Week II: Robert Moses, Eminent Domain, and the Ancestor of the Brooklyn Nets
“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed.” – Albert Einstein
“While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” – Eugene Debs
“For me, I always try and deliver. Regardless of the situation, I always try and play hard every time I step out on the court. If I don’t deliver and play well, then I know I haven’t been working hard enough.” – Benjamin David Simmons
“Humans have a tale of blind men feeling an elephant. Each touches a different part. The one who touches a trunk says an elephant is like a snake, the next touches a leg and says it’s like a tree trunk, and so on. They’re all right and all wrong. Religion is blind men touching God. Imagination in its purest form.” – Nightmare in Marvel’s Symbiote Spider-Man: Alien Reality #5
Preface: In order to understand the history of the topic being written about in this post, one must first come to understand the nature of the things being described. Although their origins are ultimately lost to antiquity, what can be understood about them is this:
Generally speaking, most myths state that the subject of the thing you are currently reading began some time ago. This birth would result in a migration of the thing that resulted from the previous sentence. Later, the idea would be claimed ownership over by others. It would later gain more independence and become its own separate thing.
Unfortunately, how much is truth and how much is myth is unknown due to the antiquity of these tales, the uncertainty as to the origins of the thing above, and the constant cycle of life and death literally rewriting the lives and memories of those involved. What can be confirmed is that the thing above happened at some point in the past. It would come to have effects.
Similarly, all dates referenced here are approximations. Humans have adjusted and re-adjusted their clocks so much throughout history that a precise measurement of time would be nearly impossible, but all dates will be roughly approximated from the time of Christ’s birth. Also, under Einstein’s special theory of relativity, time is relative based on the perspective of the viewer, and time can be diluted based on the speed closest to light. One could reasonably assume that because of an increase in high speed travel, time in the present is worth less than time before due to time dilution. Readers should assume that listed dates have a variation of about ±4 years, possibly more.
Preface ends here.
It’s game night at Barclay’s Center: Brooklyn Nets versus Charlotte Hornets. As the game ends, the jumbotron shows Nets win 102 – 86. The Brooklyn Nets are truly the spirit of Brooklyn. They’re a team for Brooklyn to call their own.
But what not every fan knows is that just south of the block was the proposed Dodger Dome for the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team. The Brooklyn Dodgers were a beloved baseball team based in Brooklyn, New York, and even won a World Series in 1955, defeating their long-time rivals, the New York Yankees. However, in 1958, owner Walter O’Malley decided to move the team to LA, to the dismay of many loyal fans. According to legend, “If you asked a Brooklyn Dodger fan, if you had a gun with only two bullets in it and were in a room with Hitler, Stalin and O’Malley, who would you shoot? The answer: O’Malley, twice!”
In the 1950s, Walter O’Malley, the owner of the beloved Brooklyn Dodgers Major League Baseball team, wanted to move the team to a better stadium on an intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues in Brooklyn. He asked Robert Moses, New York’s housing czar at the time, to give the land under a provision of the Federal Housing Act of 1949, which would allow O’Malley to take the land. Moses responded, “I don’t think that a privately owned ballpark fulfills a public purpose at all, and I’m not going to use Title I to get you this land. If you want the land, buy it like everybody else would.” He was also concerned about traffic jams that the new stadium could cause and suggested O’Malley move the new stadium to Flushing Meadows in Queens. O’Malley saw it as impossible because the team was named the Brooklyn Dodgers and later controversially moved them to Los Angeles, California, where there would be much more land. However, the story gets more complicated in 2003 when the New Jersey Nets of the National Basketball Association moved to Brooklyn and their new arena, the Barclays Center, ironically located near the same spot where the proposed Dodgers stadium would be. Despite concerns over the use of the eminent domain, environmental concerns by activist groups, and the destruction of over 26 buildings in that area, the arena was still built.
