It’s taken months of preliminary work, but the committee to save the grandstands In Veterans Memorial Park is ready to begin the process of historical designation.
The baseball field was built for the Detroit Stars of the Negro League.
At last week’s (Oct. 7) meeting, the group finalized a timetable on the project. According to that schedule, the preliminary application for historical designation – the first step in the process – should be filed with the state by the end of October.
The preliminary application serves as a practice test of sorts to see if the grandstands qualify for historical designation. It is a short document that highlights the significance of the site and outlines the arguments of why it should be considered historical.
After the preliminary application is either approved or denied – in this case approval is almost certain – work on the full application can begin. This document provides details and proof that the site has historical value. If everything goes smoothly, it should be ready for the Michigan Historical Commission by Jan. 1.
“It’s good to have a lot of bibliography and pictures,” says Rebecca Binno Savage, a preservationist who has been working on the project since its beginning.
Unfortunately, at this point there will be a brief period of inactivity due to the date of the commission’s next meeting. It won’t be until May that they meet to decide on the fate of historical designation, and even after that it still has to go to Washington, DC for final federal approval. Overall, the process takes about three months.
For now, the committee is working to tie up a few loose ends for the full application before sending it out. While there is enough evidence for the initial application to be approved, questions that could hold up the full application still have yet to be answered – mainly whether or not the stadium was completely rebuilt in 1941.
If the stadium was rebuilt, that would be a strike against it being designated as a historical site.
To answer this question, baseball historian Gary Gillette met up with architect Michael Kirk at the stadium last Friday (Oct. 8) to compare photographs of the stadium from before 1941 to the current structure. Of the photos they looked at, they were unable to conclusively declare whether the structures were the same. However, at the same time there are enough similarities to not rule out that possibility either.
“I can’t resist stuff like this,” said Kirk.
During that meeting, a suggestion was made to look at the city’s Sanborn Map to see if there is evidence that has been overlooked – or more appropriately covered up. Sanborn maps were used to assess fire insurance liability and were highly detailed. The maps were made by literally cutting-and-pasting buildings and lots as they came and went. That amount of detail could prove the site’s history once and for all.
Another key piece of evidence was also discussed at the Oct. 8 field meeting. According to former Hamtramck High School baseball coach John Wiencik, whose interview was included in an oral history project about the city called “Julia’s Prayer: Recollections of Hamtramck in 1978,” he remembered watching Negro League games at the stadium.
At one point, while he was apparently walking the grounds of the stadium, Wiencik said he remembered the structure as being the same as in the 1930s. Lending credibility to his account is the fact that he remembered a particular player that is relatively unknown except to a few baseball historians.
In addition to clearing up the loose ends that surround the application process, the committee is also working on raising awareness about their efforts. Currently they are seeking a volunteer to create a website. The committee is also looking at ways to raise money for the project, including a possible “Thanks-For-Giving Fundraiser” in the middle of November. City Councilmember Cathie Gordon, who is also part of the committee, says that while she recognizes the importance of the project, she would rather have it pay for itself than have the city foot the bill.
“I don’t want to tap the city for anything,” she said. “We don’t have any money.”
If you or someone you know is interested in helping with the stadium project contact Cathie Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org. The next meeting of the committee to save the grandstands is on Thursday, Nov. 11 at 10 a.m.at City Hall in the third-floor conference room.
(Ian Perrotta can be reached at email@example.com)