The Blog: News, Works in Progress, Reflections
The Chicago Blackhawks franchise dates back to 1926, at the time "Black Hawks." The team was named after the owner's World War I division, which was in turn named after Black Hawk, a warrior from the Sauk nation from the Great Lakes region.
The Blackhawks' original arena was the Chicago Coliseum, a venue with an exterior constructed of stone from a prison in Richmond, VA. The Coliseum itself (technically the third of three venues named "Coliseum" in Chicago) had a storied past. It's considered the home to the first Roller Derby, carried out in 1935, and hosted huge musical acts. It was shut down in 1971 after the place was damaged after a fracas over a show mishap, but it had already been on its last legs. A portion of that cool masonry exterior was kept standing until the 90's, when it too was demolished.
The Blackhawks moved into Chicago Stadium in 1929 and were the starring team there for years. The place was called the Madhouse on Madison, known for amplifying the crowd's roars, and was famous for its large pipe organ and the jingles throughout the games. The Bulls joined them as co-tenants in 1967. The two teams now, of course, occupy the United Center just a stone's throw from the original Chicago Stadium, which was demolished in 1995.
The Historic Stadiums of the Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears have their origins in Decatur, Illinois, where they were called the "Decatur Staleys." They moved to Chicago in 1921 and got the Bears name as a play on the "Cubs," with whom they shared a stadium: Wrigley Field.
The Bears played at Wrigley for fifty years, but the baseball stadium couldn't fully accommodate the full field of play needed to play football (safely). It was too confined, the team facilities not large enough. Beyond that the seating capacity was too low to make the much shorter football season economically viable.
Once the Souix City Cornhuskers, the "White Stockings" became so in their move to Chicago in 1900. They started playing at the South Side Park, which was actually the third of three "South Side Parks" in an area very close to where the current White Sox ballpark stands today, 35th and Wentworth.
The team's early and most influential owner, Charles Comiskey, oversaw the construction of what was to become Comiskey Park. It used the then-novel concrete and steel construction in ballparks, an upgrade over the wooden grandstands that was used for ballpark design. Comiskey became belovedly tied to the White Sox and even more so for its quirky features like the exploding scoreboard and fun game night attractions. And Disco Demolition Night.
The ballpark was demolished in 1991 and is now a parking lot serving what became the new home of the White Sox. For a short time, the new park was also known as Comiskey Park. The naming rights were sold twice--it was U.S. Cellular, now Guaranteed Rate--but old names die hard.
The team that is now known as the Cubs was once the "White Stockings" and has roots in Chicago dating back to 1870. The team went through a variety of ballparks since then, all of which were wooden until the concrete-and-steel Wrigley Field, the venue they currently call home.
The team's first ballpark was Union Base-Ball Grounds, located by the lake near what is now Millennium Park. Unfortunately it was a very short tenure. Within a year of opening, the Great Chicago Fire of October 1871 tore through the city and burned the ballpark to the ground.
The team took up residency thereafter at 23rd Street Grounds (at 23rd and State Street), followed by Lakefront Park and West Side Park. For a brief period before and during the 1893 World Columbia Expo, the team played an alternating series of games at South Side Park II (a predecessor of South Side Park III and Comiskey).
The team then moved to the West side, first at West Side Park, and then the second, much larger West Side Park or "West Side Grounds." Both were still wooden parks in the vicinity of what is now numerous UIC buildings around Wolcott and Polk. They were still known at the White Stockings at this point, then for a time the Colts, before being called the Cubs exclusively (circa 1907. Team names were a lot looser back then, more like nicknames). The Cubs' time at West Side Grounds was marked by many successful seasons, four pennants and two world championships.
Finally the team took up residency at what we know now as Wrigley but what was then known as Weeghman Park. That ballpark had been built in 1914 and was designed by the same architecture, Zachary Taylor Davis, who had designed Comiskey. Thus the two fields shared some of the same features and a bit of the look. At the time it opened, the park was home to the Chicago Whales of the now-defunct Federal League. The Cubs played their first game there in 1916; in 1921, William Wrigley took over and named the field for himself/his chewing gum company.
[Note: For most of these ballparks, the visual record is extremely thin. I depended in large part for the early ballparks on the research of Jack Bales, whose book Before They Were the Cubs: The Early Years of Chicago's First Professional Baseball Team is an invaluable resource to any Cubs enthusiasts. He found newspaper description of the ballparks when they first opened to the public.
Note 2: I called this "Ballparks of the North Side" as a counterpoint to the "Ballparks of the South Side," the Sox parks, despite the fact that some of the ballparks were not technically on the "North Side."]
The Chicago Bulls franchise is considerably younger than the others listed here. Its number of world titles for its relatively short life might make it most efficiently successful. The team was the third pro basketball team in Chicago (after the Stags and the Zephyrs) and was named with a nod to the city's long history of stockyards and cattle processing.
The team played one season at the International Amphitheatre, which had been home to the Chicago Zephyrs (which would ultimately move on to Washington, DC become the Bullets, then the Wizards). The Amphitheatre itself had existed since 1934 and was also tied to the livestock industry: It was built by the Stock Yard Company, next to the Union Stockyards, and specifically intended to house the International Livestock Exhibition.
The Bulls moved into Chicago Stadium thereafter, joining the Blackhawks, who had been there since 1929. They won their second of three NBA titles in 1992 at the stadium itself. For a time the Chicago Stadium and United Center co-existing but the Chicago Stadium would be demolished during the first season that the Bulls inaugurated the United Center. The United Center was designed to echo the look of the much-loved Chicago Stadium and in the way it amplified the crowd noise. The team would go on to win two titles at home in that arena in 1996 and 1997.