Thursday, December 9, 2010

Milwaukee's Original Athletic Park, Part II (1892 – 1900)

By Dennis Pajot

Editor's Note: This is the second of a three part series detailing the early history surrounding Athletic Park at North 7th and West Chambers on Milwaukee's northside. The first part may be found here. Of course, later the second park at this location would be known as Borchert Field.

A new Western League was formed for 1892, and Milwaukee was part of it. At first Harry E. Gillette of the Brewers announced he was negotiating for grounds just west of North 13th Street between West Fowler (St. Paul) and West Clybourn. This land was owned by Henry Colclough, owner the Cream City Brick Company, and could be leased for 15 years. Gillette reported it would only be an eight minute walk from the Plankinton House [located at present day 2nd and Wisconsin Avenue], and the Evening Wisconsin further pointed out "West Siders will have no trouble in walking to the new grounds in ten, or at the most fifteen minutes, and it is a short ride by street car from any East Side place of business, while the new viaduct will put the South Side within easy reach." Tongue in cheek, the paper wrote "there is a coffin factory near at hand, so that there need be no unnecessary delay about the obsequies of the umpire." The report of this brickyard location was denied by both the baseball club and the brick company. In addition to the brick company having eleven years to run on its lease, there was estimated to be brick clay to a depth of 98 feet, enough to last the life of the company's lease. This brick clay was so valuable to build a ball park there "would be like making a solid silver foundation for our pavements instead of laying pine plank for the purpose." The club decided to again play at Athletic Park, no doubt feeling a park nearer to the business or residential part of town might have jeopardized the club's very profitable Sunday ball games.

Athletic Park Milwaukee Sentinel May 8, 1892

The grandstand seating at Athletic Park was enlarged by 1,000. A stairway also would be built directly from Chambers Street to the grandstand. New dressing rooms for visiting players were constructed. To add to the beauty of the park, groundskeeper Murphy—who would leave about one month into the season to go to Minneapolis—planted flowerbeds near each of the player's benches. Employees were to be dressed in "neat and tasty uniforms." One sad note was the big shade tree in left field, where Abner Dalrymple and other left fielders had hid from the sun, was scheduled to be cut down. The complaint mentioned above about vendors in the stands was addressed as the sale of beer was discontinued in the grandstand, and other vendors could not sell while an inning was in progress. Another move, 100 years or so before it again became fashionable, was the setting aside of two portions of the grandstand for ladies and their escorts in which smoking was not permitted. Perhaps hoping to cut down on rowdy behavior inside the park, baseball club secretary A.W. Friese offered passes to games to the pastors of the city. The Sentinel predicted:
"With the absence of the peanut boy's cry and the rule preventing riots on the field with the umpire as the central figure, together with other changes in view, the ball park will be almost unrecognizable next season."
Unfortunately, the new Western League was not very successful and the Milwaukee club disbanded in July. Harry Quin tried to make arrangements with Chicago's National League club to play at Athletic Park, offering $700 per club and 75 per cent of the gate, but nothing came of it. As usual, amateur teams played at the park when the Brewers were on the road, and more often after the club disbanded. In August, through mid-September, Athletic Park was shut down to baseball while it was set up for the great pyrotechnical exhibition of "The Last Days of Pompeii", presented by the London company of James Pain & Sons. The program included a mock-up city of Pompeii, with "massive buildings and quaint architecture," including a marble palace. "A mammoth lake 250 feet long by 75 feet wide" was also dug out inside the park.
"The awe-inspiring eruption of Vesuvius, sending forth its flood of molten lava, burying and burning the entire city, is a sight never to be forgotten…"

Yenowine's Illustrated News August 27, 1892

The evening ended with $1,000 in fireworks being set off. Not until after this event did baseball resume at Athletic Park, with a game between Milwaukee's real estate men and attorneys on September 24, the "dirt dealers" winning 8 to 7. After the baseball season football was played at the park by various teams, including Marquette College, Wisconsin State University, Milwaukee High School and St. John's Military Academy. In December the inside was turned into a skating rink, with "1,000 feet of good ice". A Grand Concert was given at the park on Christmas Day and the 26th, with 10-cent admission for adults and a nickel for children. In February a Grand Ice Carnival, with a concert and fireworks, was put on at Athletic Park.

