It is hard to envision the corner of Broad and Lehigh in North Philadelphia as the site of the first ‘modern’ baseball stadium in America. Yet, before there was Citizens Bank Park, or the Vet, or Connie Mack Stadium, which was originally know as Shibe Park, National League Park was the destination of choice for Philadelphia’s baseball fanatics.
The park was erected in 1887. After a fire destroyed most of the stadium in 1894, team ownership rebuilt the stadium using steel, brick and concrete. The choice of building materials was intended to prevent future fires, but they also allowed architects to push the boundaries of stadium construction. Then, as today, sports stadiums were places where cities could show progress and modernity. The rebuilt park cost more than $80,000, seated 18,000 people and became the first to include an upper deck supported by cantilevers. The cantilevers made headlines because they removed the need for the unsightly support columns that obstructed the views of fans sitting in the stadium’s lower level. Small field dimensions also distinguished the stadium and garnered it the nicknames “The Cigar Box” and “The Band Box”. In right field a 40 foot wall stretched skyward and helped turn sure home runs into singles or doubles. The wall eventually climbed to 60 feet and became prime advertising space. A hump in center field covering a partially submerged railroad tunnel led many to give the stadium another nickname, “The Hump”. After William F. Baker purchased the Phillies, the stadium acquired its most endearing moniker, “The Baker Bowl”.
Unfortunately for Phillies fans, the new ownership did not help the perennially poor performance of the team. In the 51 years that the team called the Baker Bowl home (1887-1938) it won only one pennant (1915) and consistently finished at or near the bottom of the league standings. Even the presence of future baseball hall-of-famers Chuck Klein and Grover Cleveland Alexander could not raise the team above mediocrity. Putting a poor product on the field resulted in poor attendance and diminished profits. To compensate, ownership began using the stadium for purposes other than baseball. A cycling ring was installed in an attempt to capitalize on the cycling craze of the early twentieth century. During the 1910s and 1920s local police and fireman’s organizations rented the ballpark for large events. They held rodeos and parades there. The accompanying photos depict a few of the Philadelphia Police Department’s annual reviews, which featured marching bands and military-style processions.
Despite the performance of the hometown team, the Baker Bowl left Philadelphians with many lasting memories. In 1915 Woodrow Wilson sat in the stands of the park, becoming the first president to attend a World Series game. In 1935 Babe Ruth made his last professional appearance there when he withdrew from a game at the stadium. And, Negro League World Series games were played at the park from 1924-1926. Even the fledgling Philadelphia Eagles franchise played there for time during the 1930s.
The Phillies left the Baker Bowl for nearby Shibe Park in the middle of the 1938 season. Years of low attendance and flagging profits had taken their toll on the park and left it in disrepair. Between 1938 and 1950 the stadium, for the most part, remained vacant. Long gone were the days when reporters from across the nation marveled at stadium’s grand design elements and fans jammed the grandstands. During the 1940s a fire gutted much of the park and ensured that it would never be renovated. In 1950, a wrecking bowl tore down the last remnants of the Baker Bowl. Today, a historical sign is the only marker that a ballpark once stood at Broad and Vine.
- Wescott, Rich, Philadelphia’s Old Ballparks, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.
- Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society http://www.philadelphiaathletics.org/history/baker.html, (accessed August 1, 2006)
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baker_Bowl , (accessed August 1, 2006).