Then And Now: North Broad And Lehigh

 

Baker Bowl, the first home field of the Philadelphia Phillies after it was converted into a racetrack, 1939 | Courtesy of the Historical Society of Philadelphia

Then: Baker Bowl

The city block stretching from West Lehigh Avenue, North Fifteenth, North Broad, and West Huntingdon Streets in North Philadelphia was not always filled with car horns and busy pedestrians. The block once rumbled with shouting sports fans at Baker Bowl, the original home field of the Philadelphia Phillies and Philadelphia Eagles. The stadium was praised for its state-of-the-art design. Baker Bowl also hosted several historically significant events that deepened Philadelphia’s affection for the stadium even more.

Baker Bowl

Birdseye view of the Phillies’ Baker Bowl and the surrounding blocks, 1931 | Image: Dallin Aerial Survey Company, Hagley Digital Archives

Birdseye view of the Phillies’ Baker Bowl and the surrounding blocks, 1931 | Image: Dallin Aerial Survey Company, Hagley Digital Archives

For all but four years since the club’s founding in 1883, the Philadelphia Phillies have occupied four ballparks, two in North Philadelphia and two in South Philadelphia. Three of these remain close to fans’ hearts: the present-day Citizens Bank Park, which opened in 2004, Veterans Stadium, which opened in 1971, and Connie Mack Stadium, which opened as Shibe Park in 1909 as the home field of the Philadelphia Athletics. However, the Phillies’ first purpose-built stadium, known as Baker Bowl, is often forgotten.

Phillies owners A.J. Reach and John Rogers paid $80,000 to erect National League Park, with capacity for about 12,500 fans, in 1885. The local media commended the stadium as the design followed every inch of the rule book—the sweeping curve behind the plate was approximately 60 feet, whereas some stadiums at the time more or less “estimated” the measurements. Within seven years, the wooden structure erupted in flames and in 1895 the Phillies put up a steel and brick stadium, making it one of the first reinforced steel and concrete baseball venues at that time. The new and improved modern stadium featured the first cantilevered upper deck in stadium construction.

A Stadium of Firsts

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Crow gathered outside the Grand Stand Entrance to the Baker Bowl, 1937 | Courtesy of the Historical Society of Philadelphia

In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson was the first U.S. president to attend a World Series. He threw the ceremonial first pitch at Baker Bowl before the second game against the American League Boston Red Sox. (Boston won 2-1 and each of the following games of the series by the same score.)

Babe Ruth made his first post-season appearance at the stadium and would play his last professional game there in May, 1935.

Baker Bowl hosted Negro League Games as well, including those played by the Hilldale Daisies, of Darby, PA. The Hilldale Daisies were originally affiliated in the Eastern Colored League from 1923 through 1928. They joined the American Negro League in 1929.

Baker Bowl hosted several Negro League World Series games on its field from 1924 to 1925, including the first two games of the 1924 series between the Hilldale Daisies and the Kansas City Monarchs.

Enter the Iggles

The Philadelphia Eagles soon marked their territory at the stadium, making it one of the first home fields of their football club. Under owner Bert Bell, the Eagles played there for three years. Bell initially wanted to play home games at the larger and more updated Shibe Park, but instead agreed to make a deal with Phillies’ owner Gerry Nugent. The Eagles played their first game at Baker Bowl on October 3, 1933 against a U.S. Marines team–a 40-0 pre-season victory for the Eagles. In the late 1930s the ballpark’s conditions steadily declined, forcing the football team to move to Municipal Stadium in 1935.

In 1938, The Phillies broke their lease at the deteriorating stadium mid-season and moved into Shibe Park to finish the year. After remaining vacant for several years, Baker Bowl was razed in 1950. (Playing full seasons there from 1885 to 1937, the team record was 3,800 wins and 3,836 losses.)

1938-season-opener

Season opener of the last season the Phillies would play at Baker Bowl before relocating to Shibe Park | Photo: explorepahistory.com


Now: Commercial Hodgepodge

The Philadelphia and Reading Railroad constructed its Horace Trumbauer-designed neoclassical North Broad Street Station Across Broad Street from Baker Bowl in 1928. (The Phillies finished 43-109 that year, eighth place in the National League, 51 games behind the first place St. Louis Cardinals and drew only 182,168 fans to Baker Bowl.) North Broad Station (still extant) sat directly across from the end of the first base grandstand. Home plate was at the corner of North 15th and West Huntingdon Streets. Where much of the outfield was is now the sprawling 79,132 square foot, mid-century Broad Garage–a bus dispatch and transportation services hub built in 1967 for the School District of Philadelphia. The depot is one of three bus garages operated by the School District. Buses are dispatched from a central operations room at District Headquarters twenty blocks away.

