Posts Tagged ‘Walter Johnson High School’

Griffith Stadium And The Site Of D.C.’s First Nationals Park

October 9th, 2013

Baseball was played in Washington, D.C., at the intersection of Georgia and Florida Avenues for 70 years, beginning in 1891, up through the end of the 1961 season.  The original ballpark, called Boundary Field because it was located on Boundary Road (now Florida Avenue) at the District of Columbia’s former city limits, was home in 1891 to the Washington Senators of the American Association, and from 1892 to 1899 to the National League Washington Senators.

With the beginning of the American League in 1901, the American League Washington Senators began play at American League Park (I) which was located in Northeast Washington at the intersection of Florida Avenue, H Street, and Bladensburg Road in what is now the Trinidad Neighborhood (thanks to alert reader Geoffrey Hatchard).

American League Park (I) (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.)

In 1904, the American League Washington Senators moved to the Boundary Field location, making it their new home ballpark. Known also as Nationals Park, the park was constructed almost entirely of wood.

Fire Destroys American League Park (II) on March 17, 1911 (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.)

Fire Destroys American League Park (II) on March 17, 1911 (Harris & Ewing Photograph, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.)

A fire  on March 17, 1911 (caused by a plumbers lamp), destroyed the grandstand and a new concrete and steel stadium was built in its place.

View of Griffith Stadium (Photographer Theodor Horydczak, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.)

The new ballpark was also known as Nationals Park,  up until 1920 when the venue was renamed Griffith Stadium in honor of Clark Griffith , the Washington Senator’s manager turned owner.

View of Griffith Stadium (Photographer Theodor Horydczak, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.)

The Senators played at Griffith Stadium up through 1960, when, after the season ended, the team relocated to Minnesota. The 1961 expansion Washington Senators played at Griffith Stadium in 1961, moving to D.C. Stadium (later renamed Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium) in 1962.

View of Griffith Stadium (Photographer Theodor Horydczak, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.)

Griffith Stadium also served as home field for the Negro National League Homestead Grays from 1940 until 1948, that team splitting their home games between Washington and Pittsburgh. The National Football League Washington Redskins likewise played at Griffith Stadium from 1937 until 1960.

View of Griffith Stadium (Photographer Theodor Horydczak, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.)

Home plate at Griffith Stadium was located near the intersection of Georgia Avenue and V Street, N.W.

Aerial View of Griffith Stadium (image historypressblog.net)

Howard University Hospital now occupies the site, the main hospital building sitting in the approximate footprint of Griffith Stadium.

Howard University Hospital, Former Site of Griffith Stadium

Signs posted in front of Howard University Hospital along Georgia Avenue honor the memory of Griffith Stadium.

Plaque Honoring Memory of Griffith Stadium

The reverse side of the above sign recognizes significant moments in the ballpark’s history.

Plaque Honoring Memory of Griffith Stadium

Home plate is marked with a batter’s box inside the hospital’s main entrance.

Griffith Stadium Home Plate Marker Inside Howard University Hospital (picture courtesy Erik Cox Photography)

Griffith Stadium Home Plate Marker Inside Howard University Hospital (picture courtesy Erik Cox Photography)

First base paralleled Georgia Avenue, angling away from Georgia Avenue toward U Street.

Approximate location of Griffith Stadium Right Field Grandstand

A ticket booth as well as the grandstand entrance once sat at the site.

Postcard of Griffith Stadium Right Field Grandstand Entrance (copyright 1968 John F. Cummings)

Several row houses that sat in the shadow of the right field grandstand remain at the site along U Street.

Row Houses Along U Street Near What Was Once Griffith Stadium’s Right Field Grandstand

Right field to the center field corner paralleled U Street.

Former Location of Right Fied Corner (far) to Center Field Fence (near)

Buildings that once sat in the shadow of the right field fence still remain at the site as well along U Street.

Row Houses  Along U Street That Once Sat in the Shadow of Griffith Stadium’s Right Field Fence

Griffith Stadium’s center field fence was infamous for its quirky indentation at the center field corner. Behind that fence sat several row houses, which the ball club unsuccessfully had attempted to purchase from their owners. Two of those row houses remain at the site.

Row Houses Facing 5th Street That Once Sat Behind Center Field Fence

In addition to those row houses was a large oak tree that actually spread across the top of the center field fence. Although that tree is now gone, there is a smaller tree at the site today, planted in approximately the same spot.

Tree On Right Sits in Approximate Location of Large Oak Tree That Once Hung Over Griffith Stadium’s Center Field Fence

Griffith Stadium’s left field fence and bleachers paralleled 5th Street. That area is now a parking lot that runs along the back side of Howard University Hospital.

Former Site of Griffith Stadium’s Left Field Bleachers

Third base ran parallel to what is now an alley between the hospital and buildings that front W Street.

