April 20: North Side Shrine

2016/04/20 § Leave a comment

On this day in 1916 the Chicago Cubs played their first game at Weeghman Park.

The park was named for Charles H. Weeghman (1874-1938), a.k.a. “Lucky Charlie,” who had made his fortune in the lunch counter business, packing in crowds who ate cold sandwiches at the tiniest tables imaginable.  One tunafish on rye at a time, he amassed a fortune of $8 million, part of which he poured into the founding of a baseball league.  In 1913 he bought a chunk of land in Chicago from a seminary.  Perhaps its original owners had sanctified the property; with the building of the baseball field within the confines of Clark, Addison, Waveland and Sheffield, it truly became hallowed ground.

Weeghman hired architect Zachary Taylor Davis (1872-1946) to design the field.  Born in Aurora, Davis had started his career as a draftsman in the office of Louis Sullivan alongside an architect from Oak Park just ten years older than himself.  While that guy went on to invent the Prairie House, Weeghman got jobs for public buildings including Comisky Park.  For Weeghman he designed a newfangled fireproof structure of steel and concrete with a single deck that could seat 14,000.

By 1916 Weeghman’s league and team (the Whales) (?)  had folded; another Chicago team, the Cubs, moved in, playing their first season in spring 1916 (they won the first game against the Cincinnati Reds).  In 1918 Weeghman’s dwindling fortune prompted his retirement from baseball, and he gave control of the park to investor and chewing gum king William Wrigley.  By 1923 Wrigley hired Davis to make significant upgrades to the stadium, raising seating to 31,000.  In 1927, in response to growing attendance, the second deck was added to boost capacity to almost 40,000.  The field’s name was officially changed to Wrigley Field in 1927.  Further improvements in the 1930s included a spiffy red sign, ivy on the outfield wall (planted by Cubs General Manager Bill Veeck), and a big manually operated score board, all of which make Wrigley Field the best ballpark in any league.  If only the resident team could more consistently live up to the Friendly Confines.

Image: Weeghman Park/Wrigley Field, ca. 1930 (from this source)

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