So in this story, eminent domain was used despite the same concerns presented in 2003. Over 50 years of differences, the same piece of land was eventually used to build a sports stadium, despite the destruction of neighborhoods and skyscrapers in the area. This story shows that there is never a clear answer to the use of the eminent domain. When does the public good overcome the rights of private citizens? How can governments overcome and come back from this?
Despite the end of the Brooklyn Dodgers, their legacy can still be seen in New York to this day. When the New York Mets were founded, their logo used parts of the Dodger’s iconic Dodger Blue. The Mets would ironically end up playing in Shea Stadium, located where Robert Moses had proposed the Dodgers move to. When the Mets moved to Citi Field, their new arena would eerily look similar to the Ebbets Field the Dodgers played in. Later, when the Nets moved to Barclay’s Center, they would hang a flag showing the old Dodger’s plaque alongside the flagpole. To this day, Dodger Blue remains a color used for designing web pages.
While Brooklyn residents may no longer have the baseball team to cheer for, they still have another major sports team in the Brooklyn Nets. Although the Nets may not play the same sport as the Dodgers, hopefully, they can show the same grit and Brooklyn spirit that made the Dodgers so lovable in the beginning.
And while the team that plays where O’Malley originally wanted his stadium isn’t the sport he dedicated his life and legacy towards, maybe he can still feel something knowing that he ultimately got what he wanted.
Eendraght Maeckt Maght
The author would like to thank each of the various authors of the sources used in the bibliography for their work. All of these sources combined helped formulate the story being told.
The author would also like to thank the Internet Archive group for helping providing free access to Jesus Remembered: Christianity in the Making, Volume 1. The book was interesting in its approximation of Christ’s birth as around 6 to 4 BC, furthering giving evidence to the section in the preface of times having a variation of about ±4 years. The author does not condone the actions of the Internet Archive group.
The author has surely forgotten someone. If that person is you, then they sincerely apologize.
- Calder, Rich. “Ebbets Field Flagpole Back in Use Outside Barclays Center.” New York Post, New York Post, 12 Dec. 2012, https://nypost.com/2012/12/12/ebbets-field-flagpole-back-in-use-outside-barclays-center/.
- Colon, David. “Why Robert Moses Is to Blame for Losing the Brooklyn Dodgers to L.A.” Gothamist, 2 June 2017, https://gothamist.com/arts-entertainment/why-robert-moses-is-to-blame-for-losing-the-brooklyn-dodgers-to-la.
- Dunn, James D. G. “Jesus Remembered (Christianity in the Making, Vol. 1) : James D. G. Dunn : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming.” Internet Archive, Eerdmans, 1 Jan. 1970, https://archive.org/details/jesusrememberedc00jame.
- Haber, Jason. “Ebbets Field Opened in 1913. 108 Years Ago Today.” Medium, Medium, 9 Apr. 2021, https://jasonhaber.medium.com/ebbets-field-opened-in-1913-108-years-ago-today-3040579410a6.
- Hinckley, David. “The Story behind the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Move to Los Angeles.” New York Daily News, 12 Jan. 2019, https://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/story-behind-brooklyn-dodgers-move-los-angeles-article-1.805022.
- “HTML Color Codes and Names.” Computer Hope, 31 Jan. 2023, https://www.computerhope.com/htmcolor.htm.
- “Los Angeles Dodgers.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 14 Mar. 2023, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Los-Angeles-Dodgers.
- “Mets Franchise Timeline: 1960s: New York Mets.” MLB.com, https://www.mlb.com/mets/history/timeline-1960s.
- Roberts, Tom, and Siegmar Schleif. “What Is the Experimental Basis of Special Relativity?” Experimental Basis of Special Relativity, 2007, http://www.edu-observatory.org/physics-faq/Relativity/SR/experiments.html.
- “The Fall of the Atlantic Yards Megaplan — New York Magazine – Nymag.” New York Magazine, 11 Apr. 2019, https://nymag.com/news/intelligencer/topic/55684/.
