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Cars and Wrigley Field
One of the incongruous
sights from my Chicago memory is that of freight cars on the street
Wrigley Field. They were on rails, of
course, but—though I had ridden streetcars in various cities—the
those rails for freight traffic was, well--incongruous.
Those tracks next to Wrigley Field ran north
and eventually joined the “L” near Wilson Avenue. I
seem to remember that the cars on this line would sometimes be
hauled by the CTA's steeple cab electric locomotives along the “L” to
Lill Coal yard on the North Side. I
would see these cars next to Wrigley Field when I'd pass on a bus or on
foot. I would occasionally see cars on
the line as I looked down from the “L” north of the great S-bends at
Sheridan Road Station where it ran behind the vast Graceland Cemetery.
For one part of a winter
and spring in the mid seventies, I lived near another street on which
rail line ran. This was several blocks south of Wrigley Field and a bit
west. I lived in a house on the rear of
a lot on Barry, which crossed Lakewood, the street on which this line
ran. This neighbourhood had old houses and
small factories: one processed poultry; another made candy. The line
to the Soo Line, or maybe the Milwaukee Road.
Trains came, as they do,
with whistles blowing. Occasionally, someone would get off the short
unlock and throw the switch in the middle of the street. These trains
never more than a few cars long. The
left cars at various factories, or left them on the line, in
places, such as next to Wrigley Field. I
loved watching the little trains as they came up or down
I have always loved watching trains, be they fast passenger trains, or
cars next to docks, or even Els or subways or streetcars.
There are many fine
views of Wrigley Field Most are not
well known, or at least, if known, they are not thought about much by
doing the viewing. The “L’s”—both the
Ravenswood and the North-South (as it used to be known) offer wonderful
views. From the North-South, at Addison
St. Station (where A trains now stop, but where B trains once did), one
into the stands. The crowd, away in the
third-base-line grandstands is a large mass, which didn't seem to be
a rather strangely two-dimensional collage of bright colours on a sunny
summer's day. When I was younger, I
used to see the trains from that same grandstand, and marvel at the
people actually had other things to do besides be at the ballgame. I pitied them, as a matter of fact.
It was the Ravenswood
“L”, though, that gave the most wonderful view of the old ball park. It
spring day when rain was threatening when I found myself riding a
train, about mid morning. I was not a
regular rider of the Ravenswood, and I don't remember why I was riding
day. What I do remember
is being startled by glimpsing something that I'd never
seen before: a series of graceful arches, filigree-like, running along
large building. The arches had been
recently painted in a contrasting colour to the rest of the building. I went through my
memory quickly to try and identify the structure when, as a
street opened below, I realised--this was Wrigley Field!
I hadn't recognised it! Yes,
this chain of lovely arches was the top
of the third-base-line grandstands. From the other “L”, no such elegant
was available. Mostly, it offered a
practical, fan's view of the scoreboard or at least the pennant--white
with a W
for a win or blue with an L for a loss. But,
here was a view, from the Ravenswood “L” west of
revealed Wrigley Field as a thing of architectural beauty.
Wrigley Field was visible to me on that day
as it must have been to its architect before it was built.
He would have seen it as beautiful. As he
placed his pencil to paper when he sketched, he would see, as he
commission taking shape. Then, as he
warmed to his work, he would see his own love of line capturing his
pencil. Later, he'd find straightedge,
compass, and protractor, and as he moved them around, pressing his
against them, he would see at last—and at first!--the beauty of the
along the upper deck. The place of baseball games, base hits, beer,
players, cigar smoke, parasols--the ball park—all this would melt away,
would view the arches--perfect, elegant on his paper--and hope that
after they went from lines on vellum to wood and steel, he would find
sufficiently aloft—in a balloon, on the roof of a building , or--riding
“L”!--to see the grace of the arches,
which transcended their mere functionality and that of the ball park
them, baseball, and the magnates that owned them.
One day, I decided to
follow the tracks up Lakewood toward Wrigley Field.
I wasn't going to a ball game, as I remember.
It was an early summer Sunday afternoon.
I followed the tracks where I could: that
is, where there weren't fences and gates protecting loading docks. The
curved as got close to the Ravenswood “L”, and as they did, Wrigley
into view. The tracks go between
buildings, and these formed a frame in which the old edifice loomed. Again, below the game-day flags and pennants
were its elegances, the grandstand arches. I
enjoyed them in the privacy of a quiet, Sunday side
street, quiet as a
museum gallery, stopping once for a longer look, unencumbered by the
watch footing or traffic.
I moved on, now into the
traffic near Clark Street and then into the activity of the game-day
which finds Wrigley Field at its centre: the noise of cheering, the
the traffic cops, hot dogs, and ushers. The
flags on the old ball park got bigger, and the gates
got wider. Busses joined the scene, and
left, up and
down Clark and Addison, en route to places and neighbourhoods where
where quiet and ballgame-less. Years
before, on cold, rainy school mornings, I would stand here with my
cousin as we
sheltered under an overhang waiting for the bus that would take us out
to Lane Tech. Then, traffic went by on its way to work, and Wrigley
watched in silence, in the off-season wings, centre-stage no more until
inevitable spring. Now I, too was bound
for wherever it was I was bound for that day. . .North, past the
again from the festivities of game day, into the early summer quiet of
streets, hearing only the occasional sound of cheering or organ music,
me around the walls of the two-and-three storey flat buildings. I could hear my footsteps again in the quiet
of the city.
Robin L. Øye is a composer,
performer, and writer, and the founder of Torcroft Press.