Former location of Griffith Stadium’s third base and left field grandstands

Across the alley paralleling third base are several hospital buildings that date from the time of Griffith Stadium, including the College of Medicine.

Howard University’ College of Medicine Building

Several other buildings that sit near the former site have a connection with the ballpark as well. The row house at 434 Oakdale Place  is the spot where Mickey Mantle’s famous 565 foot home run off Senator’s pitcher Chuck Stobbs on April 17, 1953, landed. Ten year old Donald Dunaway, who was attending the game and watched the ball sail over his head, found the ball in the backyard of the row house.

434 Oakdale Place (two story row house to left of three story house) – Where Mickey Mantle’s 565 Home Run Landed

Another building of note is the Wonder Bread Factory that was located at 641 S Street, N.W., just two blocks south of Griffith Stadium. The smell of bread baking at the factory often filled the air during games. The building today retains its original facade and serves the local art community by providing exhibition space.

Old Wonder Bread Factory Located Two Blocks South of Griffith Stadium Site

Given the ballpark’s location in the Nation’s Capitol, Griffith Stadium played host to many of the nation’s famous Americans. Presidents from William Howard Taft to Richard Nixon (then Vice President) threw out ceremonial first pitches to start the baseball season.

Walter Johnson Greeting President Calvin Coolidge (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.)

No baseball player best epitomized the Senators of the Griffith Stadium era than Hall of Famer Walter Johnson, who not only pitched for the team for over 20 years, but also was a radio announcer for the Senators after he retired from baseball. Upon his death in 1946, the team placed a memorial to Johnson at Griffith Stadium.

Walter Johnson Memorial at Griffith Stadium (Photographer Theodor Horydczak, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.)

That memorial, a small piece of Griffith Stadium, resides today near the athletic fields at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland.

Walter Johnson Memorial Located at Walter Johnson High School (on right side of photograph)

When Griffith Stadium was demolished in 1965, stadium seats were shipped to Orlando, Florida, and installed in Tinker Field, which at the time was the Spring Training home of Calvin Griffith’s Minnesota Twins. Those relics of Washington, D.C., baseball remain at Tinker Field, which is located next door to the Citrus Bowl.

Seats from Griffith Stadium, Installed in 1965 at Tinker Field in Orlando, Florida

Although Griffith Stadium has been a lost ballpark since its demolition in 1965, there still is much to see at the site today. Inside the hospital’s main entrance on Georgia Avenue is a small museum in one of the conference rooms that honors Griffith Stadium and significant events from its history. In a corridor just beyond the conference room is the actual location of home plate, which is marked on the hallway floor along with the outline of the batters box.

The former site of Griffith Stadium is located only three and a half miles north of the Washington Nationals current ballpark – the new Nationals Park, and is well worth a visit for any of the team’s current fans who are interested in experiencing a little of D.C.’s baseball past.

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Posted in Griffith Stadium/Boundary Field/Nationals Park, Washington DC ballparks | Comments (10)

Walter Johnson: The Montgomery County Farmer Who Could Also Pitch

March 16th, 2013

Walter Johnson was arguably the greatest pitcher of all time. He played his entire major league career for the Washington Senators from 1907 to 1927, compiling a record of 417-279 and an ERA of 2.17 for often last-place Washington squads. Johnson struck out 3,509 batters during his 20 year career and was nicknamed the “Big Train” by Stanley Milliken of the Washington Post because Johnson’s fastball and imposing size reminded the sportswriter of an express train.

Walter Johnson 1909 T-206 Card (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.)

In 1925, toward the end of his playing career, Johnson purchased a house at 9100 Old Georgetown Road in what is now Bethesda, Maryland. The house, constructed about 1906, was located in what was then an area known as Alta Vista.

The Former Walter Johnson House, 9100 Old Georgetown Road, Bethesda, Maryland

The house is on the Department of the Interior’s National Register of Historic Places  (click the link to read the survey of the Maryland Historical Trust, which contains additional information about the house).

Walter Johnson House - National Register of Historic Places Plaque

The house was situated on an 8 1/2 acre farm which included chicken coops for eggs and for show, an orchard, a windmill, a tenant house, and a baseball diamond (the original Field of Dreams?).

View of Walter Johnson's Former House from Oakmont Avenue

The house today is used as a doctor’s office, given its close proximity to the nearby National Institutes of Health.

Front Porch of Walter Johnson's Former House

The Johnson farm that surrounded the house was bounded by what is now Johnson Avenue to the north, Old Georgetown Road to the east, Oakmont Avenue/Oak Place to the south, and Hempstead Avenue to the West.

Old Georgetown Road and Johnson Avenue - the Northeast corner of Johnson's Former Farm (Johnson Farmhouse is Visible Through the Trees)

Just west of Hempstead Avenue is the former site of Ayrlawn Farm, a dairy farm that was in operation during the time Johnson lived in Bethesda.

