Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Chicago’s National League Baseball Parks History.

Between the 1840s and the early 1860s, the near-west side district was easily accessible from the Lake Street business district. At a convenient distance from the business center, the wealthy residents of Union Park sought to make the West Side an elite refuge from the daily commotion of the growing city. They created Jefferson Park (1850) and Union Park (1854) as small, safe public resorts.

Union Base-Ball Grounds – aka White Stocking Park (1871-1872)
With no organized league to join in 1870, the Chicago White Stockings made money by playing against other independent base-ball clubs that would play them, and they charged an admission fee to watch the game. They played home games at Ogden Park and Dexter Park Race Course.
The Chicago White Stockings joined the National Association at its inception in 1871 and began playing at Union Base-Ball Grounds. Union Base-Ball Grounds was "visibly downtown," its small block bounded on the west by Michigan Boulevard, on the north by Randolph Street, and on the east by railroad tracks and the lake shore, which was then much closer to Lake Michigan than it is today. 

This park was a rickety old wooden park. The grounds were used as a dump, and all kinds of rubbish would surface while in gameplay. Men were seated in better sections than the women folk were. A season ticket was $15.

The Great Chicago Fire of October 8, 1871, destroyed Union Base-Ball Grounds and the club's possessions. After the park was destroyed, the railroad was kind enough to support the team. They fulfilled their 1871 obligations by playing on the road. 

The Chicago White Stockings were forced to sit out the 1872 and 1873 seasons because they did not have a home field to play at and were suffering from severe financial problems from losses in the fire.

Twenty-Third Street Park (1872-1877)
The Twenty-Third Street Park (aka State Street Grounds and 23rd Street Park) first hosted baseball in 1872-1873, rented out by the Chicago White Stockings as the club nursed its financial wounds following the 1871 Great Chicago Fire (for two years following the fire, it did not field a team).
The park grounds were on the block bounded by 22nd Street (now Cermak Road), State Street, 23rd Street, and Armour Avenue (now Federal Street).

No photos or illustrations are known to exist, but contemporary newspaper descriptions imply that the diamond was in the north end of the block; a line drawn from home plate through the pitcher's mound and second base would have pointed south. If so, the fair territory would have been shaped like a modern five-sided "home plate. (The home plate was a square at that time.) 

Distance from plate: Dimensions of Union Base-Ball Grounds
Left Field – 375 ft. / Center Field – Unknown / Right Field – 375 ft.

Lake Front Park #1 (1878‑1882)
In 1878 the White Stockings returned to the site of the 1871 Union Grounds that had been destroyed by the Chicago Fire to build a new park that is usually called Lake Shore Park, Lake Front Park, or simply Lake Park.

The outfield area was incredibly close to the right field. The right-field fence was less than 200 feet away, so anyone hitting the ball over that fence was awarded only a ground-rule double. Batters would aim for the fence, and during their years at the park, the Chicago club regularly led the league in doubles.

The advantage of this wooden park remained its central location and accessibility to various forms of transportation, but the field conditions were less than ideal. The infield was bumpy, uneven, and littered with stones, boulders, ashes, and broken bottles.

Lake Front Park #2 (1882‑1884)
In 1883, Spalding invested $1,800 into renovating the field. The grandstand was enlarged to seat 2,000 and the bleachers to seat 6,000, with room for 2,000 standing-room people. An ornamented pagoda was near the main entrance to hold the First Cavalry Band. On the third-base side were 18 luxury "sky" boxes with armchairs and curtains. Spalding had one with a phone and a gong so he could conduct his business. 
Lakefront Park, the new baseball grounds at Chicago, Illinois, “Harper’s Weekly,” published May 1883. 
Lake Front Park II had the shortest outfield fences in the majors, at only 186 feet. In fact, a ball hit over the left-field wall in 1883 was considered a double. In 1883, the Cubs hit 13 homers, while in 1884, when a ball hit over the left-field wall was a home run, they hit 142. After the 1884 season, the National League set the minimum distance for the outfield fences at 210 feet.

