Grab a seat. Richie Aurigemma has been doing that for more than 30 years, collecting vintage stadium chairs.
And his latest find comes from an iconic stadium torn down nearly 60 years ago.
Aurigemma, 57, uncovered two rows of triple-seat field box chairs from the Polo Grounds, the longtime home of the New York Giants and the first stadium for the New York Mets. The park in upper Manhattan was demolished on April 10, 1964, so a fresh find of any chairs from the stadium, which seated approximately 55,000 fans, is phenomenal.
Plus, these seats, numbered 1 through 6, also have the coveted, ornate “NY” figural ends on each side of the row.
“I’ve had some good finds over the years,” Aurigemma said. “I’ve seen (seats in) better condition but this one was like, wow.”
So, how did Aurigemma find this collectible gem? Pull up a chair and listen to his story.
He is always on the prowl for stadium seats. He believes he has handled more than 1,000 of them through the years, including from Philadelphia’s Shibe Park, Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, three different model chairs from Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field and seats from the original, renovated and new Yankee Stadium.
For the Polo Grounds seats, he was contacted by a woman in Tenafly, New Jersey, who was conducting an estate sale.
They went back and forth on numbers, and after agreeing on a price, Aurigemma drove from his residence in Westchester County, New York.
“We backed down this old driveway and there they were on a back porch,” he said. “Her mother had been friendly with the historical society in the area but did not know the back story behind the chairs.
“It’s a shame, because I would have loved to have known how they got there.”
The Polo Grounds bonanza did not end there. Aurigemma picked up two more seats from the famed park from a seller in nearby Scarsdale, New York.
“When it rains, it pours,” he said. “It was a mirror story.”
The man was selling items inside his parents’ home and the middle chairs were part of the estate. Aurigemma scooped those seats, too.
“In the course of a month I picked up eight chairs from the Polo Grounds,” he said. “Totally, totally crazy.
“I hadn’t gotten any chairs in a year.”
Aurigemma has plenty of stories to tell about chasing down stadium seats. Why the obsession? He simply loves to collect.
“If you get one item and then another, then you have a collection,” he said. “That is how the sickness starts.”
Aurigemma has always marched to a different beat. How else to explain that this lifetime Mets fan grew up in the Bronx, just a long fly from Yankee Stadium? He saw his first game at Shea Stadium in 1977, but got a chance to patrol the outfield grass at the House that Ruth built (and the City of New York renovated).
The father of a childhood friend was a police officer with the 44th Precinct in the Bronx. Once a year, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner would “turn over the Stadium to the cops” for a day and open a concession stand for the youths, who would play games in the outfield.
“I hit a home run over the center field fence,” Aurigemma said. “A very, very cool thing.”
Aurigemma also hit one out of the park in 2000 when he traveled to Greensboro, North Carolina, to check out an old cache of stadium seats at World War Memorial Stadium. Movie fans will recall the ornate, triple-arched entrance that was briefly featured in the 1988 film “Bull Durham.”
Aurigemma rented a car and drove to the old stadium (which opened in 1926), to check out some straight-backed chairs from the original Yankee Stadium, since the Bats were a minor-league affiliate of the Yankees in the South Atlantic League. The stadium also used seats from Connie Mack Stadium (originally called Shibe Park) after the park was demolished in July 1976.
“So we walk around left field and get to the edge of the wall,” Aurigemma said. “I look over it and there’s rows of connected chairs.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is the mother lode.’”
Aurigemma quickly loaded up the truck. The seats included double-ribbon armchairs from Shibe Park, dating to 1909, “several rows of eight to 10.”
Returning to the present, Aurigemma plans to sell his latest finds, a pattern he has followed for three decades.
“I really don’t want to split them up, since I have other seats,” he said. “My short-term plan is to leave them as they are.
“I would hope a museum would want them.”
Aurigemma said he likes the idea of stadium seats because it is something “you can touch.”
“If you buy a jersey, it’s on the wall and you can’t touch it,” he said. “This is something you can use.”
Aurigemma joked that the seats can even be used for spare seating at dinner. Growing up Italian — “I have more vowels than consonants in my last name,” Aurigemma joked – the traditional family meal could include a conversation piece or two around the table.
A vintage baseball chair, for example. Maybe even a row. But be careful.
“You can eat an Italian dinner with it,” Aurigemma said. “Just don’t drop the meatball on it.”