Intersection of Johnson and Hempstead Avenues Looking Northeast Toward Johnson's Former Farm Site

Ayrlawn Park now sits on a portion of the former farm site and includes several original buildings dating back to its days as a dairy farm, including the main farm house and barn silo, which is now part of a local YMCA.

Arylawn Park is Adjacent to the Site of Johnson's Former 8 1/2 Acre Farm in Bethesda

From 1929 until 1932, Johnson managed the Washington Senators and, from 1933 until his dismissal in 1935, managed the Cleveland Indians. Once retired from baseball, in 1936, Johnson sold his house and land in Bethesda and bought a 552 acre farm in Germantown, Maryland.

Railroad Station, Germantown, Maryland

Located 15 miles northwest of his home in Bethesda, the farm in Germantown provided Johnson the opportunity to return to his roots, having grown up in Kansas farm country.

Intersection of Walter Johnson Road and Wisteria Drive Looking East Toward Former Site of Johnson Farmhouse

Although Johnson’s Germantown farm once included a farm house, a large diary barn, and several other buildings, no structures dating back to Johnson’s farm remain on the site today.

Entrance to 19400 Crystal Rock Drive

The Johnson farmhouse was located near what is now 19400 Crystal Rock Drive.

Chesterbrook Academy and Parking Lot - Former Site of Johnson Farmhouse

The Chesterbrook Academy, a preschool, sits in the approximate location of the Johnson farmhouse.

Chesterbrook Academy and Parking Lot - Former Site of Johnson Farmhouse

Trees that once shaded the Johnson farmhouse remain at the site.

Cluster of Trees that Once Surrounded the Johnson Farmhouse

Seneca Valley High School now sits on a portion of Johnson’s former dairy farm.

Seneca Valley High School Occupies A Portion of Walter Johnson's Former Farm

After retirement from baseball, Johnson stayed active in the community, serving as Montgomery County Commissioner from 1938 to 1940. He ran for Maryland’s Sixth Congressional District in 1940 on the Republican ticket, loosing to the Democratic incumbent by only a few thousand votes. Johnson was reelected County Commissioner in 1942 and served in that position until his death in 1946.  Johnson died of a brain tumor at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington D.C.

Entrance to Rockville Cemetery

Johnson is interred in Rockville Cemetery (also known as Union Armory Cemetery), located at 1350 Baltimore Road, in Rockville, Maryland.

Northern and Bowie Avenues Inside Rockville Cemetery

His grave site is located just northeast of the the intersection of Northern and Bowie Avenues.

Grave Site of Walter Johnson and His Wife Hazel Lee Johnson

As is somewhat common of baseball Hall of Famer grave sites, Johnson’s family marker is adorned with baseball souvenirs left by fans.

Johnson Family Marker Adorned With Ballcaps and Baseballs Left By Fans

Walter Johnson’s marker is simple, making no mention of his accomplishments on or off the field of baseball, noting only the years of his birth and death, 1887-1946.

Walter Johnson Grave Marker

Johnson’s beloved wife, Hazel Lee, who predeceased her husband by 16 years, is interred next him.

Grave Marker of Hazel Lee Johnson

Walter Johnson’s memory lives large throughout Montgomery County. In addition to streets named after Johnson, his name also adorns a high school located just two miles north of his former home in Bethesda.

Walter Johnson High School Banner

Walter Johnson High School was opened in 1956, 10 years after Johnson’s death.

Front Entrance to Walter Johnson High School at 6400 Rock Spring Drive in Bethesda, Maryland

Located behind the high school, on the outer wall of the athletics department is a granite monument to Walter Johnson.

Walter Johnson High School Athletics Department

The monument originally resided at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C., home of the Washington Senators.

Walter Johnson Monument At The High School Bearing His Name

The monument was placed at Griffith Stadium in 1946 and dedicated at that time by President Harry S. Truman.

Harry S. Truman Dedicating The Walter Johnson Monument at Griffith Stadium (Nats320.blogspot.com)

Another memorial to Johnson is a statute located in front of Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. Dedicated in 2009, the statue shows Johnson in mid-pitch, with a repetitious arm motion meant to simulate the course of his pitching motion just prior to release.

Walter Johnson Statute at Nationals Park

Another tribute to Johnson is the Bethesda Big Train, a college wooden bat team that plays in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League. The Big Train play their home games at Shirley Povich Field, located in Cabin John Park in Bethesda, Maryland.

Shirley Povich Field, Bethesda, Maryland (Showing Grandstand and Visitor's Dugout)

Montgomery County, Maryland, is proud of the legacy of its adopted son, Walter Johnson. For fans of the game, the many sites in and around the county that are linked to Johnson or placed there in his honor are certainly worth a visit should you find yourself in the Nation’s Capital and looking for a way to connect to and appreciate one of baseball’s greatest pitchers.

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Posted in Maryland ballparks, Walter Johnson Home and Farm | Comments (7)