- Haber, Jason. “Ebbets Field Opened in 1913. 108 Years Ago Today.” Medium, Medium, 9 Apr. 2021, https://jasonhaber.medium.com/ebbets-field-opened-in-1913-108-years-ago-today-3040579410a6.
3 Replies to “Week II: Robert Moses, Eminent Domain, and the Ancestor of the Brooklyn Nets”
Your week seems to be fun and interesting. I enjoyed learning more about the history behind New York sport teams. In particular the influence that Robert Moses had in New York, even though he had no political or government position, was fascinating. Could you talk more about his history and how he became so influential. I also wondered the reasons that the arena was built in 2003, even though there were more reasons against it being built, such as environmentalism and community destruction. Is this caused by the popularity of the sports team or more government support?. What do you believe were the groups that had the largest impact on the outcome of the stadium being built (or not built) in the 1950s and 2000s? I was wondering whether there was an actual benefit to Brooklyn’s economy and culture, after this stadium was built. In addition, this story was a great example about the role of the government and eminent domain. In particular, eminent domain is portrayed as a selective tool by the government to build infrastructure. However, I was confused about what made one stadium seem like a private infrastructure project and another a public infrastructure project. Do you believe there is a criteria for when eminent domain should be used. I was also wondering about how your independent research and internship differed? (Side comment: I loved your quote from Nightmare, because he is a great super villain and for the depth of the quote. I thought the quote was really enlightening and engaging due to the metaphor’s rich details and lesson about how this story (and other stories) can not be completely accurate.)
Hey, Sudeep. Thanks for commenting on my blog again.I’m going to try to answer your questions in order.
Regarding Robert Moses, I’ll probably one day write a full blog on his entire story, but for a quick overview, Robert Moses had minor power in the New York state government. He was never officially elected to anything, but he was friends with many of the people inside the government and held informal positions. Moses rose to power in the early 1900s by being friends with the rising governor. When FDR was first inaugurated, Moses was able to get public funds sent to New York. He later gained more power due to the rise of the automobile in this time. When automobiles first came onto the scene, they were mainly used as luxury items by the wealthy, who would sometimes own private racetracks. According to one hilarious story, Moses forced these elites to sell their roads to him for low prices by intentionally buying all the land around their area and causing so much unnecessary traffic around them, disturbing their peace until they caved into his demands.
The arena was still built in 2003 due to the change in ownership between the 1950s and 2003. I doubt Moses really cared about the environmental concerns over the arena. Robert O’Malley, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, wasn’t particularly wealthy and was concerned about the team’s profitability. As such, O’Malley wanted the New York government to sell him the land for incredibly cheap, so O’Malley could still drive a profit from the team.
I didn’t mention this on the blog. Looking back, I probably should have, but the Brooklyn Dodgers, despite being one of the most popular teams in the MLB, had been seeing declining attendance for several years and an aging and outdated arena. The team went from the highest attendance in the MLB at the beginning to not even in the top three. Another team I didn’t mention, the New York Giants, also faced severe profit issues. The Dodgers would later move to LA and become the LA Dodgers, while the Giants moved to San Franciso, continuing the iconic Dodgers-Giants rivalry.
Apparently, part of the reason for the decreasing profitability and attendance was due to the higher crime rate in Brooklyn because of Moses’s policies that were forcing low-income and minorities out of the Bronx and ruining Coney Island, Brooklyn’s most famous tourist attraction. Coney Island had also seen a dramatic dip in attendance at this time. Moses apparently planned to turn much of Coney Island into a residential area, to the dismay of many. Fortunately, this never happened.
Brooklyn would face economic decline for several decades before a renaissance in the 1990s and first decades of the 21st century. Part of this was due to it’s “hipster culture” and other stuff. Coney Island saw a massive decline in the 70s and 80s but saw a revitalization with the opening of Maimonides Park in 2001 and several amusement rides in the 2010s.
