In 1967, White Sox owner John Allyn proposed a new sports stadium/arena complex in what is now the South Loop. It’s pictured above, and would have included a stadium seating 46,000 for baseball, a hockey/basketball arena seating 15,000 and a 60,000-seat football/soccer stadium.
Allyn’s idea was to get this built and have all five of Chicago’s major sports teams — the Cubs, White Sox, Blackhawks, Bulls and Bears — move into it. The location, per the Tribune, was bounded by Polk Street on the north, 15th Street on the south, State Street on the east and Clark Street on the west. The road you see bisecting the proposed complex is Roosevelt Road.
Mayor Richard J. Daley was just like many other big-city mayors in that time — he wanted to demolish old structures that were considered dilapidated and build new, modernistic things, buildings, stadiums, convention centers, whatever. Stadiums like these were built in Cincinnati, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and some other cities in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Richie Hebner, who played for the Phillies, Pirates and Cubs, famously said about that era’s baseball stadiums, which were derisively dubbed concrete ashtrays: “I stand at the plate at the Vet [in Philadelphia] and I don’t honestly know whether I’m in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, St. Louis or Philly. They all look alike.”
Lack of money — the project’s estimated cost ballooned from $50 million in 1967 to $100 million by 1970 (the latter figure, more than $665 million in today’s dollars) — and lack of interest from some of the owners, particularly Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley, doomed the project. There’s been tremendous development in that area over the years, mostly residential.
But what if P.K. had agreed to go along with Allyn’s proposal and move the Cubs into a stadium like this in the early 1970s? Remember, at that time Wrigley Field wasn’t the iconic place it became only a decade or so later. Contemporary newspaper accounts from the late 1960s called the Cubs’ home “ancient,” and as noted, many teams were moving into new stadiums in this era.
One thing that would have immediately changed is that the Cubs would have been able to play night games. Wrigley wasn’t philosophically opposed to night games. As you likely know, he had ordered steel for light towers to be constructed for the 1942 season, but donated the steel to the war effort. Even after that, the Cubs made a tentative plan to play some night games at Comiskey Park in 1942. That fell through, as did a petition to the War Production Board to post temporary lights at Wrigley during the war. After World War II, P.K. Wrigley refused to put lights in Wrigley, saying he didn’t want to disturb the neighborhood.
The Cubs, as you know, had become a contending team in 1967. It’s said that one of the factors in their 1969 failure was the all-day game home schedule, when other teams were playing at night, out of the summer heat. Had they moved to a new lakefront stadium in (say) 1970, this would no longer have been a factor and the team might have been able to compete better with other ballclubs using similar night-game schedules.
New stadiums in those years tended to draw in their early years from the curiosity factor. The Phillies more than doubled their attendance in their first year in Veterans Stadium, even though they were a terrible team. Same with the Pirates from 1969-70, even though they played half of 1970 in old Forbes Field. Cardinals attendance went up 50 percent from 1965 to 1966, though they were basically a .500 team both years, and the Reds doubled their attendance from 1969 to 1970 on moving to Riverfront Stadium (though making the World Series for the first time in nine years helped there, too).
The Cubs had set an attendance record in 1969 that had broken the franchise mark set 40 years earlier. A new stadium could have put them over the two million mark — and very few clubs were passing that benchmark at that time. In 1971 — the first year all four of those new stadiums were in use — only two teams passed two million in attendance, the Mets and Dodgers, and that was an era when gate receipts were still more important than broadcast revenue to most teams.
So the Cubs might have been a better team, drawn better, and possibly could have charged higher ticket prices. Perhaps they get to, or win, a World Series in the early 1970s. More money in the Cubs’ coffers in the mid-1970s when free agency began might have allowed them to dive deeper into the free-agent market. They could have continued to be a good team instead of having the entire organization fall into disrepair in the last years of the Wrigley ownership.
Unlike the stadiums in Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and St. Louis, the proposed new park near the lakefront in Chicago would have been baseball-only, though it would have been shared by two teams. By the 1990s or early 2000s, when the new wave of baseball stadiums was begun in many MLB cities, either the Cubs or White Sox or both would likely have wanted their own park. By then, Wrigley Field and old Comiskey Park would probably both have long since been demolished... so where would they/could they have gone?
It’s a fascinating bit of alternate history. What do you think would have happened after 2000?