Diamond in the Ivy
“Above all, Mr. Wrigley wanted an outdoor, woodsy motif.”
“Above all,” Veeck said later, “Mr. Wrigley wanted an outdoor, woodsy motif.”
Veeck's job was to make this already fan-friendly and ambient venue ever more so. The new bleachers were to be the best available and new concession storage would be built under the new bleachers, as well as storage for the grounds-keeping equipment, including head groundskeeper Charlie Dorr’s new 30-mph lawnmower. The new seats were to be made of cypress and would be elevated 12 feet above the ground, assuring fans of a “much finer” view of the playing field. The construction would be of reinforced concrete, arranged in a series of curves around the corners, stepped up in a proper conformity with exact site lines, and supported upon an open steel framework. The new outfield walls would be re-built with a distinctive red brick and six red gates. And, the new bleachers were to be constructed so those fans on the rooftops along Sheffield and Waveland would still be able to watch the games for free as they always had.
Veeck and Wrigley actively added embellishments along the way. In early September, Veeck learned that Wrigley had invited some business associates to see the game the next day and wanted to show off his refreshed and increasingly verdant park. Veeck had originally planned on planting ivy for the 1938 season, but instead Dorr and his assistant Cotton Bogren and decided to plant ivy against the red brick right away. Overnight, the trio strung five strands of copper wire, draped with Boston ivy, 1.5 feet apart across the wall. The outfield wall covered 1,003 feet so they used 5,015 feet of wire. They then planted more ivy at the base of the wall inter-mixed faster growing Japanese bittersweet vines.
When the renovated Wrigley Field opened on Oct. 1 for the team’s last home series, fans were treated to vastly expanded bleachers and the new $100,000 scoreboard. An additional 32 feet at the right-field foul line and the loss of six feet on the left-field line had changed the dimensions of the park to 355 feet, seven inches to left, 400 feet to center and 353 feet to right – and have remained unchanged ever since.
Edward Burns of the Chicago Tribune declared the renovated park to be nothing less than "the most artistic ball park in the majors" – a description that many would argue is still true today.
Paul Dickson is a freelance writer from Maryland