Talk about a little movie magic.
If you have time, drive down Third Street between O’Neal Street and Holtzclaw Avenue and take a look at the work being done on Engel Stadium. What you will notice immediately is that the entire wall of the stadium along Third is gone, and you can see heavy machinery digging up the infield.
The work is being done in preparation for a feature film about Jackie Robinson that will be filmed there in May and June. The movie will star Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers executive who made Robinson the first black player in major league baseball in 1947.
According to a couple of sources, the film’s producers plan to do reconstructive work on the stadium so that it can be made to resemble several old ballparks, including Ebbets Field, where the Dodgers played during Robinson’s career. They will use computer-generated effects to get some of the different looks.
While having a major motion picture shot here is good news on its own, fans of the historic stadium should be ecstatic for what this could mean for the future of the venerable landmark.
Janna Jahn, chairperson of the Engel Foundation, which was created last year to find new ways to preserve and use the field that has hosted players such as Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Michael Jordan and Bo Jackson, said the movie is a giant boost to their goal.
“Let’s put it this way, our goal is to have the stadium fully usable,” she said. “That was the plan before the movie came up. Right now it is not usable, but when they leave, it will be.”
The City Council discussed providing some funding to repair the roof and will vote next week on the proposal. Jahn said plans are also to fix the plumbing and the electrical wiring. It is not clear who will be funding what or how much all of this will cost.
The pragmatist in me, the part that has seen firsthand and read and heard the stories of what is needed there, says it will be very expensive, but seeing the work being done there this week does provide hope.
Jahn said her group will be conducting a study to discover future uses for the stadium. The obvious ones include hosting baseball games, concerts and even family movie nights.
“We want to look beyond that,” she said. “We want to make it financially sustainable, and that includes looking at tourism options.”
UTC still has the rights to the property but has turned over responsibility of it to the foundation, she said.
She also said the various groups involved in the stadium’s future are currently trying to figure out what to do with the Third Street wall. The foundation is working with local preservation agency Cornerstones and the state agency in Nashville on plans for its replacement.
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Speaking of movie roles, local folk artist Nancy Blake recently spent a week on location filming a part in a new Coen brothers movie called “Inside Llewyn Davis.”
According to her step-son Lee, the film required an older woman who could play the autoharp, and Nancy fit the bill. She filmed her part opposite Justin Timberlake.
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...