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Yesterday’s Baseball Is Tomorrow’s Safeway

February 10, 2010

The world renowned Telstar Logistics Surveyor Unit recently highlighted the Google Earth historical image layer, specifically the San Francisco 1946 images. While many parts of town have stayed the same over the last 64 years, some of the changes are sobering.

A great loss was the Seals Stadium on 16th between Bryant and Potrero.

Facing the Bay, it was home to the Seals from 1931 until the Giants moved from NY in 1958.  Seals Stadium hosted the Giants for two glorious seasons. This view from the northwest, looking southeast shows the rather magnificent curve of the entrance.

The joint geocoding prowess of Telstar Logistics and Burrito Justice was put to the test as we struggled to determine the location of the four bases.  The Google Earth overlay proved to have quite a bit of wiggle — 100 feet E/W and 30 feet N/S, to be precise — and we turned to our old standby, Sanborn maps.

Using the all-powerful Google Earth overlay feature, we see how the ghosts of yesterday’s Seals haunt the Safeway and Office Depot of today:

(Click image for a wider view of the neighborhood, including the Rainier brewery, the Wonder Bread Bakery, Hostess Cake Kitchen and International Harvester showroom…)

Here we see a packed stadium San Francisco’s very first major league game against the LA Dodgers on April 16, 1958 where 22,000 fans watched the Giants ‘clobber’ the Dodgers. This view faces south, with 16th on the top and Bryant on the right.

Home plate is in deep within Office Depot, while first base is at the front of the store at a cashiers check-out station.  Second base is in Safeway near the Starbucks, while third is between the tortillas and the frozen pizza. Telstar Logistics: turning yesterday into today with the magic of blue tape.

More pictures, because they are cool:

These hardy, flannel-clad folk are standing in line on 16th (behind the scoreboard) to buy tickets for the Giants’ opening day.

Fans at a Seals game in 1953:

Here we see Willie Mays standing in front of the marquee in 1957, shortly after the Giants announced they were moving west.

Tragically, after just one and a half two seasons, the Giants moved to the monstrosity that is Candlestick, and Seals Stadium was doomed. Here is the groundskeeper tearing out home plate after the close of the Giants’ time at Seals Stadium.

“An era of 29 years was ended in 30 seconds today when Groundskeeper Harvey Spargo ripped up home plate at Seals Stadium. And he wasn’t happy… he’s been at the doomed ball park since 1930. Shorty Schurr propels the wheelbarrow on the sad circuit of basepaths trod by many baseball greats.”

And early in 1960, Seals Stadium was torn down.

Baseball would suffer for another 40 years until Pac Bell park came to be.

Deep within Office Depot, Telstar Logistics marks home plate and many other bases.

Here is a highly unorthodox attempt to align present photos with past baselines.

As previously mentioned on Mission Mission, the Seals were not the only team to play at 16th and Potrero.  Notice from the Sanborn map that there are three dressing rooms.  One was for the Seals, one for the visitors, and last was for the Mission Reds!

The Reds shared Seals Stadium until 1938 when they moved to Hollywood.  The magic that is the SF public library gives us this 1943 shot of the Hollywood Stars playing the Seals in 1943. Note that the Mission Reds, er, Stars beat the Seals 6-4…

Baseball stadiums come and go.  Where did the Seals and Reds play before 1931?  In the Mission, of course — 14th and Valencia at Recreation Park. (The Reds (aka The Missions) moved up from LA in 1926. The San Francisco Missions played there for a single season in 1914.)

The magic that is Sanborn shows us the park and its environs in 1914.

Note the four armed “Mary’s Help” hospital behind the Levi Strauss building. (A multitude of saloons are included for TK’s benefit.)

Recreation Park was built in 1907 after the earthquake destroyed the Seals’ home on 8th and Harrison.  Prior to the stadium, RP was occupied by “Chinese vegetable gardens”.  Afterward it was the site of Valencia Gardens, originally built in 1943, torn down in 2004 and reopened in 2006.

