Kenan Stadium: What to Leave In, What to Leave Out

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In this world of smart phones and Twitter, of a 24-7 news cycle and mobile apps built around six-second videos, manna from heaven there still exists a market for printed communication that will bruise your toe if dropped at the wrong angle.

It’s one thing to read this website on a MacBook Pro.

It’s another to settle into a comfortable chair holding three pounds of hundred-weight matte paper tastefully arrayed with words and images that tell a story and embrace a genre. Something substantial, heavy, handsome, colorful, deep.

“Books are a uniquely portable magic,” the author Stephen King has observed.

“Books had instant replay long before televised sports,” the British philosopher Bernard Williams once aptly noted.

In that regard, a very special brand of instant replay on Kenan Stadium and Tar Heel football is well into production.Action

Football In A Forest—The Life and Times of Kenan Memorial Stadium will be published by the beginning of the 2016 football season. The book will be 224 pages, oversized, half text and half images and memorabilia. I’ve enlisted the talents of a handful of writers with varying perspectives on venue’s ambiance and the competitive appeal of Carolina football. My image reservoir runs from a series of never-before-seen photos captured from a drone circling Kenan on an idyllic fall dusk to the sepia-toned catacombs of the Wilson Library on the Chapel Hill campus (a building designed by the same architect, incidentally, as Kenan Stadium).

A few snippets of trivia offered as appetizers to the substantial meal to come in a few months:

* As soon as Kenan Stadium opened in 1927, officials from the universities of Georgia and Alabama traveled to Chapel Hill to tour the facility, and soon each hired Atwood and Nash, the Chapel Hill-based architectural and engineering firm for the structure, to design what would become Sanford and Denny Stadiums, respectively.

* There has never been a written or implied directive that no part of the stadium’s structure rise above the level of the pine trees surrounding the venue. Athletic Director John Swofford asked that question specifically of Frank H. Kenan in the 1980s when Swofford knew that Carolina needed to raze an embarrassing inadequate press box and install permanent lights to accommodate an expanding calendar of television kick-offs. “Frank said it was a ‘myth,’” Swofford says. “That’s the exact word he used. It was a good guideline, certainly, but there was no basis in fact.”

* Bruce Springsteen queried a local music writer for anecdotal material prior to his 2003 concert in Kenan Stadium and thus knew enough to make a reference to the Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield. James Taylor performed in Kenan in 1970 at a springtime festival called Jubilee, but there was so much broken glass on the field afterward that AD Homer Rice and Coach Bill Dooley decreed no more Julibee in Kenan. And can you believe that U2 was a preliminary act and Todd Rungren the headliner for a concert held on a rainy Saturday in April 1983?

* The original wooden seats were made of Douglas fir and imported from Washington State and painted to harmonize with the concrete of the seating bowls. In time they became ragged and splintered and were removed and stored in a Durham lumber warehouse, where a man reclaimed them and bought them to use in a house he was building in Pawley’s Island, S.C. The house remains today and is known as the Kitchen Creek House.

Flags* Durham construction contractor Nello Teer had the task in 1927 of clearing the wooded banks leading to a stream running through the middle of the construction site. The clearing went smoothly on the south side (nearest the UNC Hospitals complex today), but Teer ran into substantial rock issues on the north side. “The dynamiting goes on, day after day, on the site of the Kenan Stadium,” the Chapel Hill Weekly noted in April 1927. “The noise of the heavy blasting resounds through the village and, on around campus, windows and doors rattle from the shock.”

The stories go on and on, the images flicker at warp speed. The challenge in capturing nearly a century of life for a person, place or thing is boiling it down and wresting with, as the singer Bob Seger once wondered, “What to leave in, what to leave out.” Fortunately where Kenan Stadium is concerned, there’s a wealth of material that in the end might just weigh a ton and blow to smithereens anything you’ve read in cyberspace.

When not operating in his favorite venue of the coffee-table book, Chapel Hill writer Lee Pace is active on Goheels.com covering Tar Heel football and Tweeting at @LeePaceTweet. His book on Kenan Stadium will be available this fall. Contact him at leepace7@gmail.com.