The Grand Opening

By SAUL WISNIA  |  March 30, 2012

Fitzgerald felt immense pride watching the new park fill up. Boston was a city known for cultural and educational achievements, and here was a sports venue it could hold up alongside its renowned universities, public library, opera house, and art museums as a symbol of that status. It was a place that generations of families would enjoy, and in future years he would delight in taking his own grandsons — Joe, Robert, Ted, and John Fitzgerald Kennedy — to see games there.



When it hosted its first major-league game on April 20, 1912 — the same afternoon that Navin Field (later Tiger Stadium) opened in Detroit and just two days after Titanic survivors reached New York — Fenway Park represented the latest in ballpark design and safety. Fires had destroyed numerous wooden ballparks in the years just before and after the turn of the century, including the majestic, double-decked South End Grounds that was home to Boston's National League club. Fenway and Navin Field were part of a new wave of steel and concrete parks built from 1909 to 1915, including Comiskey Park, Ebbets Field, and Wrigley Field. Each venue had its own distinctive appearance and character, and each was made to last.

Considering its longevity, it is interesting to note how quickly Fenway went up. Almost immediately after Red Sox owner Charles Taylor sold half the club to James McAleer and Robert McRoy in September 1911, his son John I. Taylor (former team president and now vice-president under the new arrangement) began overseeing construction of the new ballpark on a parcel of land purchased in the Fenway. A largely underdeveloped part of town, "the Fens" were located just a few blocks from the intersecting point of two major thoroughfares — Commonwealth Avenue and Beacon Street — in growing Kenmore Square. Though they no longer held the majority interest in the team, the Taylor family would own the new park and call the shots on how it went up.

Because of the odd shape of the 365,308 square feet on which it was built and how that space fit into the surrounding neighborhood, architect James McLaughlin's already-completed design had to be altered. In fact, the quirks that are such a big part of Fenway's appeal today were more the result of happenstance than anything else.

As explained by Dick Johnson and Glenn Stout in their seminal history of the team, Red Sox Century: "He [McLaughlin] could have easily created a more symmetrical park on only a portion of the parcel, but the Taylors were dumping the entire plot. McLaughlin was ordered to design a park that completely enclosed the site, resulting in the field of play being much larger than required by the way the game was played at the time. He was further ordered to retain the orientation of the Huntington Avenue Grounds in relation to the sun, with the third-base line pointing almost due north. This placed the left-field fence hard against Lansdowne Street, barely 300 feet from home plate.

"But that distance was of no concern, for at the time no one hit the ball that far. Had it been an issue, the street could easily have been acquired. This is the only reason Fenway Park is so misshapen today."

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  Topics: Sports , Fenway Park, Baseball, History
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