A bicycling craze was hitting the country in 1893, and Milwaukee was no exception. In the spring Harry Quin began to build a ¼-mile cycle track inside Athletic Park, which was completed in May. The cinder track was greeted with general favor among the local wheelmen, although the track was a little rough and uneven, plus complaints were registered on the banking. In July an additional $5,000 was put into the cycling facilities, and in that same month the National Cycling Association made Athletic Park its official track. Professional races were held at the track in August. The first was not attended well and lost money. It was said the large number of amateur events in the area were just as interesting. The international races on August 21 drew a large crowd, but Milwaukeeans were upset when local cycling champion Walter Sanger—in addition to some other big names—did not appear as promised. The unhappy spectators were offered refunds from the promoters. A few days later Sanger stated he had told officials he would not ride at Athletic Park because he was "timid of riding on tracks with sharp turns" when not in good condition. Although baseball games were played at Athletic Park, cycling had become the main attraction there, so much that when Cincinnati and Cleveland of the National League agreed to play there on a date already secured by the North Side Cycle Club, they were told to forget it.

Baseball at Athletic Park was not quite dead, however. Amateur clubs played, including the University of Wisconsin. A City League was formed, playing games at Athletic Park until July when the park was refitted for a Turner festival. After this event the James Morgan Cream City Club won the City League championship, and the all-female Rose Royals of Washington lost to the J. M. Cream Citys in August, before a good sized crowd.

Milwaukee Sentinel August 13, 1893

Harry Quin arranged for the Boston National League champions to play an all-star team at the park in early October. Not quite dead, but on life support, as only 300 and 123 attended the two games at Athletic Park.

Other activities took place at Athletic Park in 1893, including a track and field event for Marquette College students in June. In October and November amateur football games were again played on the field. But by far the biggest non-baseball event of the year was the festival of the North American Turnerbund, held in Milwaukee from July 21 to July 25. The five-day gymnastic event was expected to bring 10,000 athletes to the city and about 25,000 visitors. The main campus for the festival was Athletic Park and the spacious grounds of the Shooting Park, a few blocks east, which were connected by an avenue 140 feet wide.

Turnerbund Campus Milwaukee Journal May 27, 1893

Shooting Park was reserved for concerts and other entertainment, while Athletic Park was used for the gymnastic performances. A space 260 feet wide and 420 feet long was set up for the gymnastic exhibitions. It was reported about 300 men could perform at one time in this arena. Around this arena ran a 25 feet wide walk for use as a public promenade. Three hundred electric lamps were put up, supported with wooden posts, encircling the arena. A 150 x 40 foot stage, flanked by two towers, was erected on the north end of the grounds. Inside these towers were a number of rooms used by committee members, while on the stage itself were seated judges, observers, and an orchestra. Numerous temporary buildings were also put up between the two parks. Although large crowds attended the festival, it ran a total deficit of about $8,000 for the promoters.

The Western League was revived again for the 1894 season. The Milwaukee Baseball Association agreed to a year lease of Athletic Park, with a two-year option. Gus Alberts, a local favorite who played with Milwaukee teams from 1889 to 1891, was placed in charge of the grounds and refreshment stands in April. W.D. Davis, who had been in charge of the Duluth Northwestern League entry until that league was abandoned, was placed in charge of the grandstand. Athletic Park was considered "probably the most complete in all its appointments" of the Western League parks, "its stand was easily superior to that in any other city," (the bicycle track skirting the field was the only cited drawback). One major defect was noted by the Sentinel at the end of the season:
"Because of the roughness of the outfield at Athletic Park, one of the best in the league, many a ball bounded away from a fielder and kept on going."
Admission to Brewer games this season was the traditional 25-cent general admission, with seats in the grandstand costing 50 cents. Boys under 15 were admitted to the park for 15 cents, and ladies accompanied by escorts were free, except on weekends. A comparison with other forms of entertainment in Milwaukee gives the modern reader an idea of 1894 entertainment prices. At the Exhibition Music Hall, "America's Greatest Place of Amusements", "a monster program of leading European and American novelties" was presented for 25 cents. The Milwaukee Musical Society performed Franz Liszt's cantata "Saint Elizabeth", featuring Miss Irene Pevny of the Munich Royal Court Opera, at the Academy of Music with a $3.00 admission fee for non-members—an extra "lady ticket" was $1.00 for members. The Arion Musical Club presented a song recital by Mr. Plunket Greene, from London, England, at the Academy of Music, with prices ranging from 50 cents to $1.50.