MM Reader Jonathan notes the FoundSF article on Rec Park:

1906–After the Great Earthquake a new ball park, Recreation Park was built in the Mission on Valencia between 14th and 15th streets. A section of the bleachers, roped off with chicken wire became known as the “booze cage.” Admission price entitled the patron to a choice of either a sandwich or a shot of whiskey. Spectators who frequented the “cage” were said to be knowledgeable, loud and abusive. The team name was changed to the San Francisco Seals. The Seals featured a “reversed battery” of Nick Williams and Orval Overall–one would pitch, the other catch, then the roles would reverse for the following game. Overall eventually became a 20-game winner in the National League.

(I do believe someone needs to open a bar called the Booze Cage. I also want a chicken AND whiskey special.)

UPDATE: Reader Jon Voss is master of the epic LookBackMaps site, provider of geotagged historical imagery. He points us to more views of Recreation Park in 1923 from the Bancroft Library,  (looking north on Valencia at 15th – click to zoom):

Anyway, the next time you ride your fixie down Valencia, think of Rec Park (and more importantly, the whiskey/chicken dilemma you faced a century ago).

Telstar Logistics has much more on locking down the actual base locations in Safeway and Office Depot over at Laughing Squid.

65 Comments leave one →
  1. Dave Dennison permalink
    February 10, 2010 5:05 am

    I love this post. I’m so enamored with the idea of walking, waltzing or staggering to the ballpark from my place near the Bi-Reich. I’ve known of the whereabouts of Seals Stadium for some time. The idea that Rec Park was closer than Zeitgeist is too much for me. Is it too much to ask the Giants management to build a time machine…

  2. February 10, 2010 7:47 am

    Not much to add, but wonderful post. Probably my favorite since I started reading this blog. It’s nice to be reminded of the Mission Reds.

    Also, the Giants put up a plaque at 16th and Bryant to commemorate their 50th Anniversary in SF a couple years ago. Oddly, it’s in the shape of a home plate, but it’s where the Right Field corner used to be. I guess that’s because they wanted more people to see it.

    • February 10, 2010 11:50 am

      Actually, I walked by the plaque just after I wrote this comment and my memory decieved me. It is not in the shape of home plate after all.

  3. February 10, 2010 11:40 am

    Since the mound was probably lower than where the Office Depot currently is, wouldn’t it technically be where the 24 Hour Fitness is located underneath the Office Depot?

    • February 10, 2010 11:45 am

      I suppose so, but as Seals Stadium extends through both time and space, I am comfortable extruding vertically.

    • February 10, 2010 11:53 am

      Double Play at 16th & Bryant has some awesome pictures of Seal Stadium up from the waybackwhen also. And a great breakfast burrito.

    • February 10, 2010 11:54 am

      I’m guesstimating, but I think home plate was located on the 2nd floor of 24 hr fitness, where the free weights are.

  4. aidan permalink
    February 10, 2010 12:33 pm

    another amazing post. keep hitting em outta the park!

  5. February 10, 2010 12:43 pm

    Man I wish Rec Park was still around. Found this on Found SF:

    “1906–After the Great Earthquake a new ball park, Recreation Park was built in the Mission on Valencia between 14th and 15th streets. A section of the bleachers, roped off with chicken wire became known as the “booze cage.” Admission price entitled the patron to a choice of either a sandwich or a shot of whiskey. Spectators who frequented the “cage” were said to be knowledgeable, loud and abusive. The team name was changed to the San Francisco Seals. The Seals featured a “reversed battery” of Nick Williams and Orval Overall–one would pitch, the other catch, then the roles would reverse for the following game. Overall eventually became a 20-game winner in the National League.”

    Really, a choice of a sandwich or shot of whiskey upon admission.

  6. February 10, 2010 12:55 pm

    On getting Office Depot et. al. to mark home plate: Here in Seattle the Lowe’s on Rainier has markers for where home plate and the pitcher’s rubber were at Sick’s Stadium, which stood on the same site until the park was demolished a couple years after the Mariners moved into the Kingdome. Here’s a Flickr set of the markers (not my pics).