After the 1884 season, the Cubs were forced to leave Lake Front Park II for legal reasons. The land the park was situated on was given to Chicago by the Federal Government for non-commercial uses. (The site is now part of Millennium Park.)

Distance from plate: Dimensions of Lakefront Park
Left Field – 186 ft. / Center Field – 300 ft./ Right Field – 196 ft.

West Side Park #1 (1885‑1891)
The first West Side Park was the ball club’s home from 1885 through 1889 and succeeded Lakefront Park #2. Although the park’s useful life was as short as the ball club’s stay at the Lakefront (seven years), it was also memorable, as the team won the National League pennant in each of their first two seasons there.
West Side Park #1
Opening Day Program for the West Side Park #1 in 1885. 
The park was on a small block bounded by Congress, Loomis, Harrison, and Throop Streets, with the diamond toward its western end. The elongated shape of the block lent a decidedly bathtub-like shape to the park, with foul lines reportedly as short as 216 feet.
Official Score Card of the Chicago White Stockings -1890
Henry Chadwick invented a scoring system that used letter symbols in 1861. Chadwick was the first baseball editor for the New York Herald. 
The park held roughly 10,000 fans. In addition to the diamond, the park had a bicycle track that encircled the playing field at the height of the contemporary bicycle craze.

Distance from plate: Dimensions of first West Side Park
Left Field – 216 ft. (1 ft. over then-legal minimum)
Center Field – Unknown
Right Field – 216 ft. (1 ft. over then-legal minimum)

West Side Park #2 (1893‑1915)
In May 1893, the club opened its second West Side Park a few blocks west-southwest of the first, on a larger block bounded by Taylor, Wood, Polk, and Lincoln (now Wolcott) Streets. They split their 1893 schedule with South Side Park, then moved into the new ballpark full-time the following year. Some sources state that the club moved to this location to gain attendance from the World’s Columbian Exposition, as South Side Park was within walking distance of the 35th Street station of the then-new South Side Rapid Transit line, which reached the exposition grounds at Jackson Park.
Boys peeking through the fence at West Side Ball Park #2 around 1905.
The second West Side Park is now sometimes called West Side “Grounds,” but it was most often called a “Park” during its active life. The home plate was at the Polk and Lincoln intersection in the northwest corner of the field. The right-field fence paralleled Taylor, with flat apartments between the high fence and the street. There were also flats across Wood Street to the east, behind left field, giving the park (for a few years, at least) a degree of the ambiance that Wrigley Field would later be famous for. Cook County Hospital was across the street to the north, i.e., behind third base.
The 1906 World Series, Game 3 at West Side Park #2, October 11, 1906.
Like the first West Side ballpark, the new facility was hemmed in by the streets, creating a somewhat rectangular playing area. The foul lines were initially reported as 340 feet, while the deepest part of the center field was initially reported as 560 feet. Although that sounds symmetrical, the left-field side, in general, was much more spacious, and the distance to the center was really the rectangle's diagonal. To the south (right field), the remainder of the block was occupied by apartments just outside the fence that ran right to the center field. The original grandstand was double-decked, and the park had about 16,000 patrons. As with other parks of the era, fans were often permitted to stand along the outer perimeter of the playing field itself, so the park frequently drew well more than its official capacity.
West Side Park #2, Chicago, Cubs vs. Giants, August 30, 1908.
West Side Park #2, Chicago, Cubs vs. Giants, August 30, 1908.
As the park entered the new century, it featured a small covered grandstand behind home plate. Behind the home plate stands, the team and ticket offices were housed in a relatively ornate two-story brick building topped with statues of baseball players. Uncovered bleachers extended along both foul lines and into left field. Beyond the left-center field, the bleachers gave way to a small clubhouse. The right-field bleachers were only five to ten rows deep, sitting underneath a free-standing billboard that ran above the length of the bleachers.
West Side Park #2, Cubs versus Tigers World Series, October 9, 1907
The billboard frequently featured large ads for the sports pages and the sportswriters of local newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Daily News. A scoreboard was located on the extreme right end of the billboard, toward the right-field corner. Much like today at Wrigley Field, several of the rooftops beyond the outfield bleachers offered bleacher seating of their own, at least for a few years.
West Side Park #2 Postcard. Facing Toward Polk Street and Old Cook County Hospital Behind Grandstand.

