Stamford High School's Boyle Stadium is set to get a face lift for its 70th birthday

Stamford High School's Boyle Stadium is set to get a face lift for its 70th birthday
By Jeff Morganteen, Special Correspondent, Stamford Advocate, 9/11/2007
STAMFORD - Seventy years after its construction, Michael A. Boyle Stadium is getting a state-funded makeover.

Gerry Katz, the city grants coordinator, said last week that the state Commission on Culture and Tourism has awarded Stamford a $200,000 grant to restore the stadium's stonework, an amount that the city will match. Masonry repair and restoration work are expected to begin next spring.

The stadium, which turns 70 next year, became eligible for the state grants after it was named to the State Register of Historic Places last October because of its unique architecture and Depression-era history.

Lou Casalo, the city's chief engineer, said the matching grants will cover only the stonework restoration, which he estimates will cost $400,000. Unless more grant opportunities arise, Casalo said the city must put up $550,000 for the "rehabilitation" phase, during which the stadium facilities will be made handicap-accessible.

Bob Bromfield, a 1945 alumnus of Stamford High, recalled watching the construction of Boyle Stadium during the Great Depression.

Now an 80-year-old Glenbrook resident, Bromfield was 10 when stadium construction began in 1935.

"The thing I remember most vividly was the masons, the stonecutters," he recalled. "There was a whole flock of them. They were like an army, and they were all Italian."

"They looked grubby with dirty clothes, and their hands were like sandpaper, but I always thought they were artists - real artists. Take a look the stone today. It looks as good, or better, 70 years later."

Bromfield's father, Llewellyn, was Stamford's town engineer during the 1930s, when Stamford had a town and city government. Llewellyn was instrumental in Boyle Stadium's construction. According to a football game program from 1942, the stadium "was conceived at the depth of the Depression, by" Llewellyn.

While Llewellyn organized the manpower and secured Works Progress Administration funding, an Italian-American architect gave the stadium its unique style.

Sister Rose Marie Vacca, now a 79-year-old in Baltic, recalled that as a child she was the first to see Stamford High School's Boyle Stadium.

In the early 1930s, her father, town architect Alphonse Vacca, took a break from working and showed his daughter the first sketches of a football stadium cut from stone.

By the 1930s, the Great Depression halted production in Stamford factories, which began laying off workers, said Ron Marcus, librarian at the Stamford Historical Society. Vacca closed his offices in downtown Stamford because the hard times stunted construction and there were no buildings to design.

Then came the WPA, a public works program under President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. Vacca was named Stamford's chief architect and began working on various civic projects such as bridges, roads and city buildings.

In 1935, initial construction began on the stadium. The stadium's east side was finished in 1937 and the rest in 1942, costing $400,000 - $85,000 of which came from taxpayers.

"It gave (the workers) a paycheck every week," said Rose Marie Vacca, a 1946 Stamford High graduate. "They had no work before, so it helped circulate money in the community."

She said her father was from a line of Italian masons and his heritage inspired the use of stone as well as the stadium's Greco-Roman style.

Marcus said the WPA projects not only helped skilled laborers, it helped others learn a trade.

"Boyle Stadium was absolutely a godsend for them," he said.

The Stamford High Alumni Association will hold a recognition ceremony during half-time of a 6 p.m. football game on Friday, Oct. 19, at Boyle Stadium for the 1971 state championship-winning Black Knights, the last Stamford High team to win a state title. The association will unveil a Wall of Honor containing the names of team members. All-stars from past state championship teams also will be added.

Among the honorees are NFL Hall of Fame defensive end Andy Robustelli and coach Jack Hagan, who led the Black Knights from 1960 to 1971.

Diane Sierpina, co-chairwoman of the Friends of Stamford High School group and a Stamford High alumna, said the association nominated Boyle Stadium as a historic site after it began compiling an updated alumni directory. The Wall of Honor and 70th anniversary ceremony will help the association track down graduates, she said.

At an association meeting in the stadium last week, alumni association member Marc Lyons noted that many graduates and current students don't know that the flags planted around the stadium's bleachers honor state championship teams.

"Hopefully then the stadium can reflect the long history that has been here," said Lyons, also the founder of the Stamford Youth Foundation. "Stamford football has won 20 state championships, and this stadium is one of the finest on the East Coast. This tradition can't be lost."

Lyons said he wants to instill a "Notre Dame effect," adding that Stamford High was once a perennial football powerhouse. Coach Michael Boyle, after whom the stadium is named, went on a 83-4 run from 1911 to 1920. In his career from 1907 to 1938, Boyle had a .809 winning percentage.

"Maybe it will jump-start our teams now," Lyons said.