Begin Veterans Park fix-up by razing grandstands

typewriter Something needs to be done about Veterans Memorial Park.
The park is looking pretty shabby these days and action needs to be taken to raze the baseball grandstands and maintenance buildings near it. Unfortunately, the park is city-owned and the lease deal it had with the Hamtramck Public Schools was scuttled a few years ago.
There had been some bad blood between certain city officials and School Boardmembers. City leaders insisted the school district failed to maintain the park properly, as required by the lease agreement, and ripped up the lease.
We thought that was a blunder back then since the city had – and still has – no money to maintain the park. The school district, on the other hand, had plenty of money for the park through its Recreation tax.
It seems that the rift between city and school officials has cooled down enough for both sides to revisit the park. Now is especially a good time for the two sides to begin talking again about the park since the city is in the middle of putting together a new Master Plan. That plan will include identifying what improvements can be made to all of the parks in the city.
We doubt baseball will ever make a comeback in this town again, and even if it did or another sport took its place, the grandstands are too far deteriorated to justify spending money to fix them up.
The grandstands are long past any historical or emotional connection to the city and really only represent decay and neglect.
There are many improvements that can be made in the park, the biggest would be to start demolishing what is no longer used.

5 Responses to Begin Veterans Park fix-up by razing grandstands

  1. guest

    April 10, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    “The grandstands are long past any historical or emotional connection to the city” –I disagree, its got huge historical value in terms of baseball, but yet so did Tiger Stadium, but I guess people forgot the history on that. Here is a web page devoted to the stadium, as you can see it was once a major field, and I have walked up the stands a few times, and thought it woudn’t take much to restore it to working order. What a shame its going away.

    Roesink Stadium/Hamtramck Stadium
    Located in Hamtramck in Veterans Park near the location where Dan Avenue terminates
    close to its intersection with the Grand Trunk Western Railroad tracks

    John A. Roesink, a Dutchman from Grand Rapids, moved to Detroit shortly after 1900 and established one or more men’s clothing stores. He had a strong interest in baseball and sponsored amateur and semi-professional teams. In the years before World War I, numerous businesses supported such teams, recruited talented players, and then entered tournaments and state championships during the summer months. Roesink was a very successful sponsor of amateur or semi-professional teams. In 1910, Roesink built a substantial field for his teams at the corner of Mack and Fairview on Detroit’s east side, Mack Park. The park had seating for, perhaps, 6,000, but with standing patrons, crowds may have exceeded 10,000. Most patrons probably arrived by street cars on Mack Avenue. In that era, as major league teams traveled from the East Coast to the Midwest, they regularly played exhibition games with minor league or semi-pro teams to raise revenue. Roesink’s teams played major leagues squads at Mack Park several times. In 1915, the upstart Federal League challenged the well-established National and American Leagues. That up-start league wished to put a franchise in Detroit using Mack Park. John Roesink, apparently, was a good friend of Frank Navin who owned the Detroit Tigers. Presumably, Navin convinced Roesink to refuse a lease for a Federal League team.

    In the 1889s and 1890, a few blacks played for professional baseball teams but by the mid 1890s, professional baseball adopted a firm Jim Crow policy. Shortly thereafter, black teams were formed in numerous cities. They played each other and many amateur or semi-professional white teams. They also scheduled numerous exhibition games against professional white teams. One of the more successful early touring black teams was the Paige Giants, sponsored by a fence company in Adrian, Michigan. Baseball became very popular among blacks just as it was among whites.

    Labor needs during World War I lead to a rapid growth of the African-American population in the large cities of the Northeast and Midwest. Andrew Rube Foster pitched for Negro teams in the early 1900s and then amassed wealth in Chicago, apparently through the numbers business. Many, but not all, of the blacks who became rich in northern cities during World War I were undertakers, real estate brokers or numbers operators. By the end of World War I, Rube Foster realized that the growing and prosperous black population in northern cities would pay to watch professional baseball. To be sure, major leagues allowed blacks to attend their games, but all the players were white.

    For the summer of 1919, Rube Foster sponsored black baseball teams in a number of large cities including Detroit. This was a trial run to see if a black professional league would generate profits. That team rented John Roesink’s Mack Park for their games. The success of Foster’s teams in 1919 led him to organize a National Negro league for 1920 with teams in Chicago, Dayton, Detroit, Indianapolis, Kansas City, New York, and St. Louis. I believed that Foster owned all of the teams at the inception of this league, but that apparently changed over time. The team in Detroit, the Detroit Stars, was nominally owned by John T. Blount, a numbers man.

    This league prospered in the early1920s as the growing black middle class paid to enjoy baseball. The Detroit Stars played in a white neighborhood, and apparently attracted racially mixed crowds. Indeed, in this area many white baseball fans appreciated the exceptional talents of black players and attended their games. In 1925, John Roesink purchased the Detroit Stars and became the second white man to own a National Negro League team. Abe Saperstein who founded the Harlem Globetrotters was the first when he bought the Kansas City Monarchs baseball team.