Today, the College of Medicine stands here.
The ballpark expanded with the club’s rising fortunes. For 1905, several rows of private box seats were built on top of the original grandstand roof behind the home plate. That same year saw the construction of a new two-story brick clubhouse, fronted by columns, out in the far left-center. After two seasons, jury-box bleachers were built directly in front of and over the clubhouse. During the 1908 season, the bleachers along the first and third-base lines were gradually covered and topped by more private box seating.

By the early 1910s, the wooden ballpark was showing its age, largely due to neglect by Charles Murphy, the unpopular owner of the Cubs (one of whose alternate, media-driven nicknames was the unflattering “Murphy’s Spuds”). In 1910, an enormous, unsightly billboard blocked the neighborhood view beyond the right-field outfield wall. By 1912, the left-field view was similarly obstructed by a giant billboard which also served as the new scoreboard. The park's enclosure was completed with the installment of billboards in the dead-center field. At this time, the jury box bleachers in the left-center field were removed, adding to the new claustrophobic feel of the outfield. 

With gambling becoming an increasing problem in baseball, starting in 1911, the playing field was adorned with large signs (as with some other major league ballparks) reminding fans of “No Betting Allowed.” Additionally, the dilapidated park competed unsuccessfully with new steel-and-concrete baseball venues. The Chicago White Sox inaugurated Comiskey Park in 1910. Four years later, the upstart Federal League placed a franchise on the North Side and began to play in Weeghman Park. By 1915, the Cubs were the third most popular team in a three-team city.

When the Federal League collapsed after the 1915 season, Charles Weeghman, owner of the now-defunct Chicago Whales, was allowed to buy a substantial interest in the Cubs. One of his first acts was to abandon West Side Park (demolished in 1920) and move the Cubs to Weeghman Park for the 1916 season. Weeghman Park survives today as Wrigley Field.

Distance from plate: Dimensions of West Side Park #2
Left Field – 340 ft. / Center Field – 442 ft. / Right Field – 316 ft.

Weeghman Park (1914–1920)
Cubs Park (1920-1926)
Wrigley Field (1927 - Present)
The property bounded by Clark, Waveland, Sheffield, and Addison was home to the Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary. The land, sandy, dotted with a few trees, and prone to flooding, was initially owned by developer Joseph Sheffield. The property eventually wound up in the hands of Lutheran minister William Passavant, and by the late 1860s, Passavant was talking about building a seminary there. By 1874, St. Mark's Lutheran Church had been constructed on the land. The small chapel served as the birthplace of the seminary until the school officially opened on October 1, 1891, with six students. In 1909, the seminary bought adjoining land to give itself a buffer from the encroaching neighborhood. That brought the property to 8 acres.
This photo was taken from Sheffield at Addison. The building on the right is now where the scoreboard at Wrigley sits. The building in the center would be the left-field bleachers.
The original footprint of Weeghman Park. In 1923 the grandstand was cut into 3 pieces and moved to create the current footprint. The home plate was originally near the present-day pitcher's mound. The upper deck was added in 1927-1928.
As early as 1905, Charles Havenor, who owned a minor-league American Association team in Milwaukee, discussed putting a minor-league team in Chicago. Havenor reportedly paid $175,000 ($4,742,484 in 2017) for the property in 1909. Havenor sold his share in the property, which had a few small houses and businesses in addition to the seminary buildings, to his partners. They, in turn, leased it to Charles Weeghman in 1913. On this site, he built Weeghman Park.

