Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Griffith Stadium in NW DC

(More photos added) I'll save all my yapping about this stadium for another post, but I wanted to show you some images I worked up yesterday on my lunch break.

Griffith Stadium was the home of the Washington Nationals, the Negro League Homestead Grays, and then the Washington Senators, from 1911 to 1965 when it was demolished without fanfare six years before the Senators left for Texas. It was a beautiful old park with crazy dimensions that had character oozing from its aged steel and concrete.

It basically sat on the site where Howard U Hospital is today, bordered by the alley north of U Street to the south, 5th Street NW to the east, W Street to the north (almost), and Georgia Ave to the west. There were about 4-5 rowhouses and one tree north of the U Street alley on 5th Street NW that the Nationals couldn't buy, and as a result, the centerfield fence juts right back into the outfield to compensate.

I've walked and biked the square, and I have yet to find any sort of plaque or marker commemorating the 70+ years of baseball played on the site (National ballpark actually sat east of this site, opened in 1892 and burned in 1911, leading to this place being built.)

It's a shame that the neighborhood could today feel like Wrigleyville if the park was still standing, with 5th Street as Sheffield and the U Street alley as Waveland Avenue. It wasn't as smooth a park as Wrigley, Comiskey, or Fenway, due in large part to the fact that it wasn't built mostly at once like Wrigley was. Griffith was just a lower deck for years before the second deck and outfield seats were added. The second deck didn't even really connect to the lower deck, so it would be a lot harder to buy cheap tickets and move up like you can at Nats games today!

I've decided to make it my personal mission to make sure that Cultural Tourism DC or some other DC entity recognizes this historic site with some sort of marker. I'm sure there's gotta be some other people out there like me that love baseball, baseball stadiums, and would love to see where Josh Gibson, Harmon Killebrew and others knocked the ball around a park in a DC neighborhood. I'll save my full "outrage" until I've thoroughly checked the area for some sort of marker, though I'm 99% certain there isn't one there.

I think it'd be a great thing for the neighborhood to memorialize and include in one of the Cultural Tourism walking tours, especially due to how the stadium fits into the African-American heritage of the greater U Street neighborhood, with the Grays using it as their "home away from home" for years.

Don't miss the note where Mickey Mantle's tape-measure homer landed back in the day. It was supposedly well over 500 feet, landing in the backyyard of 434 Oakdale, and significantly longer than the one he nearly hit over the RF roof at Yankee Stadium, or the one he hit over the seats in right-center at the Stadium.

Anyway, enjoy. Thanks to Google Earth and the power of the internets for the photos to make this sort of visualization possible. Click on any of them for a larger version

From the east, looking west/slightly northwest

From the southeast, looking almost directly northwest

From the northeast, looking to the southwest

From the east, looking west/slightly northwest. It's interesting to notice that the area was significantly more dense back when this picture was taken, which was the oldest aerial shot I could find of the stadium. There are few, if any, surface parking lots, and buildings fill out almost every block. I'm sure some of that is due to the riots, which were focused nearby at 14th and U street, but I'm sure some of that is the suburban-centric development mentality in the neighborhood over the last 30 years.

From the direct south, looking due north. Notice the rowhouses on U Street that are still there today, as well as a few of the ones on the corner of U and 5th that forced the outfield fence to jut back into play.

Same thing, just in black and white.