In the previous post I noted that “we don’t know what architect or contractor was responsible” for building Giants Park in St. Louis, one of the earliest ballparks built specifically for a Negro league team. I then guessed that, because the park was not built in a black neighborhood, it seemed “less likely that a black-owned firm was involved.”
Well, up steps Dwayne Isgrig, the go-to guy on the St. Louis Giants, with some court documents from a 1921 case. It seems that the contractor responsible for improvements, additions, and alterations to the park undertaken before the start of the first Negro National League season in 1920 was never paid. He had to sue the Giants’ owners and the owners of the park.
The defendants in the case were 1) the Athlone Realty and Investment Company, owners of the real estate on which Giants Park was built, and 2) John Haynes and the St. Louis Giants Baseball and Amusement Company, who leased the land. The Athlone Company was named after a street in the neighborhood, and Dwayne points out that Conrad Kuebler, the promoter who used to bankroll the Giants years before, lived near the park. Haynes was one of several African American financial backers of the Giants; presumably he’s singled out because at this point he was the majority owner of the team or its chief executive. (The documents also note that both Haynes and the St. Louis Giants had obtained interests in the real estate itself, thus becoming at least part owners of the land and park.)
Anyway, the plaintiff in the case was a contractor named Tony Menke, a German-American who emigrated with his family in 1887 when he was six years old. He was, unsurprisingly, listed as white on all documents I could find. Dwayne suspects that Menke was an associate of Kuebler. Now it’s true that this only proves that Menke did the 1920 improvements; we don’t know if he was responsible for the original construction of the park in 1919. But it’s a piece of information well worth having.
One more thing, maybe more important, emerges from these documents—a description of the piece of real estate on which Giants Park was built:
An article in the St. Louis Argus (April 25, 1919, p. 4; courtesy of Patrick Rock) about the building of Giants Park in 1919 gave its dimensions as 560 by 400 feet, which made it seem that they had enclosed Holly Avenue and stretched the park into the next block. (Clarence Avenue runs down the far left on this map; Holly Avenue is the street separating lots 3446 and 3445, running vertically here from Prescott to Broadway.)
The court documents provided by Dwayne, however, show that these dimensions are wrong. Giants Park was located entirely in lot 3446. Right field was in fact bounded by Holly Avenue, and thus much, much shorter than 560 feet (perhaps it was really 360?). I had noticed a number of home runs hit in St. Louis over the right field fence in 1920 and 1921; it looks like Oscar Charleston’s epochal 1921 season took place in a home field that was pretty friendly to left-handed hitters.