The Washington Park Wall
Until October, 2010, along Third Avenue in Brooklyn, between First and Third Streets, and a little way along each
street too, stood a very old brick wall. Just a third of the wall now remains, serving as the edge of a Con Edison storage
yard, but this wall was once part of Washington Park. The question we want to answer is: which Washington Park?
Is it part of the pre-Ebbets Field Dodger version, or was the wall erected in its entirety by the Tip Tops in 1914?
The wall along Third Avenue, looking from Third Street toward First, as it appeared in 2004
3rd Ave and 1st St in the 1980s, before a paint job - photo courtesy Bill Cahill
The conventional wisdom is that the wall dates from perhaps 1899, a year after the Dodgers built
the wooden Washington Park at this site, when they added a carriage house. As Barry Petchesky wrote
in the New York Times in 2007: It is believed to be the oldest standing piece of a major league ballpark
in the country. Certainly the original sketchy plan, from the Brooklyn Eagle in 1898, supports
the idea of a carriage house along Third Avenue from the First Street corner:
South is up on this map, by the way
On the other hand, that plan changed even before the park was built. Here's the latest plan as
published on April 4, 1898:
The carriage house is gone
As the accompanying article said: The proposed carriage shed on the Third avenue side has
been dispensed with owing to the heat of the sun on the horses' heads.
But we also believe that there were no bricks at that corner in 1908 when the park was renovated.
Here is a shot of opening day, probably in 1908:
3rd Ave and 1st St circa 1908, from the Bain Collection at the Library of Congress -
this collection contains baseball photos from 1908 to 1925
How do we know that's the right corner? We can see the famous Ginney Flats on First Street.
Note also that there is only entry to the bleachers, for 25c. Other seats
were more costly, like the grandstand reached from Fourth Ave and Third Street:
4th Ave and 3rd Street
Picture courtesy brooklynpix.com
Just to make the picture more complete, here is a shot with the First Street (right field) wall in plain
view, and made from wood. Note also the Fourth Avenue subway under construction, dating this photo to 1910-11:
4th Ave and 1st Street - photo courtesy Allen Schery and
And here is an aerial shot, showing the 1908 wooden clubhouse and a large stretch of wooden wall
along the Third Avenue side:
3rd Ave and 3rd Street circa 1910 - photo courtesy Brian Merlis
Other than the dates ascribed to the Bain Collection, why do we believe the 25c corner
shot was taken after the major renovation in 1908?
After all, there were 25c seats planned and built along the First Street side in 1898.
However, those seats were unpopular for several reasons, and were already reduced by 100 feet at each
end in May 1898, with the displaced seats moved to the Third Avenue side. The same article about the bleacher changes says:
The entrance will be on Third avenue instead of on First street. No mention of a corner entrance.
The rest of the First Street seats were dismantled in March, 1899, with the wood being used to make new bleachers along
Fourth Avenue instead. To illustrate, here is a football photo from late 1905:
Facing First Street close to Third Avenue, 1905
No bleachers in sight along First Street. And here is a drawing of opening day, 1899:
Looking towards First Street and Fourth Avenue
There are the new bleachers, replacing those First Street ones from the 1898 plans.
These bleachers would be upgraded to a 50c pavilion in 1908. And here is a Sanborn fire insurance map from 1906:
Washington Park, 1906
The only structure in the far outfield there is labelled dressing rooms, and there
is no entrance at the corner of Third Ave and First Street. The corner entrance, with its distinctive angle,
was added when new bleachers were, in 1908, along with a replacement clubhouse. Here is the first
appearance of that entrance on any map, published in the Brooklyn Eagle on April 13, 1908:
Washington Park, 1908 - this didn't survive the microfilm process very well
Close-up of the First Street-Third Avenue corner
Perhaps the new clubhouse was made of brick? No. The New York
Times reported in December 1912 that the ballpark had been demolished, and was clear on the
nature of the buildings: The tearing down of the wooden grandstand and clubhouse
at Washington Park to make way for new streets and apartment houses recalls Brooklyn's thirty
years of activity in baseball on or in the vicinity of the old grounds. The city had planned to extend
Second Street through the lot, and this was even offered as an excuse for moving by Charles Ebbets,
but the extension never took place.
If any more need be said about the 1908 building work and the material involved, here is
the official legal notice published in the Brooklyn Eagle. Note the highlighted sections, clearly
missing the word brick which is present in other notices on the same day, for structures as
small as a single storey toilet.
Frame means wood - no bricks were laid in 1908
So what did the park look like from the inside? Here it is in 1908 and 1912:
after the 1908 renovation, with new bleachers and clubhouse in the outfield
The left-center field corner is at Third Ave and First Street
Notice something different there as opposed to the present day brick wall? Take a look at these two shots from the Tip-Tops era
3rd Ave and 1st St from the inside, 1915
That section of the wall, in 1915, has square parapets protruding on top, which are also
clearly visible in the 1980s photo above. Sadly, they are covered with steel
caps nowadays, we presume to prevent water damage. These parapets are not
visible in the 1912 picture. So it appears to us that the portion of the wall with parapets
was new in 1914.
