In late 1990, with old Comiskey Park, aka The Baseball Palace of the World, about to close, a New York Times columnist called it “a glorious, raunchy old place that has nothing picturesque about it at all.” He added: “If Wrigley is the Faneuil Hall Marketplace of ball parks, Comiskey is Paddy’s Market – the rougher, tougher version, less pretty to look at but much more convincingly the Real Thing.”
The columnist continued: Comiskey is thin and lithe on the inside, like a graceful but not particularly handsome athlete. Comiskey may be homely, but it has all the right moves. The seating – it is all green, blending in with the green of the field – is arranged on two decks, with thin pillars supporting the upper deck.
Those pillars are the kind that architects mention when they tell you what makes old stadiums completely unworkable, but the fact is that they block only a few vistas, and from many angles, they have the marvelous effect of framing the view to the field, focusing it and heightening its intensity. So, too, with the narrow aisles – they aren’t ideal, and they are surely not up to the standard of the new park, but for all the tight squeezes, they do wonders to reduce the scale of the park, to enhance its intimacy and banish any of that sense of a vast, impersonal presence that marks so many new stadiums.
He summarized: Nowhere else in major league baseball is there so exquisite a blending of intimacy and scope, so wonderful a balance between an easy, relaxed environment and a sense of grandeur. This is a building that goes back in spirit to the great schoolhouses and courthouses and city halls of the turn of the century, those buildings that were simple and institutional, but were still not above putting on a few airs, all the better to impress the working-class folks who filled them.
Comiskey was built with the same thing in mind. The park’s exterior is lined with brick arches, through which the city is visible outside; to be in Comiskey is not to be sealed off from the city, but to be ever conscious of it. Chicago’s great skyline is visible just to the north, while the South Side swarms all around the park. There is something wonderful about the way in which the neighborhood embraces Comiskey, despite the fact that the stadium is surrounded by parking lots, and makes the park feel like it is on an old-fashioned city street. Before game time the environs feel more like a street fair than a set of rapidly filling parking lots.