A Glimpse at Breese Stevens Field

The Isthmus is blessed with many landmarks - one of the most under appreciated being Breese Stevens Field, named in honor of the one-time Madison mayor and UW regent. "Breese", as it is often called, has hosted a variety of events since its formal dedication on May 5, 1926. On that Wednesday afternoon Governor John J. Blaine threw the first pitch to Madison Mayor A. G. Schmedeman before an overflow crowd of nearly 4000 fans. The Madison Blues went on to lose a 7-5 heartbreaker to their Wisconsin Midwest Baseball League foe, the Beloit Fairies.

Imagine the raucous atmosphere when city rivals East High and Wisconsin High opened the gridiron campaign on September 25, 1926. The home field was no friend to the purple and gold of East, as they dropped a 7-6 decision to Wisconsin High for their first loss ever against the blue and white.

Over the years, Breese has hosted softball, circuses, midget car racing, ice skating, track and field, the Madison Drum and Bugle Corp competitions, concerts, even boxing and wrestling events. Legend has it that the bent iron pickets (still evident to this day) on Gate 1 at the southwest corner of the stadium were realigned by a "strongman".

The City of Madison acquired the four-acre parcel of land from Mrs. Breese Stevens in 1923. The noted firm of Claude and Starck designed the Mediterranean Revival styled structure. Louis Claude drew the plans in 1925 and soon the $125,000 municipal project was a reality. Presidential policy had its impact on Breese as well. In the early 1930's Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal created jobs for the unemployed, one program being the Civil Works Administration. The result was a handsome sandstone (from rock quarried near Hoyt Park) wall erected in 1934, enclosing the stadium. The CWA emblem is prominently displayed on the south wall along East Washington Avenue near North Paterson Street.

By the late 1960's Breese was beginning to show its age. Modern facilities, such as Mansfield Stadium, with plenty of parking began to appear in suburbia. Consequently, Breese seemed to lose its status as the city's preeminent municipal stadium as the number of major events held there began to decline. Later, there was even talk of demolition and possible redevelopment of the property. What a tragedy that would have been!

Fortunately, a wise decision was made to refurbish the facility, remove the cinder track and dirt infield and prepare the grounds for the burgeoning sport of soccer. By the mid-1970's, all four city high schools were playing varsity soccer and the need for quality fields was pressing. In 1982 when Breese was ready for soccer, soccer was ready for Breese. So much so that in those first few years, nearly a hundred games were played there each season! In the years since, teams that have at times called Breese home include the University of Wisconsin, East and LaFollette high schools, Edgewood College, MATC and the Madison 56ers. The popularity of soccer has continued to grow and with it has Breese Stevens Field's role in hosting major events. In 1989 the WIAA state high school championship moved to Breese and has been there ever since. In June 1999 the Madison West Girls team defeated their nemesis, Wauwatosa East, 4-2 to win the state title before a crowd of over 1300 fans.

So the next time your in the neighborhood, take a stroll around Breese Stevens Field and recapture some Madison history, or better yet, when you see the lights on, come on in and experience history in the making!

Note: The author is interested in compiling anecdotes, articles and photos of events pertaining to Breese Stevens Field for the purpose of writing a more comprehensive piece in the future. Please contact Eric Bertun at 251-3671 or bertun@itis.com.

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