  7. February 11, 2010 10:48 am

    Good to know that then, as now, a man (or an accompanied woman) could pop into any number of nearby establishments pre- or post-game for a refreshing libation.

    Great work, as usual, johnny0.

  8. February 11, 2010 12:02 pm

    Nice work y’all, per usual. There’s a couple of then and now street views of the old Recreation Park on LookBackMaps.

    • February 11, 2010 2:04 pm

      Wow Jon, thank you, I had never seen that shot before.

      Nice job on the alignment. I’d love to talk to you about figure out how to dynamically make the higher-resolution comparison I hacked together.

    • February 11, 2010 3:05 pm

      Sure thing. Let me know how I can help and I’ll do what I can. We’re actually hoping to release LookBackMaps as a free iPhone app in the next few months, and it has a feature that lets you view the old photo laid right over your camera view, so it puts you right in the past. There’s a video and demo on our site. We may be looking for beta testers in a bit if you’re interested.

  9. NoCalAl permalink
    February 11, 2010 1:47 pm

    Excellent work! I’ve always felt a little bit of history in Safeway’s parking lot, imagining Willie Mays roaming the outfield. As for Rec Park, I used to go to the gym across the street, and was met with skepticism whenever I mentioned Valencia Gardens used to be a ball park. The Hotel Royan at 15th and Valencia used to house ballplayers, unlike the current denizens.

  10. February 16, 2010 8:41 pm

    Thank you for a wonderful post. Don’t forget Ewing Field, near Masonic, where the Seals played for the second half of the 1914 season. They learned to their regret that the weather out that way is not so good during the summer.

  11. Paul L. permalink
    March 6, 2010 1:50 pm

    Wow! As a former geologist, present history teacher, NY Giants and Willie Mays fan, and proponent of mass transit – thank you. This site is great.

  12. March 27, 2010 3:43 pm

    I do appreciate all of the information that was provided here on this site. Also, to appreciate Old Rec on 15th and Valencia, Babe Ruth also sponsored a game there with kids back in the 1920’s. So to think the the great Babe Ruth was around that neighborhood, seems unbeliebable..


    • Ken Knudsen permalink
      January 11, 2012 9:30 pm

      What year was Babe Ruth at the Recreation Park. My Grandfather was Bill Rodda who played for the San Francisco Missions between 1926 through 1930.

  13. April 17, 2010 1:30 pm

    Great piece, love the integration of photos and Sanborn maps… this piece and the awesome, unmatchable piece you did on the Valencia Hotel and the old water under the Mission… can we put versions in to FoundSF, linking back to your originals?…

  14. Chris permalink
    May 8, 2010 1:52 pm

    Wonderful research. The Giants played at Seals Stadium for two full seasons, 1958 and 1959.

    • May 10, 2010 11:23 am

      Thanks, fixed that — deep down I’m a hockey guy and am used to seasons that span calendar years.

  15. May 10, 2010 9:48 am

    This is an awesome collection of photos. Stadiums these days are so modern. I was at Yankee stadium once for a full house game and boy was it something. It was a great experience to watch a live baseball game in front of thousands of fans.

  16. May 20, 2010 6:14 pm

    Excellent use of photos and Sanborn maps! In the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, there is a Department of Public Works 1937/38 aerial survey -that has not been digitized. In the photograph sheet that includes Seals Stadium – a baseball game is happening! Now I’ll have to figure out if it was the Seals or the Mission Reds. You should come check it out!

    • May 21, 2010 1:49 pm

      Thanks! One of these days I will take a week or two off of work to do research, and the photo archives are on the top of my list.

      And let me know when you scan that photo!

  17. Hide permalink
    June 4, 2010 11:16 am

    I work out at the 24hrs fitness there. I assume it would have been somewhere behind the dugout on the 1st base side. So next time I run on a treadmill, I will feel nostalgic thinking that this could be right where Joe DeMaggio was taking a shower or young Willie Mays was talking to media as he ties his spike shoe.

