Most people assume that the history of baseball parks in Los Angeles got its’ start in 1962 when Dodgers Stadium opened. After all, everyone knows that it is the third oldest stadium in Major League baseball. But did you know that Angels/Anaheim Stadium is the fourth oldest ballpark in the majors? How about the fact that a Wrigley Field existed before the iconic home of the Cubs was built in Chicago?
These and many other interesting facts are available in the book Los Angeles’s Historic Ballparks by Chris Epting. California was a mecca for baseball at the majors, minors, and company levels due to its year-round comfortable weather. Before either major league stadium was built, the city had been used for several major league spring training camps. The Cactus League in Arizona had not yet come into existence.
The earliest ballpark in Los Angeles dates to 1887. It was known as Chutes Park and was located inside of an amusement park. In 1911 it moved next door to become Washington Park Stadium, where it operated from 1912-1925. Brookside Park was another early ballpark. It opened in 1914 in the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena, where it served as the spring training home of the Chicago White Sox. In 1988 it was renamed in honor of its hometown baseball legend, Jackie Robinson.
The first Wrigley Field opened in 1925 as the home of the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League. It served as their home park from 1925-1957. Among the baseball immortals to play at Wrigley Field were Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle who were on a barnstorming tour by the Yankees when they played several Pacific Coast League teams. The stadium was also used as a stand-in for movies/ television shows including Pride of the Yankees, Angels in the Outfield, and Home Run Derby. The stadium featured an Art Deco style of architecture with a red tile roof, so it would fit in with the residential neighborhood that surrounded it. It had a capacity of 20,500 and included a feature that would be copied in Chicago… the outfield walls were covered with ivy. An early program used at the ballpark listed the following concession items and their prices… beer for 35 cents, hot dogs for 25 cents, Coca-Cola’s for 15 cents, and popcorn for 15 cents. Those were the days!
Catalina Island also served as a spring training home for the Chicago Cubs from 1922-42, 46-47, 50-51. The players would arrive by ship for the training camps.
Another early ballpark was Gilmore Field, which was the home for the Pacific Coast League Stars from 1939-1957. It was also popular with the Hollywood Stars, as its opening was attended by Jack Benny, Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, and Gary Cooper. The stadium also hosted spring training for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The space it occupied is now home to CBS Television City.
The suburb of Burbank was home to Olive Memorial Stadium from 1947 -1952. It served as a PCL stadium and as the home park for the St. Louis Browns spring training camp.
One of the earliest industrial leagues in the country was in the Los Angeles suburb of Long Beach. It featured a stadium built by Shell Oil Company for its workforce. It was a very basic facility, as the borders of Shell Oil Field were outlined by the Model T cars surrounding the playing field. Oil derricks lined the outfield fences. No word on whether the early pitchers were “oiling up” the balls!
Other cities in the greater Los Angeles area that had ballparks were Las Palmas, San Bernadino, and Palm Springs. Each of these ballparks served as a spring training home for a major league team.
We’ve now come full circle to the present major league residents in the Los Angeles area. The Brooklyn Dodgers were the first to arrive in 1958. Dodger Stadium had not yet been built, so the Los Angeles Coliseum served as its first West Coast home from 1958-1962. The Coliseum is oval-shaped, which resulted in a very unusual layout for the field. The left field fence was only 251 feet from the plate. A net was hung atop the fence and a ball had to go over the net to be a home run. Meanwhile, fans in right field were sitting more than 700 feet from the plate. The outfielders had a lot of ground to cover! The Dodgers went to the World Series the second season they played in the Coliseum, and as a result, were able to reach an attendance record of 93,103 for one of their games. The Dodgers would move on to Chavez Ravine and Dodger Stadium in 1962.
The Angels were created as an expansion team in 1962. They would share Dodger Stadium with the Dodgers until their stadium in Anaheim opened in 1966.
Los Angeles’s Historic Ballparks does a superb job of covering the early ballparks in the City of Angels. Many of these park sites have been obliterated by time, development, and the Los Angeles freeway system. Fortunately, Chris Epting was able to travel to many of these sites before they disappeared. His photos accompanying each chapter bring alive the history of these early ballparks and the many baseball immortals that played on their fields.