Baseball historian looking for ‘smoking gun’ to help save the grandstands
It looks like the initiative to restore the grandstands at Veterans Park is beginning to pick up some steam.
Three weeks ago, The Review reported that members of the community were concerned that the grandstands may be torn down as a result of the city’s new Master Plan and had begun an effort to save the structure. After seeing the story, one of our readers tipped off baseball writer and historian Gary Gillette, who then called The Review to offer his own two cents.
Gillette, a Detroiter and former columnist for ESPN Insider who has authored and edited numerous books on baseball – including the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia – was heavily involved in the effort to preserve Tiger Stadium and had been actively researching the history of the grandstands at Veterans Park. What he had to say was nothing short of historic.
“The fact is that the stadium is not simply a decrepit old park,” he said. “It is one of only five remaining home ballparks of major Negro League teams from 1920-1950.”
Moreover, because of that distinction the site could qualify for the National Register of Historic Places. If that were the case, then it would be eligible for federal and state tax credits to help offset the cost of preservation.
Gillette also says that there may be money available through grants to help preserve the grandstands. One possibility is the Detroit Tigers Foundation, which if interested could lead to additional grants from other entities including Major League Baseball. There is also a potential to raise money through private organizations or individuals who donate to causes for Negro League Baseball.
“One of the great advantages of the stadium at Veterans Park is that it’s in really good condition for what it is and it could be restored quite cost effectively,” he said.
According to Gillette, the stadium was built in 1930 and was home to the Detroit Stars in 1930, 1931, and 1933 and the Detroit Wolves in 1932. He says that if people can go onto the field and know that they are standing where a famous player played, it really means something to them. He took a group of baseball historians to the site in 2008 and says that their excitement was palpable.
“The fact that these guys knew they were standing on ground where Satchel Paige pitched, Josh Gibson once swung a bat and Turkey Sterns roamed the outfield really impressed them,” he said.
Unfortunately, the road to a historic designation is blocked by a human error. Two years ago, Gillette discovered that an oft-repeated mistake had obscured the history of the stadium. Apparently, at some point a reference book inaccurately reported that the grandstands were knocked down to make way for Keyworth Stadium. After that “fact” was repeated over and over, the truth was forgotten to time.
Now, all that’s needed to prove the case is a photograph. Because of the erroneous report that the site was demolished, as well as the fact that the Wayne County Road Commission renovated the site in 1941 using Workers Progress Administration money, there is no real proof that the site is actually the place where Negro League games were played. Gillette says that any picture of the stadium from between 1930 and 1941 would help seal the deal.
“The smoking gun would be a photo,” he says.
Greg Kowalski, the chairman of the Hamtramck Historical Commission, said he is also looking for photos of teams playing at the field.
If you or someone you know has a picture of the grandstands at Veterans Park from between 1930 and 1941 contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call (313) 874-2100.