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Phoenix baseball hit crossroads in 1950s

The old Phoenix Municipal Stadium, with seating for approximately 6,500, is pictured here around 1949.

The old Phoenix Municipal Stadium, with seating for approximately 6,500, is pictured here around 1949.

In the mid-1950s, the future of baseball in Phoenix seemed to be on the line as the city was trying to purchase Phoenix Municipal Stadium.

Allerton Cushman and his wife owned approximately 10 acres around what was then called Phoenix Municipal Stadium at Third and Mohave streets south of downtown Phoenix. The 100 Club owned the Phoenix Senators that played at the stadium.

It was reported in local papers that Roger Hagel, president of the 100 Club, warned “there just won’t be any more organized baseball in Phoenix if the city does not purchase the ball park.”

Louis Everett, president of the Farmer’s and Stockman’s Bank, represented the group that wanted to keep professional baseball in Phoenix. The three reasons they wanted Phoenix to acquire the stadium included: keeping the New York Giants in Phoenix for spring training; having a stadium available if the AAA Hollywood Stars wanted to move to Phoenix; and keeping the Senators playing professional baseball in Phoenix.

The City Council offered the Cushmans $80,000 (approximately $611,000 in today’s dollars when adjusted for inflation) for the land, all stadium equipment and all licenses. The city would cancel some $44,000 (approximately $336,000 in today’s dollars) in debts owed to the city.

The city also estimated it would cost $12,615 (approximately $96,000 in today’s dollars) to get the stadium ready for the new season.

The Phoenix Senators played baseball at Phoenix Municipal Stadium from 1954 to 1957. In 1958 and 1959 the AAA Phoenix Giants played at the venue. In the mid-1960s, a new Phoenix Municipal Stadium was constructed near Papago Park.

Meanwhile, in 1954 Phoenix felt it was entering the big time in dog racing with the opening of the new Phoenix Greyhound Park at 40th and Washington streets.

The finishing touches were being completed on the new $1 million (approximately $7.6 million in today’s dollars) racetrack, and contractors were racing to get the new park finished by its opening date of Jan. 26, 1954.

About three weeks before opening day, it was reported in local newspapers “the Kennel Club is a wide open space full of miscellaneous wood, wire and dust; the first of $60,000 (approximately $458,000 in today’s dollars) worth of glass is just going on one side of the stands, the track is getting its first grading, half of the huge parking lot is surfaced, $100,000 (approximately $763,000 in today’s dollars) worth of air-conditioning equipment has been installed.” When it opened, it was called the newest and greatest sports enterprise in the state of Arizona.

General admission to the park was 25 cents (approximately $1.91 in today’s dollars). There was grandstand seating for 3,500. The exclusive Kennel Club was designed by interior designer Rita O’Donnell. O’Donnell was an ex-Wave, a Woodbury College graduate, and the designer of the interior at Tucson Greyhound Park.

O’Donnell described the Kennel Club as being “confetti” in atmosphere. She said “confetti is not gaudy, yet colorful and relaxing.” The club had melon-shaped posts that held up an aqua-colored ceiling. The room had cinnamon-brown carpet and two wrought-iron chandeliers.

Even the main area of the park was colorful. O’Donnell said “every post will be painted a different color – melon, yellow and turquoise. It will go with the dark-green beams and floor.” Long before smoking was even considered dangerous, the sand in ash trays was even colored.

On opening night, Gov. Howard Pyle attended the dedication of the park. The new park replaced the original racing park near 17th Ave. and Roosevelt St.

More than 10,000 people attended the inaugural races. At the time, that would have been more than 10 percent of the population of Phoenix. People were reported to come from many cities around Arizona, along with visitors from California, Oregon, Colorado, Florida, South Carolina and Massachusetts.

The opening-night crowd bet $116,031 (approximately $886,000 in today’s dollars) on 10 races. This was $11,000 (approximately $84,000 in today’s dollars) more than the previous betting record in Arizona.

Dogs with entertaining names such as Indian Feathers, He’s Crippled, Gay Dog, O. J.’s Double Bill and Big Brass entertained the throngs. April Bug, a 2-1 favorite, was one of the winners on the first night of racing.

Phoenix Greyhound Park was rebuilt in 1988 and has announced it will close by the end of 2009.

As the interest in dog racing has waned in Phoenix, spring training and professional baseball has grown by leaps and bounds. Along with Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, at least 10 spring training facilities now make their home in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

- Mike Miller. Photo courtesy of Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records, Archives Division, Phoenix, #96-4421.

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