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Efforts underway to renovate and restore historic Brookside Stadium to playable condition

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PHOTO COURTESY OF THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS.  Sunday, October 10, 1915, Brookside Park: White Autos beats Omaha Lexus 11 to 6 in front of an estimated crowd of 115,000.

Efforts underway to renovate and restore historic Brookside Stadium to playable condition
by Darren T. Hamm
Plain Press Contributor
Similar to many ballparks across North America, Brookside Stadium lies in slumber as a remnant of sports history and only a shadow of its former glory. Its past grandeur is recalled today only by the tale of elderly Clevelanders, or in faint references within history books.
But the iconographic image that many have seen of what could be the largest attendance in all of sports leaves Brookside Stadium with a legendary story to be told, and an endangered ballpark to be brought back to life.
But efforts are being made to renovate Brookside Stadium and restore the stadium to a playable, yet historic condition. The project is a partnership by the Cleveland City Councilman Brian Cummins (Ward 14), the Stockyards Clark-­‐Fulton Brooklyn Centre Community Development Office and dedicated spectators and players alike.
Cummins said that initial estimates have been received on potential plans with a range of costs and they are being reviewed.
An important part of the project involves collecting the history of the ballpark as told by area residents and their descendants. Residents can relay their memories and stories of Brookside Stadium by contacting the author of this article (dandjhamm@sbcglobal.net; 216-741-7990). Volunteers also are welcome.
The natural amphitheatre that makes up what is now Brookside Stadium and throughout Brookside Park can be credited to a fortunate set of geological circumstances. Ancient glaciers retreating carved a deep bowl from the earth. The fertile valley lands of the park would have been traversed by early Native American visitors, farmed by the regions first white settlers, and eventually became part of the original lands establishing the Cleveland Metroparks system in 1894.
In the years that follow, documentation shows that Brookside Stadium was enjoyed by local residents and had already begun hosting large audiences. Plans had begun to develop an athletic field in June of 1898. Brookside Park hosted what was referred to as a season-opening concert of the Great Western Band that attracted residents from “all the West and South Side,” according to published reports.
In October 1908, Cleveland City Clerk Peter Witt made a presentation to the Cleveland Athletic Club, suggesting that Brookside Park needed an athletic complex to take advantage of the gift of the natural terrain. Published articles say Witt envisioned a 100,000 seat stadium that would be the “largest meeting place in the world” to attract the 1912 Olympic Games.
The plan was to begin with seating for 25,000, eventually expanding to encompass the entire hillside and surround a 750-­‐foot by 500-­‐foot athletic field.
In fact, expecting this grandiose vision to be embraced, by the time Peter Witt was making his appeal to the Athletic Club, the hillsides had already been graded and leveled by the City’s parks department.
By the end of November 1908, Witt had made the official announcement that the first section of concrete seating would be installed and within a year the “mammoth” stadium would be complete.
Sadly only a portion of this plan would be realized, and never to the extent that would have attracted the Olympic Games.
Regardless of discussions of elaborate infrastructure improvements, on May 2, 1909, Brookside Stadium hosted a double-­‐header for opening day of the Cleveland League, the first game between the Ohio A C’s versus the Commadores and the second between McWatters-Dolan and the Treadways.
The official dedication ceremonies of Brookside Stadium took place on May 29, 1909 and consisted of a 15-mile City Marathon originating in Gordon Park and finishing on the main field, other track and field competitions (shot put, pole vaulting, etc.) involving 152 participants representing 12 gymnasiums, an act by Minnie the Brookside elephant who performed between events, and a concert from Rossini’s band who “sent waltzes and two steps singing through the air.”
The thousands that lined the hillsides were seated on a “circus-­‐like” arrangement of wooden bench seating that outlined the field.
Though it was not widely covered, it is understood that Brookside Stadium likely held a number of sporting events over the next several years. This was especially likely noting the popularity of amateur league baseball, the prevalence of local teams, and the reputation that Brookside had would have garnered as a premier field.
Local interests culminated in 1914 and 1915, when Brookside Stadium hosted three games, all amateur championships, that would mark it forever as a historical ballpark.
• On Sunday, September 20, 1914, the Telling Strollers beat Hanna’s Cleaners (aka the Hanna Street Cleaners) 8 to 3 in front of an estimated audience of 100,000 (printed attendance of 90,000 to 100,000).
• On Sunday, October 3, 1915, White Autos played Johnstown, PA to a crowd of 100,000 on-­‐lookers.
• But it was the final game of the season on Sunday, October 10, 1915, that found White Autos beating Omaha Lexus 11 to 6 in front of an estimated crowd of 115,000 that has drawn the greatest amount of interest and put Brookside Stadium on the map for sports fans worldwide.
These matches, sponsored by local businesses, were free to the public and would have drawn attendees from all sides of the city. In fact the greatest barrier to marking Brookside Stadium as the home of the largest event in amateur, and possibly in the entirety of sports history, is the absence of a formal accounting of this attendance.
The best historical records that remain are four impressive panoramic photographs with dates and an estimated number of attendees inscribed. Many have seen these photos on display at Sokolowski’s University Inn in Tremont.
Over the next decade, Brookside Stadium would host a number of events, from semi-pro football games, to community gatherings and even a concert by the world famous John Philip Sousa Band in 1917.
As professional baseball continued to gain popularity, and economic times changed, Brookside would have become a more informal place for sporting matches that would include youth league play and practice.
Ultimately over the next half-­‐century, the Stadiums infrastructure would erode and due to the lack of investment, the field would fall into disrepair.
In the early 1980’s, a number of dedicated citizens–many of whom were descendants of those who played at Brookside during the legendary days–lobbied Cleveland City Council and the City of Cleveland to completely rehabilitate the Stadium and have the park accepted by the Landmarks Commission as an Historical Site.
Unfortunately their effort faced great odds and Brookside Stadium, then known only as “Diamond #1”, was eliminated from regular city play and funding. Instead it was offered for consideration to become a parking lot for the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.
During the reconstruction of the Fulton Road Bridge in 2007, Brookside Stadium was used as a staging ground for materials and equipment by the Kokosing Construction Co., which resulted in significant damage.
Upon completion of the bridge, the field was backfilled with clay and spread with grass, leaving it in very poor drainage and ultimately in an unplayable state as it lies today.
Editor’s Note: [Among the sources examined for this story were articles in the Plain Dealer, entries in the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, and articles on the following websites: http://www.clevelandareahistory.com, http://www.Suite101.com, http://www.clevelandhardball.com, http://www.baseball-­fever.com.]

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