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Wrigley Field historical sleuthing: 1938 aerial edition

There’s a lot you can find from just one photo, beyond what’s happening on the field.

Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images

This article is going to go down a number of rabbit holes, not all of which have to do with Cubs baseball, but all of which have to do with what you see in this photo.

The information supplied by Getty Images is as follows:

An aerial view of Wrigley Field in Chicago shows the Cubs playing the Cincinnati Reds on July 11, 1938.

Right away, there’s something wrong with that. Why? Because the Cubs weren’t playing the Reds on July 11, 1938. The Cubs game that Monday was against the Pirates; they lost 5-3 in front of 6,688.

The crowd you see is a lot larger than 6,688.

So, I set out to look through the Cubs schedule for nearby dates. This could possibly be the game against the Reds the previous day, Sunday, July 10. Crowd that day: 30,793. The Cubs lost that one, too, 3-1, to Johnny Vander Meer, who had thrown back-to-back no-hitters the previous month.

But I don’t think it’s that game, either.


Because Cubs single games in 1938 started at 3 p.m. Even in early July, a shadow would have begun creeping past the third base line wall by 3 p.m. and we don’t see that. There’s someone in the Cubs on-deck circle so they’re at bat, which would mean that would be somewhat past 3 p.m. if it’s the July 10 date, and even though the Reds went out 1-2-3 in the top of the first inning that day, you’d certainly see a shadow on part of the field by the bottom of the first — or later, if it’s later.

In 1938, doubleheaders at Wrigley Field began at 1:30. That’s why I think this photo was taken the following Sunday, July 17, a doubleheader against Boston (then called the “Bees”).

Of the Cubs batters in that game, three were lefthanded or would have batted LH that afternoon: Stan Hack, Phil Cavarretta and switch-hitter Ripper Collins. It’s impossible to be certain, but I think this photo shows either Collins or Cavarretta batting in the bottom of the third. All the other times a Cubs LH hitter came to bat in this game, there were runners on base. Also, the attendance that day, 35,623, seems to me to match better what we see than the somewhat lower July 10 attendance.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. The Cubs swept the doubleheader, 3-1 and 4-0.

What I found even more interesting than the game action in this photo is what you see in the neighborhood surrounding the ballpark. Some of the buildings you see still stand, almost 83 years later. Others have succumbed to time.

I asked Mike Bojanowski, who is a Wrigley neighborhood expert (he grew up there and still lives nearby) to look at this photo and tell us about all those buildings. Here’s another version of the photo and his detailed history of each numbered building. To the west of the ballpark you can see the coal yard that occupied the site now housing the Cubs office building. The coal yard closed in 1961 and was demolished. The building you see at the southeast corner of Clark & Waveland was likely the coal yard’s office, and the other building immediately west of the left field stands was also probably part of the coal yard property.

Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images. Photo illustration by Mike Bojanowski

1. 1052 Waveland, Chicago Fire Dept. Engine 78, built 1915

Engine 78 has been located on Waveland since the 1890s, the current firehouse is one of the best-preserved of its era, almost as much a landmark as Wrigley itself.

2. 1040-42 Waveland, built 1910

The last frontage building without rooftop seating.

3. 1032 Waveland, built 1909

The Glenallen Hill building, its frontage, according to Google Earth, is 450 feet from home plate.

4. 3710 Kenmore, built 1886

The oldest building in the immediate frontage area, when it was built Lake View had not yet been annexed into the city of Chicago. It and the following are the only buildings that predate both Wrigley and the seminary campus that predated Wrigley. Currently for sale, and very possibly to be purchased as a teardown, it might not be standing much longer.

5. 3701 Kenmore, built 1890

This 1938 pic shows this building with two of the distinctive features that have been lost in recent years. The ornamental turret was demolished in 2018, the seating alcove built into the roof in time for the 1932 World Series was taken out in 2009. The original Wrigley rooftop, so to speak. From the late 1930s, painted advertisements, many including the turret in creative ways, added to its prominence. Famously, the Ricketts Restaurant (Clark just south of Diversey, completely unrelated to the family now owning the Cubs), maintained this prime ad space for over two decades.

6. 3703 Kenmore, built 1901

One of a picturesque trio of buildings fronting Kenmore that retain their vintage facades.

7. 3705 Kenmore, built 1896

The Kingman porch. Kong hit two home runs onto this property (1976 as a Met and 1979 as a Cub). Sosa hit Kenmore itself alongside the building (2003). See this May 12, 2016 BCB article and Part 2 from May 20, 2016 on Cubs past home runs. The Kingman home runs measured about 520 feet each, Sammy’s was measured by GPS readings at the time as 536 feet.

8. 1010 Waveland, built 1914

9. 3653-55 Sheffield, 3653 built 1901

The larger and older of the two buildings currently housing Murphy’s Bleachers.

10. 3651 Sheffield, built 1901

11. 3649 Sheffield, built 1901

One of two Sheffield frontage buildings that historically had signage mounted on the roof.

12. 3643 Sheffield, built 1915

13. 3639 Sheffield, built 1914

Originally had a rooftop turret, visible in early photos such as this one, it was removed many years ago.

14. 3637 Sheffield, built 2012, facade original, c. 1914

The Wrigley Rooftops signage building, only the facade is original.

15. 3633 Sheffield, built 1894

The oldest building of the Sheffield frontage. Formerly the “Eamus Catuli” building, currently the “Beary Caray” front yard. Originally had a peaked ornamental roof facade, with “L.B.” carved into it. It was also one of the earliest frontage buildings to go to large-scale rooftop seating. The original roof ornament was set into the front yard for a time, then survived in a gangway for years, but is now gone.

16. 3631 Sheffield, built 1896

Best known as the rooftop of the “Baby Ruth” sign, and other signage through the years.

17. 3621-25 Sheffield, built 1901

The current 3627 Sheffield building, immediately to the north, is a 1970s structure.

18. 3609-11 Sheffield, built 1901

The buildings to either side are of recent construction.