New York’s Oldest Extant Ballpark

Wp3

Extant is actually a stretch. The retaining wall pictured above is the last standing vestige of Washington Park, home to the NL’s Brooklyn franchise from 1898 to 1913. That wall, which now encloses a Con-Ed facility, runs along Third avanue between Third and Fourth streets in Gowanus, an amorphous industrial neigborhood sandwiched between Park Slope and Carroll Gardens. The ballpark that once occupied the site was a lovely affair, with a covered grandstand and seating for nearly 20,000. A previous Washington Park, just a block away, had been home to that same Brooklyn team in its earlier affiliations; the boys were occassionally referred to as “Gowanucians.” Fans came from the surrounding neigborhoods—the area was known generally as “South Brooklyn” back then—and from Manhattan, an easy commute across the then-new Brooklyn Bridge. A few more shots of that beautiful old wall:

Wp1

Wp4

Here’s the park as it was in its heyday:

Washin01

The view is from the southwest, as in the middle picture above, but from the interior. On big crowd days, it was a commonplace for fans to sit in roped-off stretches at the back of the outfield.

Tourcardaa

The Spalding World Tourists are here pictured at the first Washington Park. In the center, arms crossed, is Hall of Famer John Ward, the Derek Jeter of the 19th century—a tabloid fixture as the star shortstop of the New York Giants, and the founder of the first players’ union.

Today, Gowanus is rapidly gentrifying, but it’s still a bit raw. Here’s some of what you’ll find if you come out for a peek at what remains of the old park:

Rec

Across Fourth street from the great old yard there’s at least some sign of athletics.

Carwash

You can also get your car washed and quick lubed.

Batcave

Two blocks away is the “Bat Cave,” a former Con-Ed power station that has become a squatters’ haven. It’s slated for development into condos.

Gowanus

The Gowanus Canal, perhaps an unlikely spot for a lovers’ stroll. No, it’s not Venice, but the Williamsburg Savings Bank Tower makes for a nice view off in the distance.

Fproofdoor

Need a door?

Garage

A garage?

Firehouse

A fireman?

2way

Signs around here can be kind of confusing!

Home

But we always find our way home.

8 comments… add one

  • Awesome post, YF.

    Paul SF April 28, 2007, 12:08 pm
  • Thanks. We YFs can use anything to distract from what’s been happening in this century!

    YF April 28, 2007, 12:21 pm
  • Ha! Now, was that old Brooklyn team the one named the Superbas? Or was that the next incarnation, which later became the Dodgers? Or are they one and the same?

    Paul SF April 28, 2007, 12:24 pm
  • One and the same. Those proto-Dodgers had many names.

    YF April 28, 2007, 12:29 pm
  • Wonderful post, YF.
    For many years I lived on 5th St bet. 4th Ave and 5th Ave; the first Washington Park site(now JJ Byrne Park) was the view from my window.
    I just read “The Greatest Ballpark Ever” by Bob McGee (A wonderful history of the Brooklyn Dodgers, for those who don’t know about it) and couldn’t resist taking a drive by the Ebbets Field site yesterday when I worked in B’klyn – such a sad vibe emanates from the awful ’60s apartment complex (Ebbets Field Apartments) built on the site.

    Andrews April 28, 2007, 1:54 pm
  • Hey, great post — I walk past that wall sometimes, and the whole Gowanus area is pretty fascinating… there’s some amazing graffiti on Union Street.
    My favorite old Brooklyn team is the Brooklyn Excelsiors, though, because: what an awesome team name. They played in Brooklyn Heights, but there’s nothing left of the ballpark now.

    Emma April 28, 2007, 4:47 pm
  • Hey YF -
    I have similar pictures for Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. (what remains of the outfield wall, the original home plate under plexi in the original spot, the plague where mazoroski’s HR landed, etc.) I’ll send them if you’d like. Let me know.

    rz-yf April 30, 2007, 10:13 am
  • The home field for the Brooklyn Excelsiors’,was located inside the 4 block area of Degraw St to Sackett St…Hoyt St to Smith St…which was the first Carroll Park.

    Anonymous October 28, 2007, 3:55 pm

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