How the Chicago Cubs Came to Play at Wrigley Field

Back in 1986, the Chicago Tribune’s David Ibata described the history of the Cubs’ journey around Chicago, playing in a variety of ballparks before settling on Wrigley Field. He wrote about how the one-time site of the Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary became Weeghman Park and then Wrigley Field:

The Federal [League]s’ Chicago franchise went to Charles Weeghman, known as the “Lunchroom King” for his chain of low-cost eateries. Weeghman named his team the Whales and selected a site in the North Side neighborhood of Lakeview for his new ballpark. The site, at 1060 W. Addison St. on the northeast corner of Addison and Clark Streets, one day would be “Beautiful Wrigley Field.”

When Weeghman leased the land from a certain Edmund J. Archambault, though, it was anything but beautiful.

The Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary occupied the land from 1891 until 1910, giving Seminary Avenue west of the ballpark its name. Then the school moved to Maywood. It came back to the city, to 1100 E. 55th St., in 1967. Today it’s the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

The school produced this letter from its archives to explain the move from Lakeview:

The writer, Marjory R. Wing, says the seminarians were escaping “the smoke, dust, grime, soot, dirt (and) foul gases; railroading by night and day; whistles, ding-donging of bells late and early and in between times, and the ceaselessness of undesirable traffic incidental thereto that is growing more unbearable every week.”

Wing referred to a rail line that skirted the west side of Wrigley Field and ran up the middle of Seminary Avenue to a private right-of-way north of Irving Park Road. It was built in the late 19th Century by the Chicago & Evanston, a steam-powered freight and commuter railroad. The Milwaukee Road acquired the C&E around the turn-of-the-century. By 1910, Addison Street had become a key way station on the line.

Wing wrote of “coal yards, gravel yards, sand yards, ice stations and milk stations” that received freight trains and wagon teams “with the unsanctified men in charge sending the unsterilized particles, odors and speech into the homes, eyes and ears of the seminary habitants.”

The late Bill Veeck, whose father was president of the Cubs, was born in 1914, the year Weegham built his stadium; and attended his first baseball game there in 1920, when he was 6 years old. In an interview before he died, Veeck said Weeghman built the stadium where he did “to get away from the White Sox and the Cubs. He was opening up new territory on the North Side.

“I also have to think (Weeghman) was able to get a piece of land he could afford,” Veeck said. “Bear in mind, one wouldn’t put a ballpark next to a coal yard by choice.

“The requirements for a ballpark in those days were quite different than now,” Veeck said. “You wanted public transportation, because there weren’t any automobiles to speak of. You had to get people there, and they wouldn’t all be from the neighborhood. Clark and Addison was an ideal location because the streetcar and elevated lines were nearby.”

Weeghman Park was designed by architect Zachary Taylor Davis, who four years earlier had designed Comiskey Park on the South Side for the White Sox. The North Side stadium had a single-level grandstand and left and right field bleachers totaling 14,000 seats. To build it required 500 tradesmen, 4,000 yards of earth, four acres of bluegrass and $250,000.
Led by Joe Tinker–of “Tinkers to Ever to Chance” fame–the Whales captured the Federal League pennant in 1915. Then the league folded.

With the National League’s blessing, Weeghman put together a 10-man syndicate to buy the Cubs from the Tafts and move the team to his North Side park. One of those investors was the Chicago chewing gum magnate, William Wrigley Jr.

The deal was closed on Jan. 20, 1916, and the team played its first game at Weeghman Park on April 20.

Published in: on February 26, 2011 at 4:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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