Polo Arenas

Hansen Pole Buildings Designer Rick and I were having a discussion about the amount of headroom needed for a horse riding arena which would be for hunter/jumpers. I referred him to a previous article I had written on the subject: https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/blog/2014/02/riding-arenas/

Rick used to play some serious polo, against folks like the Busch brothers (yes, the beer Busch brothers https://www.anheuser-busch.com/). He commented upon the 16 foot eave height probably not being tall enough for indoor polo.

I (being the polo ignorant person I am) became slightly more educated due to Rick’s enthusiasm and my being a willing student. I always had the idea polo was to be played outdoors, where it is typically played upon a large grass field up to 300 yards long by 160 yards wide (for the non-farmers amongst us, this is nearly a 10 acre field)!

Now and then I enjoy visiting Chicago, and try to take in one of the walking architectural tours: (for more information on tours: https://tickets.architecture.org/public/show_list.asp?cgCode=1&cgName=Walking ).

On one of these tours, one might have visited the Museum of Contemporary Art. Just a block east of the Water Tower is where the massive Chicago Avenue Armory stood from 1907 until 1993. The imposing design by the famous architects Holabird and Roche featured multiple turrets, and several additions over the years. And it was indeed the home of indoor polo matches in Chicago for decades.

It was one of several National Guard armories built in Chicago partly in response to labor uprisings. In addition to housing weapons, the armory had large indoor parade grounds for foot soldiers and cavalry.

All the space and arena seating made it a perfect location for an indoor version of polo, a sport often used to train cavalry regiments. It’s sort of like hockey on horseback. Players use mallets to knock a ball into the opposing team’s goal.

The sport was actually a pretty big draw in Chicago sports for a time. The Chicago Polo Club started in the 1890s, but matches weren’t played at the Chicago Avenue Armory until 1925.

In 1949, the Illinois National Guard created a polo league, and the Chicago Avenue Armory became the center of Chicago’s polo action. The Guard’s elite ceremonial Black Horse Troop was made up of the crack polo players who took on other Guard teams and civilian teams alike. Teams from the Chicago area as well as Milwaukee and Detroit played matches every Saturday night from November to April, attracting as many as 4,000 spectators a game.

Despite polo’s lofty reputation as “the sport of kings,” in Chicago it attracted all kinds. One Chicago Tribune account from 1982 described the crowd as split between folks wearing blue jeans and munching potato chips, and well-heeled fans in furs dining on pâté and fondue.

The last season of polo turned out to be in 1982 at the Chicago Avenue Armory, when the National Guard reclaimed the space for guard units and equipment. The state sold it a few years later in 1987 to the Museum of Contemporary Art.

In arena polo, only three players (with their mounts) are required per team (as opposed to the traditional four). The arena game usually involves more maneuvering and shorter plays at lower speeds due to space limitations of the arena. The minimum size for arena polo is 150 feet by 75 feet, which is easily doable within the confines of a modern pole (post frame) building.

Rick shared photos of the now defunct Joy Farm Polo Club (https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=4276611289726&set=o.158718637505333&type=3&permPage=1 ),4r where he and hundreds of other people learned to play polo.

Need a polo arena or horse arena? Call Hansen Buildings for a quote. Even better – ask to speak with Rick, who has experience in polo arenas!n

One thought on “Polo Arenas

  1. Very nice article Mike, but for clarification, I did play serious polo, only occasionally against the Busch Brothers, but played one VERY memorable game with the Busch Brothers. We took the silver home that day.


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