I have wondered whether Olympia Field in Harlem (site of the “Rube vs. Rube” game in 1903) was the same as, or somehow related to, Olympic Field, which later became the home of the New York Lincoln Giants. The address for Olympia Field was commonly given as 135th Street and Lenox Avenue, whereas Olympic Field was usually said to be at 136th Street and Fifth Avenue—so the locations were just a long block away from each other.
Well, as it turns out, Olympia Field was a distinct place from the later Olympic Field. Olympia Field was built on the block bounded by Lenox Avenue, 135th Street, and 136th Street, with the field evidently well below street level. It seems to have existed as a major venue for as little as three years, from 1901 through the early months of 1904, hosting semipro baseball, high school sports, semipro or amateur football, a circus, track and field competitions, and during the winter skating events.
It served as the home field for at least two white semipro baseball teams, the Harlem Athletics in 1902 and the Murray Hills in 1903. Olympia Field’s most famous baseball game was certainly when the New York Giants took on the Murray Hills on October 4, 1903, which was said at the time to be the first Sunday baseball game ever played in Manhattan by a major league team--although if the August 2, 1903, game between the Cuban X Giants and Murray Hills really was the legendary Foster/Waddell matchup, that would inarguably be the most historically significant baseball game played at Olympia Field.
But the biggest event ever to occur at Olympia Field was Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, which played Harlem in 1902. They rented Olympia Field, annexed several adjacent lots still held by the city, and created a huge enclosed space with canvas-shaded seating for 16,000.
The parade that brought the Wild West Show to Olympia Field was probably much like the one filmed by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company a year before, a march down Fifth Avenue on April 1, 1901:
After some skating championships in early 1904, Olympia Field vanished as a sporting venue. By 1905 a block of eight six-story apartment buildings had taken its place, “egg shell” tenements built very quickly to house immigrants—while Olympia Field was a few blocks north of what’s usually thought of as Italian Harlem, I’ve found a number of contemporary references to this area as part of “Little Italy.” In order to bring the lot up to street level it had to be filled in, apparently mostly with sand. Unsurprisingly the ground turned out to be unstable, resulting in the collapse of one of the buildings in March, 1905. I don’t know much about the subsequent history of the site, but it’s currently occupied by the Harlem Hospital Center.
Meanwhile, Olympia Field was replaced by a new ballpark, Olympic Field, no doubt named with the older venue in mind. This new park was just one block over, bounded by Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue, and 136th Street, although I’m not sure of its precise location (I haven’t found a fire insurance or other map that shows it). It was managed by the McMahon brothers, Eddie and Jess, later the founders of the Lincoln Giants. The park was opened on April 3, 1904, with a game featuring Rube Foster (this time with the Philadelphia Giants) once again pitching against the Murray Hills:
A few days later (April 8) Olympic Field hosted a game between the Murray Hills and a pick-up team made up of players from both the Giants and Highlanders, the major leaguers crushing the semipros 19 to 1. The game account from the Times includes a few details about the ballpark:
Olympic Field lasted through the 1919 season, when it was torn down to make way for a parking garage. The grand stands were moved to the Lincoln Giants’ new home in the Bronx, the Catholic Protectory Oval.