Is there more direct evidence of the Dodger era wisdom? The argument largely centers on
this photograph from the Alan Gottlieb Collection. We purloined it from the SABR NYC mailing list,
where Evelyn Begley posted it. Note the wall running along Third Ave, standing in splendid isolation:
3rd Ave and 1st St during construction, 1914
We also grabbed this photo from the same collection, which provides an excellent illustration from
the inside of where the windowed wall behind the 1914 bleachers changes to the one with parapets:
A more informative angle from opening day, 1915
The argument runs along these lines: why would you build that wall before anything else,
way out there on its own? Why would the wall suddenly change style there behind the bleachers?
And why would you put windows in a stadium wall? Perhaps because horses had to breathe behind there. The circumstantial
evidence adds up to this: the windowed wall is older than the parapet wall, and therefore
predates the 1914 construction by the Tip Tops. And this all has merit, certainly.
However, the Library of Congress has these photos, taken a little earlier in the 1914 construction phase:
Looking west from 4th Ave to 3rd Ave, but not quite including the corner with 1st St
Looking from 1st St towards 3rd St, about half way between the Avenues
In these photos we see no walls at all, along First Street or Third Avenue. At
first glance of these, the Tip Tops appear to have levelled everything they saw, if the 1912 demolition
left anything to begin with. These photos do not show the complete length of any edge of the block,
Here is a closeup of the northernmost (rightmost) part of that photo looking from
Fourth Ave to Third Ave:
3rd Ave during construction - very early - seen from across the entire lot
Look at the buildings on the right side. There is pile of boxy structures, then a
brick building sloping up to the right. Here's a closeup of the Alan Gottlieb photo:
3rd Ave during construction - later on
The same buildings are visible, behind the northernmost section of the windowed wall -
a wall which is not visible in the Library of Congress shot. If the windowed wall predated
1914, it would be plainly visible in that photo, not hidden in the small portion remaining
between the edge of the picture and First Street.
And that small portion is, in any case, visible and without a wall in this photograph published in the Brooklyn
Eagle on March 11:
Digging holes to pour the foundation
The Eagle's description of December 31, 1913, in an article reviewing possible sites
for a Federal League club, summarizes the state of the lot:
A visit to the historical grounds at Fourth avenue and Third street today disclosed a state of
affairs which indicated that it would cost a fortune to build a park, while the chances of having the grounds
and stands in shape by next spring appeared exceedingly small. Only the ruins of the old clubhouse remain,
the diamond has been cut up and the grandstand and bleachers, which held thousands of fans in the past,
have disappeared entirely.
On April 1, 1914, the Eagle was even more succinct:
Two weeks ago, little could be seen but a few holes in the ground and piles of lumber.
We hate to say this, because we wish it weren't so, but in our considered view that's not a Dodger wall.
Why were there
windows? Probably so people moving behind the bleachers had some light.
Why was the wall built before anything else?
Why not? Something had to be. The wall was freestanding all the way along First Street, for instance, so
there is no requirement that a brick wall not be built on its own. In any case, the concrete pillars for the
grandstand are also very much in progress, and grading has been done to remove the piles of
dirt in the earlier shots. Work was happening across the whole lot.
Why does the style change? Because that's where the bleachers end and the open area begins.
There is no mention in any newspaper of a carriage house after that first sketchy plan in 1898,
and it is evident none existed prior to the 1908 renovation.
In any case we can clearly see that the 1908 renovation left a wooden
wall at that corner.
If you believe the ball club would have put a carriage house in that corner after 1908, you'd also have
to believe Charles Ebbets hated the 25c bleacher fans enough to make them sit above or next to a
room full of horse dung in July, and that he would make expensive capital improvements at Washington
Park even while quietly buying up lots in Pigtown to build Ebbets Field. The rest of the Third
Avenue side is plainly visible in the Library of Congress
photograph, and has no wall at all with construction underway. The corner, without wall, is visible
in the Brooklyn Eagle photograph. The very first newspaper mention of brick
during the entire history of this site was not until April, 1914.
The conclusion is clear to us. The wall belongs to the Federal League Tip Tops, and dates to 1914. If
you want to see the oldest standing part of a major league park, go to Boston, or better yet,
look across the way to the Old Stone House.
All that said, baseball historian Tom Gilbert reminds us that, in absence of a higher quality 1914
view of the corner of First Street and Third Avenue, we are short of a complete proof here, and
we acknowledge that. He remains firm in his stance on a more flexible date for the wall - we hope to
provide a page of his thoughts, too, so readers can decide for themselves.
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