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#TBT: Montreal’s Autostade

Autostade postcard

It was pitched by city officials as the first home of the Montreal Expos, and it certainly was one of the most unique sporting facilities ever built. Welcome to the Autostade, a centerpiece of Expo 67.

In an era when World Fairs were at their peak (the Seattle 1962 World’s Fair gave us the Space Needle; the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair gave us Shea Stadium and the Unisphere, among other things), Expo 67 was planned to serve a loftier goal than just a commercial gathering: It was the establishment of Canada as a truly modern country, marking 100 years as a confederation.

Which may be a prime reason why Expo 67 featured a stadium design never tried before and never tried since. Comprising 19 precast sections construction from pre-stressed concrete beams and columns, the Autostade seated 25,000 and was designed as a modular sporting facility, the ultimate modern stadium. The 19 sections could be moved and rearranged to serve any purpose (albeit with some planning), and with the ability to be expanded with additional sections, the Autostade could be adjusted to seat upwards of 75,000. For Expo 67, the stadium was outfitted with a press box, offices, a luxury box, and a concourse featuring concession stands and restrooms. Sponsored by the major five Canadian auto firms (American Motors, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors and Volvo), Automotive Stadium opened in 1966 and cost C$3.3 million (around C$23 million today when adjusted for inflation).

It was a success: over 2 million tickets were sold to Expo-related Spectaculars at the Autostade, with the six main events ranging from the Ringling Bros., Barnum and Bailey Circus to the Great Western Rodeo to Flying Colors, a show featuring crooner Maurice Chevalier. Overall, 50 million visitors graced the Expo grounds over 185 days.

When Mayor Jean Drapeau sent Gerry Snyder to the 1967 Winter Meetings in Mexico City to pitch the National League expansion committee on the charms of Montreal, the Autostade was pitched as a temporary home for Major League Baseball. Despite being designed as being modular, Drapeau didn’t argue for reconfiguring the oval for baseball: the city prepared a baseball mockup showing foul poles 250 feet down each line.

Montreal ended up snaring that expansion franchise in an announcement made at Chicago’s Excelsior Hotel on May 27, 1968. In the end, using the Autostade for baseball wasn’t deemed to be cost effective, so an alternate plan of expanding an amateur baseball facility at Jarry Park was implemented at the last minute for the 1969 season.

After the Expo, the Autostade continued hosting major events, including a rock festival featuring The Who in 1968 and a big Pink Floyd concert in 1975. It served as home to the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes through 1976, when Olympic Stadium opened, and hosted the 1969 Grey Cup championship. The Autostade never was regarded as a charming facility, and by the time Olympic Stadium came along, it was already regarded as a relic of the past. Though it was designed to be reconfigurable as a modular installation, that never actually happened, and the Autostade was torn down — though sections of seating ended up being reused in Montreal parks.

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