The park was built in six weeks in 1914 at about $250,000 by the Chicago lunchroom magnate Charles Weeghman, who owned the Federal League Whales. (The club signed a 55-year lease to use the park for approximately $18,000 annually.) It was designed by the architect Zachary Taylor Davis (who four years earlier had designed Comiskey Park for the Chicago White Sox), incorporating the new “fireproof” building codes recently enacted by the city. 
Weeghman Park
According to some sources, when it opened for the 1914 Federal League season, Weeghman Park had a seating capacity of 14,000. The opening day drew a crowd of 21,000 as some fans stood and others took extra seats in the outfield; that figure doesn’t include the crowds on the rooftops along Waveland and Sheffield.
Weeghman Park
In late 1915, the Federal League folded. The resourceful Weeghman formed a syndicate, including the chewing gum manufacturer William Wrigley Jr. to buy the Chicago Cubs from Charles P. Taft for about $500,000. Weeghman immediately moved the Cubs from the dilapidated West Side Grounds to his two-year-old park. In 1918, Weeghman sold the Cubs and the ballpark to William Wrigley. In 1926, a renovation was done on Cubs Park, which was named after the team owner, Wrigley Field.
Weeghman Park
In 1927, an upper deck was added, and in 1937, Bill Veeck, the club president's son, planted ivy vines against the outfield walls.

The famous sheet steel scoreboard was built in 1937 under the watch of Cubs General Manager Bill Veeck, Jr. The scoreboard exterior was originally red-brown, the color of a sunset at sea. “The Cubs played many 3 o’clock games,” Cubs historian Ed Harting said. “The sun reflected off the scoreboard and back toward home plate. Green knocked the sunlight down, so owner P.K. Wrigley painted it green in 1944.”
Wrigley Field has been the home of the Cubs since 1916. It hosted several World Series in 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938, 1945, and 2016. Before 2016, the last time the Cubs won the World Series was in 1908 happened, when the Cubs called West Side Park home
In 2010, Curtis M. Hubertz, then 93, drove from his southern Wisconsin home to Wrigley Field.

The Chicago native wasn’t going to see a game. Instead, he delivered parts for the ballpark’s famous scoreboard, which his family’s electronics company had installed in the 1930s.
“After cleaning out his garage, he came across a big box filled with spare parts for the scoreboard,” said his daughter Judy Kompare. “He got in his car and drove to the park. He wanted them to have those parts.”

Hubertz had those parts because he and his father had been commissioned by P.K. Wrigley to design the now-famous scoreboard in 1937: “They brought it to the ballpark to be tested one day,” said close friend Bud Newton, a dentist and former tour guide at Wrigley Field. “When the game ended, Mr. (Phil) Wrigley motioned them over to his box and asked if they could make the letters and numbers bigger — from 36 inches high to 48 inches — and add a few extra digits to make it easier for people to understand. “They made the changes, and the rest is history.”
After Hubertz Electronics closed in the 1960s, Mr. Hubertz continued to service the scoreboard, which now has landmark status. “Whenever there was a glitch in the system, one of the first people they’d call was Curt,” Newton said. “He’d get over to the park and have that scoreboard working just fine in no time.”

Wrigley Field was listed as a Chicago Landmark on February 11, 2004.

The Wrigley Field property was listed as a National Historic Landmark on February 27, 1987.
Distance from plate: Original dimensions of Weegham Park
Left Field – 327 ft. / Center Field – 425 ft. / Right Field – 298 ft.

Distance from plate: Current dimensions of Wrigley Field
Left Field – 355 ft. / Center Field – 400 ft. / Right Field – 353 ft.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  1. Neil, EXCELLENT info!!! I really appreciate the effort that goes into this. Lake Park is always popular on my downtown tours.

  2. Great article on the ball parks associated with the (now) Chicago Cubs.

  3. Fantastic history lesson Neil. We are so fortunate that you've taken the effort to put it all together for us to enjoy. Thanks so much!

    1. I'd appreciate you sharing this Journal and pass on your love of Illinois History Mike.

  4. Great job, Neil
    If you're not already a visitor, you might be interested in the protoball database of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). It lists over 1000 early Illinois baseball clubs and games.

  5. I kept this piece for when I had a good chance to read it, and I'm so happy I did. Thank you, Neil!!!! The Cubs and Bears are my passion!

  6. I am a big Cubs and Bears fan so this was incredibly outrageous!!! Thank you, Neil!!!


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