's Riverside Park in 1918 by A.W. Shulthis, president of Western States Portland Cement Company. It was donated to the city in 1937 and the city changed the name to Shulthis Stadium to honor him.

Metcalf says many baseball greats played there over the years, including Mickey Mantle and Satchel Paige, either for the home team or for the visitors.

In 1987 the city deeded 50% ownership to the school district, he said, with the requirement the school district would maintain it and not allow any damage to the grandstand.  

The problem is the structure's location and poor condition. No longer used for baseball, it sits on a corner of what the school district's football and soccer field and all-weather track. 

The school district wants to replace the grandstand with a new building that it says will look just like the old structure. On Monday, July 13, 2015, the school board voted to approve a plan to move forward. 

The timing is particularly galling for Metcalf, who says the district wants the grandstand gone before an August 8, 2015 meeting of the Kansas Historic Review Board, which is the next step in getting the stadium designated a national landmark. He faults the city for never capitalizing on the grandstand's history, saying there isn't a single sign anywhere in town alerting travelers to its presence. 

School Superintendent Rusty Arnold says the district wants to preserve the past while adding functionality. He hopes the community will join the effort to replace the facility with a modern structure the whole community can use. The district will seek input when it puts together detailed plans for the construction of the new building.

He said the district had an engineering study done in 2001 which showed the old grandstand was not sound, something he already knew from his time as a student teacher in the district in 1987. He said he worked security at the grandstand during football games back then, making extra money by making sure no one went near it. 

Faced with the choice of holding onto an unusable building that is structurally unsound or starting over with something new with modern conveniences, the district has made its decision and is moving forward. Arnold said the city gave the school district permission to do what it wanted with the property in May.

The district is waiting for permits to begin demolition of the structure but he's aware of the Historic Review Board's meeting scheduled for August 8. "I don't know that it'll be there at that time."