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Indians Stadiums of The Past


BALLPARKS OF THE PAST

By Jim Price / The Spokesman-Review

This article appeared in the June 21, 2003 special Spokane Indians commemorative issue of The Spokesman-Review. It discussed the five ballparks that the Indians played in before Avista Stadium.



Twickenham Park

When professional baseball made its Spokane debut in 1890, the Pacific Northwest League team played on a field northwest of what became the corner of Boone Avenue and A Street. The third-base line more or less paralleled Boone, which initially was served by Spokane Street Railway's cable line and later by its streetcars. The site was just a few hundred yards east of the riverside picnic grounds that were later developed into Natatorium Park. The neighborhood was known as Twickenham.

The wood grandstand and fences were moved there from Twickenham Addition, a failed 1889 development on land that become Fort George Wright. Today, the original ballpark site is part of the northern parking lots at Spokane Falls Community College. Spokane's professional team played on the Twickenham grounds until the league folded in 1892. The unrecognized Kootenai-Washington League played there in 1897, and the city participated in an ill-fated revival of the Pacific Northwest League in 1898. When the PNWL re-established itself in 1901, the pros moved to a new field in Natatorium Park. Amateurs used the Twickenham grounds for a few more years, and Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show brought 30,000 people to the site in 1902.



Natatorium Park

Although Natatorium Park meant many things to many people, baseball fans and players thought first of baseball for almost four decades. In 1899, the Spokane Amateur Athletic Club built a new ballfield near the northwest corner of the expanding amusement park. During the 1890s, the former picnic grounds, down a long, sloping grade at the west end of Boone Avenue, had added a dance hall, a casino and then an indoor swimming pool or natatorium. The ballpark, facing a tall bluff that now houses the Intercollegiate Nursing Center on the north side of the Spokane river, seated 1,000 people in its original wood grandstand. The infield was dirt. A tall Ponderosa pine served as the left-field foul pole. After the grandstand was destroyed by fire on July 4, 1908, its replacement seated almost 2,500.

The Pacific Northwest League shared the ballpark with the SAAC when pro baseball returned to Spokane in 1901, and the pros played at Nat Park until the league collapsed in 1905. Almost immediately, the Indians found a home in the new Northwestern League, but they also had new owners, who built their own field.

For the next 10 years, the Spokane City League and amateur teams had the Natatorium Park ballpark to themselves. The pros returned in 1916 and played four more seasons. Top semipros, primarily the Idaho-Washington League, and barnstorming teams such as the House of David and the Kansas City Monarchs of Negro league fame, continued to play at Nat Park through the 1920s and '30s. But the stands fell into disrepair and, after a failed experiment with midget auto racing, they were burned to the ground as a fire fighter's training exercise on Dec. 19, 1945. When the blaze died down, firemen roasted marshmallows over the embers.



Recreation Park

When the Graves brothers, who had railroad and street-car interests, gained control of the Indians at midseason in 1905, they hastily built a large wood park that straddled what would have been Regal Street, just south of its intersection with Boone Avenue. The property, several miles directly east of Natatorium Park, was bounded by Spokane Traction Company lines on its left-field and first-base sides as well with Spokane and Inland Railway tracks adjoining the street-car tracks on the first-base or south side. The new grounds, named Recreation Park, sat only a few blocks north of the Spokane Interstate Fairgrounds, which had opened in 1901.

The playing field, which sported the city's first grass infield, may have been the roomiest in the West. Outfield fences were at least 400 feet from home plate, even though the era was dominated by pitching. As a result, no home runs were hit out of the park until 1908. Initially, Recreation Park seated a thousand fans. However, by 1908, with baseball booming, management expanded the grandstand and the bleachers almost every time the Indians went on the road. By late 1909, the stands could seat 7,000, and they were sometimes full. The Indians moved back to Natatorium Park in 1916. College and high school football and baseball teams played at Recreation Park until the early 1920s. The stands were then demolished, and most of the land sat vacant for more than 70 years.



Ferris Field

Spokane did without pro ball through the 1920s and the heart of The Depression. However, city attorney George Ferris, who had played and later managed the Indians in the early Natatorium Park days, secured Works Progress Administration funding that built the city a new ballfield in 1936. Using property in the northwest corner of the old fairgrounds, now known as Playfair Race Course, the new facility was built to replace the Nat Park field. The pros moved in the following spring when Spokane took one of the six franchises in the new Western International League. The city added a roof and lights and named the ballpark in honor of its benefactor.

Ferris Field was the epitome of the wooden ballparks of the day. Its enclosed stands were painted green, and the press box hung under the lip of the roof. Its playing surface was the best in the league. By 1938, the Indians were setting national Class B attendance records. The next two seasons brought even bigger crowds. The boom resumed after the war. The 1947 team drew 287,185, still the greatest total for one season in the city's history. However, weeks after Spokane won the 1948 WIL championship, Ferris Field's grandstand burned nearly to the ground. The Indians erected scaffolded bleachers. By the early 1950s, fans had begun to stay away. Despite additional championships in 1951 and 1953, the Indians dropped out early in the 1954 season. After two more poorly-financed seasons under community ownership, they folded for good in the fall of 1956.