At the Stadt Theater the 20-year old Violinist Henri Mateau performed, seats costing 50 cents, 75 cents or $1.00--boxes were also on sale at the office for $7.50. A Sunday afternoon Grand Military Concert at Schlitz Park was a dime. A picnic, including instrumental and vocal concerts at National Park cost adults 10-cents, with children free. A dime would also get one into Wonderland to see Cleopatra, complete with 25 "handsome young ladies", staged by LeRoy & Clayton's Lyceum Specialty Company; or a mammoth bill headed by Professor Peat's Australian Monkey Circus. The Grand Trotting Meeting at State Fair Park cost 50 cents for a grandstand seat, but ladies and children were free. Dancing at Germania Hall was 25 cents. Fare for round trip excursions from Milwaukee to Chicago on the Whaleback Steamship "Christopher Columbus" was $1.00. A shorter trip to Sheboygan on the Steamer "Nyack" was 50 cents round trip. The Brewers entertainment value was diminished, however, as the team finished last in the 1894 Western League pennant race.

In addition to the usual amateur baseball games played during the 1894 season, and football games played in the fall, two major events attracted people to Athletic Park. On June 23 the Milwaukee Athletic Society held a field day event in which athletes from the Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago areas competed in track and field events, plus swimming events, which took place in the Milwaukee River. Then in August the park was the scene for two big fireworks displays, put on by Professor L.J. Witte of Chicago. Large crowds "witnessed the discharge of fifty-one devices of fireworks." The principal features of the performances were the "roaring Falls of Niagara", a Ferris wheel, an illuminated electric fountain, a moving elephant and a moveable clown. One added special feature was a 50 foot figure of Milwaukee's founder, Solomon Juneau, which went up in a "variegated fire." In the second show a Plankinton monument was featured.

Harry Quin was in on plans to put a second team—in a new American Association—in Milwaukee for 1895 and the Brewer management decided to build a park at North 16th and West Lloyd Streets. The new league never materialized, and professional baseball was not played again at Athletic Park until 1902. However, Athletic Park was used for amateur clubs and leagues in 1895 and 1896, and both a Commercial League and City League played games there. In July 1896 the Milwaukee Athletic Society announced it would use Athletic Park for all its track and field exercises. After the baseball season high school and college football were played on the field, Marquette College using Athletic Park as its home field. On January 1, 1897, a football game between the 1895 and 1896 East Side High School teams was played on the grounds, for a benefit to pay the debts incurred by the high school athletic society for events. The 1895 team won 14 to 0. By the 1897 baseball season only a few amateur games were being played at Athletic Park. The City League was playing at Milwaukee Park on Lloyd Street, the press now claiming only that park in Milwaukee was suitable for play.

In June 1897 the Light Horse Squadron of Milwaukee rented Athletic Park for 2 1/2 years, or 3 mounted seasons, with an option to purchase the park after this time. The old grandstand was torn down and new buildings constructed. A 35 x 156 foot stable, with accommodations for 54 horses, was built midway down the south side of the grounds.

Milwaukee Sentinel August 28, 1897

In the southeast corner a 42 x 20 foot barracks was built, with "a comfortable lounging place" on the porch. This barracks contained an assembly room with 60 lockers for use by the troopers, a sleeping room, shower baths, and a mess room. On the southwest corner of the grounds stood a "cosy cottage" which was occupied by one of the sergeants and his family. Capt. W.J. Grant was the commander of this six acre camp housing Milwaukee's Troop A, First Cavalry. It was reported the cost of the property and maintenance of the camp—designated as Camp Grant—for its first fiscal year was to be over $12,000. However the baseball park was reported to be ready to be used in planned leagues discussed during 1899 and 1900 by owner Harry Quin, who bought out the last remaining partner in spring of 1900.


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