published Friday, March 16th, 2012

Movie studio begins work on Engel Stadium in Chattanooga

Crews work Wednesday to transform Engel Stadium in preparation for filming a movie about Jackie Robinson that will be made in Chattanooga in the coming months.
Crews work Wednesday to transform Engel Stadium in preparation for filming a movie about Jackie Robinson that will be made in Chattanooga in the coming months.
Photo by John Rawlston.

Jackie Robinson’s Games in Chattanooga


• Oct. 17, 1951 — Robinson joined four other Major League Baseball players on a black all-star team against the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League

• April 6, 1952 — Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers lost to the Boston Braves, 1-0, with 9,098 fans attending

• April 4, 1953 — Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers lost to the Milwaukee Braves, 9-8, with 6,125 fans attending

Source: The Chattanooga Times archives

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A hard throw from centerfield took a “wicked second bounce” past Brooklyn Dodger third baseman Jackie Robinson and into a dugout that’s no longer in historic Engel Stadium.

Robinson’s error on April 4, 1953, allowed the deciding run in the Milwaukee Braves 9-8 win, archives show. More than 6,000 people attended the game, one of at least three Robinson played in Chattanooga.

Engel Stadium has changed dramatically since Robinson stepped to the plate there, weathering years without a minor league home team, welcoming back the Lookouts, watching them leave again, and becoming a site many want to save but no one seems to have the money or answer for how to do it.

Some locals are hoping the same man who made an error that cost the 1953 game may be the person who helps restore Engel to former glory.

On March 9, a state office approved up to $650,442 in grant money to reimburse a film company for money it spends in-state on the Robinson film, titled “42” according to Variety magazine. The film will star Harrison Ford, and newcomer Chadwick Boseman has been cast as Jackie Robinson, trade publications report. The Chattanooga City Council approved $25,000 to help pay for repairs and renovations on Engel Stadium.

Much of what might happen at Engel has been veiled to protect Legendary Pictures, the entertainment company that said it could spend as much as $9 million in Chattanooga while the movie’s being filmed. Missy Crutchfield, the city’s administrator of Education, Arts and Culture, said the film company will release more information soon. But she said $3 million to $5 million is a more realistic expectation for the local economic impact.

Engel could be used as a set or designed to stand in for more than one ballpark in the film, Crutchfield said.

“It could be multiple personalities,” she said. “It could be multiple locations.”

And it’s not just Engel getting attention. Early Thursday, a crew for the film visited the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum’s location off Chamberlain Avenue to tour a sleeper car, view engines and visit a bay where rail equipment is housed for repairs.

In 2010, one of the railroad museum’s engines was used for scenes in “Water for Elephants,” a movie starring Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon and “Twilight” star Robert Pattinson.

Though the railroad museum’s large collection of historic equipment is usually what lures filmmakers to Chattanooga, Engel drew this project.

Sometimes the state makes aggressive plays for film projects, but they didn’t have to for this one, said Clint Brewer, spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, which oversees the state’s film commission.

“I think they were pretty good about finding it on their own,” he said.

State records show the Jackie Robinson film could employ as many as 50 Tennesseans as film crew and the shoot could last as long as 64 days, Brewer said.

Already, work is taking place at Engel Stadium for the film.

By Wednesday, both dugouts walls were gone. On Thursday, a Bobcat was moving dirt along the edge of the left field bleachers while electrical crews worked near poles outside the right field wall. People with long rolls of white paper wandered the bleacher line where the first base dugout was days ago.

The stadium is owned by the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, which last week signed a four-year lease with the Engel Foundation for the stadium.

Richard Brown, a senior vice chancellor at UTC, said the lease and the philanthropic support of the foundation may help “ensure that stadium remains a part of Chattanooga history.”

Photographer John Rawlston and staff writer Cliff Hightower contributed to this report.

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about Ansley Haman...

Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...

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