    The Detroit Stars were scheduled to play the Kansas City Monarchs in Mack Park on Sunday July 7, 1929. It was a rainy morning so the start of the first game was delayed so that the grounds crew could burn gasoline on the field to make it playable. Somehow a fire started and a substantial part of the grandstand went up in flames. No lives were lost but many were injured trying to escape the conflagration. Richard Bak, in his book, Turkey Stearns and the Detroit Stars: The Negro Leagues in Detroit: 1919-1933, (Wayne State University Press, 1994) reports that 220 were hurt, but Philip J. Lowry, in his book Green Cathedrals: The Ultimate Celebration of Major League and Negro League Ballparks (New York: Walker & Company, 2006) puts the number at 103 injured.

    John Roesink, I believe, continued to operate his clothing stores but must have enjoyed his professional baseball team and the revenue it raised. He had no idea that the Depression was about the kill the Negro baseball leagues and his business. In the fall of 1929, Roesink began building the baseball park pictured above. Apparently he spent $30,000 of his own money for this stadium. The Detroit Stars would play there. In addition, he presumably hoped to rent the field to many amateur teams from the nearby Dodge Main plant. This is a typical baseball park of the pre-Depression era. If you had toured the 500 or so cities in the United States with minor league professional baseball teams in 1948, you would have found dozens of parks almost identical to this one. The steeply pitched grandstand behind home plate is covered by a traditional high and pitched roof. Along the first and third base line, there is much room for bleacher stands or for people to picnic or stand. And the outfield distances are irregular. Lowry lists the distances as 315 feet to left field, 528 to center and 407 to right field. Many baseball parks were built on land that was not desirable for other purposes. Often they were right next to rail lines as this one is. Before Roesink arrived, this site was the home of the Detroit Lumber Company and the Calvert Coal Company, both of them served by the Grand Trunk Railroad before the area was turned into a park.

    I have read comments that this park, similar to Mack Park, was located far from the Black Bottom area along Hastings Street where many of Detroit’s black lived. However, Hamtramck was an unusual northern community in that many of its neighborhoods and its schools were integrated. At this time, I believe that a black man- John Roxborough – represented Hamtramck in the Michigan state legislature, a man who learned Polish, the typical mother tongue of his constituents.

    John Roesink recruited Ty Cobb to throw out the first pitch when the park opened in May, 1930. In this first season in this park, the Detroit Stars won the second half of the championship season, qualifying them to play the winners of the first half, the St. Louis Stars. Alas, the Mound City Nine won the championship in a seven game series.

    John Roesink lost ownership of the Detroit Stars after the 1930 season. I presume this was the result of the Depression. I have heard that he also lost his clothing stores but I do not know what he did after his six seasons of leading a successful Detroit Stars team

    In 1931, the National Negro League got their season started, but half way through, went out of business. This proved to be the end of the National Negro League that Rube Foster founded and that prospered from 1920 through 1929. A new league, an East-West Negro League was organized for 1932 but did not survive into July. Detroit had a team in that league and I believed they played Roesink Park. Another new league, also called the National Negro League was organized for 1933, but reflecting the economic crisis of the Depression, terminated its season when half the games were played.

    The first night game of professional baseball in Detroit was played at the park you see. Before the 1930s, all baseball games were played in the afternoon, sometimes late in the afternoon. To boost revenue during the Depression, the Kansas City Monarchs traveled with a portable lighting system. On June 28, 1930; the Detroit Stars played the Monarchs at night and drew a crowd of 10,000.

    There is no historical marker commemorating this site. There should be. Perhaps as many as nine members of the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame played professional baseball on these grounds. This includes Cool Papa Bell, Satchel Paige, Turkey Stearns, the most accomplished of the Detroit Stars, and Smokey Joe Williams.

    There is confusion about the name of this stadium. At some point, I believe that it was given the name Hamtramck Stadium. However, it shares a large campus with the famous Keyworth Stadium, named after a leader of the Hamtramck public school system in the 1920s. That facility was one of the early Works Project Administration projects. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to Hamtramck on October 15, 1936 to dedicate Keyworth Stadium, and candidate John F. Kennedy spoke there in his 1960 campaign to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. That football field may also be known to some as Hamtramck Stadium. Some who have written about black baseball in Detroit think that the Stars played at that WPA football stadium and overlook the small but extremely historic baseball park pictured here, a park that reminds baseball fans born before 1940 of the minor league parks of their youth.

    Date of Construction: October, 1929 to May 1930
    Architect or builder: Unknown to me
    First baseball game: Saturday May 10, 1930. In a National Negro League game, the Detroit Stars were defeated by the Cuban Stars 6-4 in 13 innings.
    Official Opening Day: Sunday May 11, 1930. The Detroit Stars defeated the Cuban Stars 7 to 4.
    For a recent description of the Sunday July 7, 1929 that destroyed Mack Park see:
    State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: Not listed
    National Register of Historic Places: Not listed
    Use in 2009: This is an abandoned baseball grandstand enclosed in a large fence.
    Photograph: Ren Farley, April 2, 2008
    Description updated: July 22, 2009


  2. allam

    April 10, 2010 at 11:27 pm

    also, move the swings to the a more visible and safe location.

  3. guest

    April 12, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    Was there something wrong with my post voicing my opinion about the grandstands?

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  5. Tom

    November 20, 2010 at 9:15 am

    Contact Art “Pinky” Deras and the rest of the 1959 Little League World Championship Team to see if any of the players have an idea as to what to do with the park. Perhaps Deras and Paciorek both of whom went on to play pro ball can chip in and get something going that will be beneficial to the community.

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