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Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium isn’t a national monument, but it plays one in the hearts of many D.C. sports and history fans.
It’s not an accident. The multipurpose facility, initially dubbed D.C. Stadium before being renamed for the slain New York Democratic senator, lies at a strategic nexus of the Washington street grid, in line with the Capitol building, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, an extension of the National Mall stretching from the banks of the Potomac River at Lincoln’s end to the Anacostia River at Kennedy’s.
It has hosted Washington’s professional football, baseball and soccer franchises, presidents eager to throw out first pitches from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush, as well as pop music’s most indelible acts: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead and Michael Jackson.
As Washington memorials go, it would be a youngster. It will be 52 years old in October. But unlike the official monuments in its sight line along East Capitol Street, it faces an uncertain future, and it’s unlikely to be the recipient of vast sums of public or private money to be repaired, refurbished or reinforced for the benefit of generations to come.Days of Future Past
From a planning and design perspective, RFK is a token from another time with its concrete construction base and its placement in the middle of 10,000 grade-level parking spaces. When it was being built in the late 1950s and early 1960s, this is what the future was supposed to look like.
The ground level bleacher section, which is metal and allows fans to make the section bounce up and down, gives the place a rowdy, rocking feel. The “bouncy seats” as Washingtonians lovingly call them, also work in concert with the concentrated loudness of the venue. Because of the way the roof hangs over the field, noise gets trapped inside and can make things very, very loud.
The official seating capacity is 45,423, but it goes higher. On June 2, 47,359 watched the U.S. men’s soccer team beat Germany 4-3. That match led to a Washington City Paper story by Garrett Quinn that praised RFK as a “national treasure” that “boasts one of the best atmospheres in American sports.” D.C. United has played here since 1996, and RFK frequently hosts international matches of the sort that led to Quinn’s gushing.