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A Chicago building that was the birthplace of Cubs scorecards is about to be demolished

And thus we present a little-known bit of Chicago and Cubs history.

Mike Bojanowski

A quaint piece of Cubs lore is about to pass into history, and we feel it deserves a valedictory.

In the last few weeks, demolition work has begun at the former site of Neely Printing, 871 N. Franklin St., the birthplace, so to speak, of Cubs scorecards. The cards were published there for over half a century, including the iconic Otis Shepard designs. This is to be part of the North Union project, constructed by JDL Development. Although the original Neely building is to be repurposed, only the facade will be preserved, a new residential structure will be inserted within.

The building, while not a masterpiece, is a minor classic, constructed in 1922, the architects were Fugard & Knapp. A successor firm, Theilbar & Fugard, designed additions to the Neely structure in 1936 and 1941. Their most famous surviving building, as supervising architects, is 35 East Wacker Drive, a designated Chicago Landmark. Somewhat ironically, they were the designing architects of the Moody Bible complex on North Clark, now itself an endangered architectural landmark.

December 3, 1926, is a signal date in Cubs history. The club announced the formal renaming of their ballpark as Wrigley Field, and the promotions of Margaret Donahue to club secretary and Robert Lewis to traveling secretary, to which both would bring lasting legacies. Less well-known, former traveling secretary John Seys was elevated to second vice president, specifically in charge of concessions, and managing editor for scorecards. Seys, like William Veeck Sr., had been a newpaper reporter before his Cubs employment. Seys held this office until his death in 1938.

One of Seys’ first moves was to hire Neely Printing as the maker of Cubs scorecards, a tenure which lasted 55 seasons. The 40-page newsprint program booklet, in use since the 1890s, was replaced by a heavy single-sheet cardboard, folded once to make a four-page scorecard. This format ran from 1927-39, replaced by a scaled-down booklet 1940-47, and finally, in 1948, by the 8½ x 11” iconic scorecards which continue to this day. In 1927 the scorecard cost a dime, by 1981 it had risen to 30 cents.

How Seys and Neely found one another is lost to history, but there is a circumstantial connection. They were born only five years apart, and raised in small downstate Illinois towns in adjoining counties, 25 miles from each other; Neely in Taylorville, Seys in Nokomis. (Nokomis is also the hometown of MLB players Ray Schalk, Red Ruffing, and Jim Bottomley.) It’s quite possible they met socially and discovered a mutual camaraderie that bore fruit later.

Lloyd Fletcher Neely’s life story reads like the Horatio Alger novels popular in his youth. Born in Taylorville in 1886, he did not finish grammar school, and sought his fortune in Chicago. He found work as a nightshift linotype operator, and took business courses during the day. In 1910 he opened his own shop, enjoyed steady success, and in 1922 moved into the new building at Franklin and Locust. By the time his company landed the Cubs contract, Neely Printing was doing a million dollars’ worth of business annually.

Neely is most famous, outside Chicago, for the posters produced by the firm for “A Century of Progress,” the world’s fair held in Chicago 1933-34. These are highly-sought collector pieces, renowned for their design and high quality.

Neely died in 1960 and the firm was then run by son-in-law William Woolsey for its remaining 40 years. The Tribune regime printed its own scorecards beginning in 1982, but retained the long-running format. Upon Woolsey’s death in 2000, the firm seems to have dissolved. Neely’s daughter Doris (1918-2015), his only child, might have sold it to the Moody Bible Institute, who used the plant for their own publications until selling the building to JDL in 2020. The Chicago City Council approved the North Union development in May, 2021, and work is now evidently beginning.

So passes a small but not insignificant piece of local legend. Many thanks for all attention. Here are some photos of the location and other related images.