| Photo: Michael Bixler

Architect Horace Trumbauer gave his neo-classical touch to the former Reading Raliroad’s North Broad Station | Photo: Michael Bixler

The 10 story, 500,000 square foot Philadelphia Ford Motor Company assembly plant stood across Lehigh Avenue just beyond the outfield wall. This triangular-shaped building manufactured approximately 150 cars daily. Following the First World War, Ford put the original plant at Broad and Lehigh up for sale after upgrading to a newer, larger plant on the Chester waterfront. In 1925, the asking price for the building was a rich $1,725,000.

| Photo: Michael Bixler

Still vacant and begging for occupancy. The Ford Motor Company building at North Broad and Lehigh once loomed in the background of Baker Bowl | Photo: Michael Bixler

The building was eventually used for US Army storage and a Sears, Roebuck and Company Warehouse. In 1972, Botany Industries purchased the building and began shipping from the Broad and Lehigh location. With fear of building debris falling onto SEPTA regional rail tracks, in 2007 the building was renovated by New York architect Cosmo Veneziale. It’s vacant today.

| Photo: Michael Bixler

Modern day urban sprawl adds a stark contrast to identifying the former site of Baker Bowl. The School District’s Broad Garage occupies much of the Phillies first permanent home field | Photo: Michael Bixler

The rest of the old outfield and grandstand is currently a Sunoco gas station and a strip mall that houses a check cashing office, a Domino’s Pizza shop, and a dental office. The $3.74 Car Wash is attached to the School District depot. It isn’t attractive, but then after game one of the 1915 World Series, which the Phillies won 3-1, the team never won another post season game at Baker Bowl, and didn’t win one all together until 1977.


6 Comments


  1. Rachel Hildebrandt

    Don’t forget about Philadelphia Gardens! http://www.philaathenaeum.org/stelman/section8.html

  2. Some more Baker Bowl firsts:
    –the first ballpark to offer pavilion seating for customers
    –the first with outside walls built entirely of brick instead of wood.
    –the “first modern ballpark” built for baseball (Originally built at a cost of $101,000, Baker Bowl when it opened in 1887 was regarded as the finest stadium in the nation, a magnificent showplace that was the pride of Philadelphia and the envy of other cities.)
    –the first World Series game ever attended by a U.S. President: Woodrow Wilson, along with his fiancée, Mrs. Edith Gait
    –the first ballpark to be constructed primarily of steel and brick. The double-decked grandstand was built of steel, brick and concrete to prevent future fires. The park featured outer brick walls on all four sides and three wide steel stairways between decks. The outside of the stadium, which at the main entrance looked more like a castle than a ballpark, was all brick.
    –One of the greatest tragedies in the history of American sports occurred there in 1903. During an August 8th Phillies/Braves doubleheader, a makeshift balcony that was part of the third base stands collapsed, killing twelve people and injuring 232. The accident was apparently caused when a crowd of fans moved to watch a fight outside the ballpark. The disaster ultimately led to the end of wood as a major building material in ballparks. (A section of the first-base stands collapsed in 1927; only one person died and 50 were hurt.)
    –Pitcher Jim Bivin spent only one year in the majors, but is immortalized in the annals of baseball trivia as the last man to face the Babe in a major league game. (Interestingly enough, Babe Ruth made his last swing at bat at a major league stadium in Philadelphia. On September 12, 1944, he took a series of swings and had a few hits during a batting exhibition at Shibe Park. This occurred at halftime of an Eagles football game!)
    –By 1938, when the Phillies moved out, the Baker Bowl was not only the oldest in baseball, but also the laughingstock of the game, an obsolete relic that was damned and discredited and derisively called such names as “toilet bowl,” “cigar box,” and “bandbox. The park was initially known as the Philadelphia Base Ball Park or Huntingdon Street Grounds. Its official name was National League Park.

  3. some things never change

  4. Baker Field wasn’t too far away from Connie Mack Stadium built in 1909 and used until 1970 when the Phillies moved to Veterans Stadium on 1971. What you see today when you drive past Broad Street is hard to believe that a baseball stadium was located there.

    Veterans Stadium was imploded in 2004, only 33 years since it opened in 1971. It was called a variety of names and declared obsolete when people preferred the design of old time baseball stadiums that started to sprout around the country.

    Let’s hope Citizens Bank Park will continue to host Phillies games the next 100 years after a Fenway style renovation. Baseball is meant to be enjoyed in an old fashioned way in a stadium that fits the style vice the Octorad style of the Vet and artificial turf in the field.

  5. The Phillies or A’s played at a field near 30th and Columbia Ave., in Strawberry Mansion. Growing up in the neighborhood, I often looked for signs of a ball field, but could find nothing. Anybody have photographs?

  6. Either the A’s or the Phillies once played at a ballpark near 30th & Columbia Ave.
    Are there any pictures of the site?

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