    —I posted a same comment on Todd Lappin’s blog—

  18. July 15, 2010 12:08 am

    It’s always a shame when a bit of history is taken down.

    Even if it is only baseball, especially such old baseball always has a certain magical element for me, and when I go to old stadiums, it is almost like I can still feel the old games being plaayed there.

  19. October 28, 2010 5:25 pm

    I wish I could of been there in San Francisco to see all those angry texas fans walk out.

  20. Ned Garrett permalink
    August 30, 2012 8:18 am

    What a great entry. The research is amazing. Thanks for doing all this digging.

  21. John W. Smirch permalink
    November 7, 2012 7:25 am

    My grandfather John L. Smirch played catcher for the SF seals in 1926. can someone help me find any team photos or news article of that era Im currently preparing a book about his baseball career in the minor leagues 1922-1929. Thank you. John W. Smirch

  22. May 9, 2013 2:38 am

    There were many more baseball teams that played in San Francisco than the just the Seals and the Mission Reds!

    Teams that have played here in San Francisco, California:

    San Francisco Haverly, California League (1887-1888)
    San Francisco Pioneers, California League (1887-1888)
    San Francisco, California League (1889, 1902, 1907-1908)
    San Francisco Friscos, California League (1891, 1893, 1899-1900)
    San Francisco Wasps, California League (1901)
    San Francisco Pirates, Pacific National League (1903)
    San Francisco Seals, Pacific Coast League (1903-1957)
    San Francisco Orphans, California League (1909)
    San Francisco Baby Seals, California State League (1910)
    Mission Wolves, Pacific Coast League (1914) (also known as San Francisco Missions)
    San Francisco, California State League (1915)
    Mission Bells, Pacific Coast League (1926-1927) (also know as San Francisco Missions)
    Mission Reds, Pacific Coast League (1928-1937) (also know as San Francisco Missions)
    San Francisco Sea Lions, West Coast Negro Baseball League (1946)
    San Francisco Giants, National League (1958-present)


    • May 11, 2013 12:27 am

      Wow! I knew there were more, but not that many.

      The references to the Sea Lions are pretty interesting, especially the barnstorming the team did after the WCNBL league folded right after it started in 1946.

    • May 15, 2013 1:58 am

      My Portuguese-American great grandfather, Irl Joseph De Fount, played catcher for San Francisco Baby Seals in California State League in 1910 when he was 18 years old and later for the San Francisco Seals as well. The San Francisco Baby Seals were a “feeder” Class “B” minor league team for it’s parent club the San Francisco Seals.

      Irl Joseph De Fount was also a professional boxer in both San Francisco and in Los Angeles, California. He twice fought at Madison Square Garden (not the one in New York but the one in Los Angeles) in the early 1920’s. He was known as the “Battling De Fount” in boxing circles at the time.

      Here’s a very cool baseball website you might like where you can buy a San Francisco Baby Seals t-shirt:

  23. R. Walker permalink
    September 3, 2013 7:31 pm

    I remember the old ball grounds at 15th & Valencia. At least the outside. I was just a tot and my dad would point them out when we drove by. He told me he had once played semi-pro ball, bur I think not for the Mission Reds. But it would have been in the 1926 – 1930 era. He was a big fan of Joe DiMaggio, being Italian himself, and used to remark all the time on how Joe was doing back east. In the mid 1930’s he opened a grocery store on 14th St. between Guerrero and Valencia. BTW, I’m one of the gals in the photo of the fans taken at Seals Stadium. There was a group of 5 of us who always sat near the Seals dugout.
    R. Walker

    • September 5, 2013 6:29 am

      Wow, that’s amazing! We’d love to hear any other stories or see old photos.

      The icon is randomly generated — if you click on it, you should be able to create an account and change it to whatever you want.

  24. R. Walker permalink
    September 3, 2013 7:32 pm

    Oops, how do I get rid of the angry bird icon?
    R. Walker

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