The Columbia Oval (also known as the Williamsbridge Property) was a 17 acre piece of property located on both sides of Gun Hill Road east of Bainbridge Avenue in what is now the Norwood section of the Bronx (and once upon a time the Williamsbridge neighborhood). Columbia's one time presence in the neighborhood is still indicated by the presence of "King's College Place" within the footprint of the property. The property had served at times as Columbia's athletics facility before the adoption of South Field as an athletic field, and was sold after acquisition of the land that would become the Baker Athletic Complex in the Inwood neighborhood at the northern tip of Manhattan.
History of the site
The Williamsbridge property was originally acquired by the Association of the Alumni of Columbia College after it was determined that the Wheelock property was unsuitable for athletics use. The Association planned on using income from the property to pay the mortgage and interest on bonds purchased by alumni, but the income never met expenses. After a few years of getting the trustees to cover the costs, the Association deeded over to the University in October 1896. It's not clear when precisely the Alumni Association originally acquired the property, but the property appears to have opened for athletic use in the fall of 1891. According to a report by the "Director of the Gymnasium," in 1902 the Oval was in use by the track, lacrosse, and class baseball teams. A number of outside organizations also leased the grounds, including a "Columbia Oval Cricket Club," a number of local private schools, and the firm baseball team of Columbia campus architects McKim, Mead, and White.
Problems with the site and its conditions
Students and alumni generally supported improvements to the oval, though they were rarely carried out. Strangely, one of the reasons they expressed so much interest in the construction of bleachers and other amenities was so that they could lure the Princeton-Yale football game. Opprobrium came from the outside world as well; among the issues complained of was the lack of adequate separation between the running track and the spectator area, causing The Illustrated American to emote that "there is nothing to hinder the entire audience from roaming all over the field if they are so disposed...This is a difficulty that should be remedied before any more games are held on Columbia Oval."
Its condition notwithstanding, it was considered too far from the university (the trip was called "devious" and said to require "three changes of cars") to serve as an appropriate facility, and, along with South Field being too crowded, forced the university to lease Manhattan Field (the former Polo Grounds).
Hospital use, football proposal, and sale
The Oval was considered as an alternative site for the construction of a football stadium in place of the planned (but never built) Riverside Park Stadium. But once the land that Baker is located on was acquired by the University, the Trustees ordered the sale of the Oval property, which was subdivided and sold off.
The Williamsbridge Oval, a New York City public park with recreation facilities located immediately to the south of where the Columbia Oval was located, is completely unrelated. The Williamsbridge Oval had previously been a reservoir. When it was drained in the 1930s, it was eventually converted into a park.
- 1921 Map of the area The location of the Oval was the upper left; the unfilled-in streets were being planned at that time. Columbia also owned some property on the side of Gun Hill Rd. closer to the Williamsbridge Reservoir, which it sold along with the Oval properties.
- Columbia Alumni News, 1921
- As Maps and Memories Fade, So Do Some Bronx Boundary Lines, New York Times, 16 September 2006
- Google Maps - King's College Place, Bronx, NY
- "COLUMBIA MAY PLAY FOOTBALL IN BRONX; Old Columbia Oval at Williamsbridge Available for an Athletic Field.", New York Times, July 2, 1915, Page 9
- Columbia University Quarterly, Vol. 7, pgs. 293-294, June 1905; Charters, Acts of the Legislature, Official Documents and Records, Pg. 72, compiled by John B. Pine (1920).
- "Thirty-ninth field meeting ...: and formal opening of the Columbia Oval, Williamsbridge, Friday, October 23d, 1891"
- At Percy Field, Cornell Daily Sun, 26 May 1891
- Annual Report of President and Treasurer, 1902
- Columbia Spectator, November 9, 1894
- Illustrated American, 1897
- Columbia University Quarterly, 1900
- "COLUMBIA'S WAR HOSPITAL." New York Time, April 16, 1917, Page 12
- "$700,000 REQUIRED FOR WAR HOSPITAL; Columbia's 500-Bed Unit Can Be Ready in 90 Days if Public Responds. TO TRAIN FIELD STAFFS Institution to Prepare Medical and Surgical Corps for Military Work;-A Vital Need." New York Times, April 16, 1917, Page 13
- "History of the U.S.A. General Hospital No. 1 (Columbia War Hospital), Gunhill Road and Bainbridge Avenue, New York City, prepared for the Surgeon General by Joseph C. Yaskin.../History of Columbia War Hospital and Data from July 1st, 1919 by William P. Herrick...Historian from September 3rd, 1919"
- World War I Soldiers Called Norwood Home, Norwood News, Vol. 15 No. 14, July 18-31, 2002
- Valentine's Manual of the City of New York, 1917-1918, New Series No. 2, pg. 173
- "OFFERS NEW STADIUM PLAN.; M.L. Cornell Suggests Williamsbridge as Site of Columbia Field.", New York Times, April 6, 1921, Section: Sports, Page 24]
- "COLUMBIA OVAL SOLD FOR $351,950; Former Athletic Field, Divided into 225 Lots, Sold at Auction. $1,564 AVERAGE PER PLOT Corner of Gun Hill Road and Bainbridge Avenue Brought$8,000." New York Times, October 27, 1922, Section: Real Estate, Business Properties, Page 35
- Pamela Cooper, The American Marathon, 1999
- New York City Department of Parks & Recreation - Williamsbridge OvalWilliamsbridge Oval Playground Historical Sign