Fall Travel Ignites Conversations and Observations About Architecture

David Tritt travels to Vermont for a family wedding and reflects on architectural landmarks along with way.

I recently traveled to Bennington, Vermont, to attend a wedding for my dear niece and her partner. Along the way there were some interesting architectural discussions and observations with various family members and guests.  Taken in en route to Vermont was a connection through the Detroit Metro airport, one of the more striking airport terminals in the country (more on that later) and the wedding ceremony itself in the delicately detailed Congregation Beth El synagogue in Bennington.  Both buildings are a contrast in scale.

Meeting some of my in-laws for the first time brought up some interesting discussions and thoughts, particularly about Franklin Field in Philadelphia and its history.  It turns out that my brother-in-law(the father of the bride) has a nephew who is the associate editor of the Pennsylvania Gazette magazine, the alumni publication of the University of Pennsylvania.  He specializes in sport reporting and this fact triggered a mention of Franklin Field that I had written about in a previous blog. Franklin Field is the oldest continually used sports stadium in the U.S.  We discussed it further and I thought I might write something about its history.

There has been a lot written about Franklin Field (check out the Wikipedia page!), but I just want to summarize some high points. Before 1860 the stadium’s site was used as a potter’s field. To make the sports field, graves were relocated and the site, west of downtown Philadelphia, was graded.  The site was then informally used for sports up until 1895, when it was decided to create a formal track and field facility with appropriately scaled surrounding wooden bleachers.  The total cost at the time was $100,000 and it was the site of the first famous Penn Relays event which is still held today.  The facility was also the site of Franklin Field’s first football game that same year and Penn won 40-0over Swarthmore College.  Believe it or not, the University of Pennsylvania’s football team was the national collegiate champions that year, as well as in 1897, 1904, and 1908.  (Go Penn!)

This is the earliest photo that I could find of Franklin Field, taken in 1910, 5 years after the wooden bleachers were constructed.  
Architect: Frank Miles Day and his Brother.

Buildings A and B noted in the photo above still exist. Building B can be seen in later stadium photos that follow.  Building A is the 19th Century Fine Arts Building designed by the famous architect Frank Furness and was used by architect Louis Kahn for his teaching studio up until his death in 1974.

Below is a 1916 seating chart for the wooden bleachers shown above:

In 1922 the wooden bleachers were replaced by a concrete and brick lower deck that totaled 50,000 new seats.  The architects for the seating project were Day and Klauder. Photos of the concrete seating are below, with downtown Philadelphia in the background:

Left, the concrete stadium seating. Right, 1922 construction photo.

Shortly thereafter, in 1925, the second deck was added, increasing capacity to over 78,000 seats, which is its current capacity.  This version is shown below (courtesy of Penn Today):

In addition to the Penn Relays and Penn Football, the Philadelphia Eagles played their games at Franklin Field from 1958 to 1970. The field was also the site of the Monday Night Football broadcast where Howard Cosell had his famous meltdown and disappeared during the second half.  I will never will forget it.

Being a lifelong Cleveland Browns fan, I had to include a sideline shot of Jim Brown at Franklin Field back in 1960, below:

Again, Franklin Field is the oldest continuously functioning sports stadium in the United States.  However, from 2014 to 2021 an extensive upgrade was implemented, the result of which is seen in a series of photos below:

Franklin Field today.  (Photos from Penn Today)

The stadium story is a bit of a side conversation I had at the wedding. My trip though to Bennington was by way of Detroit Metro Airport. As I said above, the McNamara Terminal is magnificent in its simplicity and scale.  It is huge.  Concourse A is one mile long (and impossible to photograph given its linear configuration but I will include some photos anyway).  And, as luck would have it, my connection departure gate was at the opposite end from my arrival gate.  There is a tram (a red one, of course) that travels the length of Concourse A, but the tram is of no help if you come in at Concourse B or C, which I did (see below). I got connected in time, barely. Lost my phone with my boarding pass; found my phone with my boarding pass.  No time to take photos, but I have included are some public ones from the web.

Map of Concourse A, B, &C.  B and C are connected to Concourse A with an underground tunnel.

The architect for the McNamara Terminal was David King of the Detroit based SmithGroup and the facility opened in 2002. The linear configuration is a direct result of the piece of ground given to the architects in the center portion of the existing airport between 4 intersecting runways, and is often referred to as the Midfield Terminal. It is not a convenient location to area accommodations and/or transportation, hence the inclusion of an in-terminal Westin hotel.  The photos below give you an idea of the linear quality of the space, but they really do not do it justice:

Above, the underground tunnel connecting Concourses B & C to Concourse A. 

Anyway, I made my connection and had a wonderful time at my niece’s wedding at the Congregation Beth El in Bennington.  It was a beautiful New England day along with the backyard fire pit conversations and the turning of leaves.  

Below is a short excerpt from the synagogue’s website on the history of the Congregation Beth El building along with a contextual  neighborhood street shot.  Back in 2004 I sketched the front doors of the synagogue when I was there for my niece’s bat mitzvah and since it is the same sanctuary as her wedding I have included it here.

So that is how I spent my weekend.  A little architecture, a lot of family, new and old friends, and a wonderful wedding ceremony of two great young people.

Blog Post written by David Tritt, Senior Architect.

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