Coyne: Take me up to the ballgame: Rediscovering the bleacher houses of North Philly

From David Coyne at Hidden City Philadelphia on May 15, 2018:

Anita Ray can still remember how the baseballs would fly onto the street in front of her house in the 1950s. On one occasion, she was struck square in the chest as she sat on her front porch. “Kids were always getting hit,” she says. “And not just on game days, but batting practice as well.” From her front stoop, Anita looks westward across the street to an era long past. On this warm April afternoon in 2018, the street is quiet, no different from any other block of tidy homes in this corner of North Philadelphia. But this is no ordinary row of homes. The baseballs were hit from the legendary Shibe Park, and these unassuming houses shared its grand stage in their glory days. These are the fabled “bleacher houses” of North 20th Street.  

If you indulge in the fanciful notion of ghosts, then there can be little doubt that they remain here; they’re the ghost of a place, of legends, of teeming crowds, the ghosts of a time gone by. One hundred years ago, when the Philadelphia Athletics took the field of neighboring Shibe Park, this street and these houses took on a carnival atmosphere. The homes of North 20th Street had front-row seats–indeed, they were the front-row seats–to the country’s most magnificent sports stage.

From Shibe Park’s auspicious opening day in 1909 as the nation’s grandest ballpark to its sad demise borne of fire and neglect in the early 1970s, these modest homes bore witness to it all. They were the vantage points into the glorious days of its earliest decades and claim the proud distinction of having served as targets for out-of-the-park homers by nearly every power slugger of the early 20th century: Frank Baker, Eddie Collins, Al Simmons, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, and the Sultan of Swat himself, Babe Ruth. These houses saw eight World Series, two All-Star games, two presidential motorcades and the first-ever night game in the American League. For six decades they stood at the epicenter of the Philadelphia sports world, shouldered against the most majestic baseball palace that had ever been built.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: May 22, 2018. Last Updated: May 22, 2018.