Wednesday, December 2, 2020

The History of Thillens Stadium, a Little League Baseball Park in the West Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago.

The "North Town Currency Stadium" at 6404 North Kedzie Avenue, was founded in 1938 by Mel Thillens, Sr., owner of the Thillens Checashers business at 2351 West Devon Avenue, just east of Western Avenue. Thillens' idea was to have a baseball park that anyone can use, rent-free. It cost Thillens a total of $6 million to build the park to his satisfaction.
Thillens Stadium was originally named North Town Currency Stadium.






Thillens Stadium was just north of the Lincolnwood diner. The north of the diner was a CTA bus terminus turn-around for the 155 bus route. Next came the parking lot for the stadium was small, perhaps only 20 cars and another 20 cars along the eastern fence on Kedzie Avenue..
On the north-west corner of Devon and Kedzie Avenues was the Lincolnwood Coffee Grill and Fountain Shop.

Tessville, Illinois was renamed "The Village of Lincolnwood” in 1936. The border of Lincolnwood was moved from the westside of Kedzie Avenue to the westside of McCormick Boulevard after 1940.

In 1940 the ballpark erected lights for night use. In the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s both Little League games and men's 16-inch softball games were televised from the park by WGN-TV, with Jack Brickhouse announcing.
Entrance to the over-flow parking lot on Kedzie Avenue, north of the stadium.


North of the 2nd baseball diamond, was a large, free, gravel parking lot on the east side of the North Shore Canal. 

It was during a Little League telecast in the 1950s that the centerfield camera, now a staple of all baseball telecasts, was first used. According to Brickhouse, "One of our cameramen, Chuck Seatsema, told me that the center-field scoreboard was only a couple hundred feet away. He had a feeling that if he put a camera out there, we'd get a nice shot of the little catcher giving signs and the little batter's face over the pitcher's shoulder."


In 1969, I met and talked to Ray Rayner, who played a charity softball game against the Playboy Bunnies. After his game was over, he came up to the announcer's booth and sat down. Ray was very nice. Read my in-depth article about Ray Rayner and our conversation.







An area landmark was the giant baseball with the name Thillens on a large pole in the front of the ballpark. Originally, the ball spun on the pole. The Thillens baseball sign began life as a globe that was spinning on top of the "Boys' World" clothing store at  2516 West Devon Avenue, at Maplewood, which used to be the Cine Theatre from 1937 to 1953. Mel Thillens bought the globe when Boys' World closed in the 1950s, and Mel had a parade moving the globe west on Devon Avenue to Kedzie Avenue. 


The Thillens family took great pride in the spit-and-polish glamour associated with Thillens Stadium. The landscaping. The cleaning. The painting. It all contributed to the sense that you were in something of a shrine. They spent $100,000 a season for expenses and over $100,000 for maintenance a year keeping the place up.
Mel Thillens Sr. and Jr. in front of their currency exchange on Devon Avenue, 1977.


The centerfield scoreboard contained a 6-by-8-foot picture of the Thillens armored truck. Starting in 1974, if any player hit the truck on the sign, they would win a $5,000 savings bond. Only three talented little leaguers hit the armored truck at the top of the scoreboard, hitting a baseball 300 feet.

Amazingly, all three batters have accomplished the feat on the same date; September 2nd. Al Pulikowski of Villa Park and Art Eggert of Elk Grove each hit it in 1984, only 52 batters apart. Five years later, Patrick Patterson of Des Plaines became the third winner, hitting the truck on September 2, 1989.
Mel Thillens, Sr. died on December 20, 1993, but his family continued to operate the field and a non-profit charitable foundation supported it. Over time, the foundation could not afford expenses and, in March 2005, Thillens Stadium closed. 

The city of Chicago and the Chicago Cubs combined to invest $1.5 million in repairs and the stadium reopened its doors in June 2006. The larger of the two diamonds, the one on the south side of the park, was named "Cubs Field." The park has since been renamed "The Stadium at Devon and Kedzie."
The Stadium at Devon and Kedzie Entrance.


In 2013, the Thillens family requested that their family name be removed from the field. Mel Thillens, Jr. was quoted as saying the field wasn't being maintained and the Thillens family and business no longer wanted to be associated with it. The Chicago Park District claims to have maintained Thillens so it can “continue as a place of historical significance” that “thousands of children enjoy” each year. They obliged Mr. Thillens' request, removing the name from the field. In June of 2013, the 60+-year-old giant baseball, estimated at 12 feet in diameter, was removed because it was deemed unsafe.


Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

NOTE: In 1932, Mel Thillens owned and operated a currency exchange at 2351 West Devon Avenue in Chicago. His clientele consisted mostly of factory workers and government employees in the Works Progress Administration (WPA) program from 1935-1943. To eliminate customers from tracking mud over his new office carpet, he conceived the idea of bringing money to the worker to cash their paychecks. It was the first mobile armored car check cashing service in the U.S.
An Early Thillens Checashers Armored Truck.




1 comment:

  1. I do remember us driving past the Boys World globe when I was a child in the 1950's. In later years both of my sons played ball at Thillens from Little League. Nice memories.

    ReplyDelete

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