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How Much Of Original Wrigley Field Will Be Left After The Renovations Are Complete?

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There's been a major-league field at Clark & Addison in Chicago for 101 years. But very little of that 1914 structure remains, and even less will be around after the ballpark construction project is complete.

Wrigley Field as seen from the air, July 11, 2013
Wrigley Field as seen from the air, July 11, 2013
Matthew Kosterman/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Some queries were posted last week concerning whether any of the original structure of Wrigley Field is now being exposed. It's a fair question how much material from the 1914 ballpark remains at all.

The answer is: Not much, and only a minority of that stands where it was built. The last of the original 1914 structure is the supporting steel of the majority of the lower deck, some of the office space fronting the Clark/Addison corner, and the visitors clubhouse. And even here, only the structures along the first-base/right field side are in their original position. Nothing above the lower bowl roof, nothing in the outfield, and nothing immediately fronting the playing field, is original to 1914. The lower bowl seating concrete has all been replaced at least once, and in some places several times. The visitors clubhouse, more than a century old, is usually cited as the worst in baseball. If the renderings are correct, some existing original structure is going to be sacrificed in the name of progress as rebuilding continues. The following photos illustrate the original material that can now be more easily seen. You can click on any of the photos for a larger version in a new browser window or tab.

chicago lutheran seminary around 1900

What you see above is the Chicago Lutheran Seminary, which occupied the land where Wrigley Field now sits, as it appeared in about 1900. The view is looking northwest. These were the first structures to stand on the site where Wrigley is now; they were completed in 1892.

The photo below shows Weeghman Park as it was in 1915. The demolition of the seminary buildings you can see behind the left-field corner provided the room to move the left field and home plate grandstands. You can see the surviving seminary structures west of the left-field grandstand. Some of the buildings fronting Waveland survive to this day. The peaked roof "ballhawk building" at the northeast corner of Kenmore and Waveland was built in 1890, and predates even the seminary.

weeghman park 1915

During the 1922-23 offseason, the existing lower grandstand was cut into three pieces. One piece (right field) remained in place, one piece (plate area) was moved toward Clark Street, the remaining piece (left field) was moved northwest to fill in land that had been cleared by the demolition of structures left over from the seminary campus that had preceded Wrigley. (Those seminary buildings had survived several years, and can be seen west of the left-field roof in some old photos). All this repositioning was accompanied by a lowering of the field grade level. The upshot was that the field area was greatly expanded, and the grandstand could be expanded forward, increasing the seating capacity significantly. The gaps were filled in, and the park was ready for the 1923 home opener. You often see, in news reports of the day, the phrase "New Cubs Park" used to describe the team's home, so massive were the changes.

1922-23 wrigley relocation

The 1922 photo above shows the three pieces of the lower bowl after repositioning, but before the refill construction. The gap in left field was much larger than in right, and in its present configuration shows a smoother structural line. The right field gap was shorter and more abrupt, and displays a "dogleg" appearance. That's much more evident from the air, as you can see in the photo at the top of this article. This is the lower bowl's current footprint. The groundskeeper's cottage was added later in this phase of construction. From this photo it is possible to identify the original remaining steel. The refill construction left no visible irregularities from the outside, from the inside some are evident.

Here is an overprinted version of the photo at the top of this article, showing the left-field configurations (photo taken July 11, 2013, thus before last year's bleacher reconstruction and video boards):

2013 aerial photo with blueprint

Looking at the photo above, it appears that the point at which the 1922-23 "fill" met the repositioning of the original grandstand is exactly where the new west gate of Wrigley Field will be located. You can also see in this photo that the marquee is not centered exactly on the corner of Clark & Addison, but resides a bit north of there, centered on the curve of the grandstand and almost directly behind home plate.

The following overprinted current photos offer a guide to the original steel, based on the evidence of the 1922 photos. The right field gap is not as visible in the original photo, and the overprint there is more conjectural. I wish it were possible to obtain the sweeping panorama available in 1922, but no such luck today. Current original structure soon to be replaced includes the surviving offices on Clark Street (the last ones are originals, office space was expanded north over the years, those are now demolished) and some 1914 in situ steel at the far right-field corner. The reworking of the left-field bowl to accommodate the new home clubhouse and west gate could cost some original steel.

2015 photo with blueprint #1 (new)

2015 photo with blueprint #3 (new)

2015 photo with blueprint #3

2015 photo with blueprint #4

2015 photo with blueprint #5 (new)

Wrigley as it stands is not unlike an archaeological site, with occupation layers buried over time by new building. Much of that will be gone after the refurbishing. It has been a bittersweet pleasure to observe the process, and the final uncovering of the ancient, these last few years.