Of course, Robert Moses would never agree to sell valuable government land in Brooklyn to O’Malley for so cheap. Moses even offered an alternative in Queens, but O’Malley wouldn’t budge. But in 2003, the new ownership group that bought the New Jersey Nets were much more wealthy. The team was purchased by real estate developer Bruce Ratne, with a minority hold by Jay-Z. The team would later be sold, and the arena would be finished by Mikhail Prokhorov – Russia’s richest man and worth over $11.5 billion USD. O’Malley’s arena would have been partly paid off by the government, which O’Malley wanted to sell him the land for cheap. On the other hand, the new Barclays Center is only owned by the New York government under trust but is entirely leased by Brooklyn Event Center LLC, a private company.
There’s some debate between historians over who was to blame for the loss of the Dodgers to LA. Some believe that Moses was being entirely unreasonable. Others believe that O’Malley knew that Moses would never agree to selling him government land for next to nothing and was just intentionally making unrealistic demands, having planned to move to LA long before.
In the end, popularity just comes down to money. If the government doesn’t have to spend money other than tearing down residential buildings, they’re more than fine with doing that.
For the part about the benefit of the sports teams to Brooklyn’s economy, I guess my answer would be … maybe? There’s a whole article about how the team was just built not for basketball fans but just for real estate development in New York, but I’m not going to read all of it. If you want to, here’s a link: https://grantland.com/features/the-nets-nba-economics/
Overall, there’s evidence to suggest from general studies that hosting sports teams do help individual cities’ economies.
The other reason why the New York City government was more willing to let the Brooklyn Nets get their stadium compared to the Brooklyn Dodgers was because their was an incentive for a professional sports team in Brooklyn again. The five boroughs of New York City are all very different from each other, and after the Dodgers left, they’re hadn’t been another major sports team in the borough. Every other borough other than Saten Island has a major sports team. The Bronx obviously have the New York Yankees of the MLB. Queens has the New York Mets. Manhattan has the New York Knicks of the NBA and the New York Rangers of the NHL. Brooklyn, despite being New York’s most populated and second-wealthiest borough didn’t have a major sports team in decades. As such, the New York City government wanted a team in Brooklyn.
As, I described before, the difference between whether it would be a private or public project was based on the wealth of the people involved. The Brooklyn Nets owners were much more wealthy and willing to take on the entire cost of the arena. However, Robert O’Malley of the Brooklyn Dodgers ran a team that was progressively seeing its revenue decrease every year and was not as wealth. As such, he wanted the arena to be partly paid by government taxes. The Brooklyn Nets owners also wanted the move the team to an area that had been recently receiving new economic growth. It’s no coincidence that the Nets only moved to Brooklyn after Brooklyn’s renaissance in the 1990s and 2000s. On the other hand, O’Malley saw a team in an area that was getting worse and worse by year with more and more crime and less and less tourism.
If you want my opinion, I think that eminent domain should only be used on projects that are for public good solely. I don’t think sports arena really count for that because they often times cause more harm to the communities around them. It’s actually a common trend for sports arenas to destroy local communities. When Capitol One Arena was built in D.C, there was concern over how it would affect the Chinatown there. Despite concerns, the arena was built. And yet the concerns were proven correct, as D.C’s Chinatown notably lacks behind the Chinatowns of other major cities, and some sections of their town have been reported to be missing or desolate.
But in the end, the whole purpose of this story, and by extension this blog, is to show that eminent domain never has a clear answer. For something that can affect the lives of millions of people and change entire communities for decades, it often times goes by the decisions of a single individual. A single individual can change the course of history when it comes to something as important as eminent domain. For something so powerful, I found it strange that there’s so little rules on it.
And of course, it’s always about the money involved. The government is more than willing to use eminent domain as long, as they don’t have to pay for it themselves.
If you actually read this far, thank you so much.
The quotes you provided are very wise, inspiring, and multi-faceted. Your preface was also very informative. You raise important points about the complexities of emminent-doomain law, and I appreciate how you cited your sources. I am still unclear as to what your project actually is, but look forward to reading about that in your future blogs.