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Burned down and built over, ‘Old’ Oriole Park gets a deserved plaque

A sign above the wall at the Peabody Heights Brewery on 30th Street denotes the location of the "Old" Oriole Park.
A sign above the wall at the Peabody Heights Brewery on 30th Street denotes the location of the "Old" Oriole Park. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

A historic marker marks the place where the Baltimore Orioles played their home games until an early-morning fire destroyed the old wooden ballpark on July 4, 1944. The team hurriedly relocated to 33rd Street, and the location where it had played descended into obscurity.

The metal sign, on East 30th Street, between Barclay Street and Greenmount Avenue, performs a community service. It will help overcome confusion and misunderstanding about the site of the International League Orioles’ playing field and grandstands.

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Unlike the site of Memorial Stadium on East 33rd Street, which has a green field that roughly outlines the contours of that arena, the older ballpark has had no remaining physical markers to tell its story. Until now.

After the wooden grandstands, locker room and bleachers burned in a spectacular fire that Independence Day during World War II, the property remained a vacant lot surrounded by rowhouses until it was redeveloped for more than a decade later.

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Earth-moving equipment arrived and regraded the former ballpark, which had occupied a tract of land between 29th and 30th streets, immediately west of Greenmount Avenue.

The site would today be known as either Abell, or maybe Charles Village or Waverly.

Also taken for redevelopment was a 1790 mansion named the Vineyard. A small portion of Vineyard Lane remains to recall the presence of this estate. No street or alley honors the ballpark here.

About 1958, Barclay Street was cut through between 29th and 30th streets, and a campus of unadorned and plain brick buildings rose on the site. No one gave a thought to putting up a sign denoting that this was the place where so many people had watched a game.

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Barclay Elementary/Middle School was constructed on part of the grandstand’s footprint.

Parking was tight in this confined urban space. Baseball fans entered and exited the park from 29th Street. Many arrived via the No. 8 streetcar on nearby Greenmount Avenue.

The cheaper seats in the bleachers sat a good distance away, in the 2900 block of Greenmount Avenue in what became a Dun & Bradstreet office.

An industrial park took the place of old Oriole Park. A Nehi-Royal Crown Cola bottling plant and an E.I. DuPont de Nemours warehouse filled much of the former playing field.

In 2015, surveyors, using a 1914 original survey of the park created by the S.J. Martenet Co., discovered the placement of the pitcher’s mound, the bases, the infield and the outfield.

This revealed that actual home plate stood in what is now a grass strip along the sidewalks of the 2900 block of Barclay St. adjacent to the Peabody Heights Brewery. (Peabody Heights was the first name for Charles Village).

Baseball historians call this spot Oriole Park V. It was constructed in 1914 for an Orioles rival, the Baltimore Terrapins, a club that competed in the short-lived Federal League.

When the Federal League failed, Orioles owner Jack Dunn bought the property and the name Oriole Park went on the place. The minor league Orioles played here from 1916 to halfway through the summer of 1944, when a burning cigarette or cigar ignited the old wooden grandstands.

By this time, the city of Baltimore had constructed a football stadium on 33rd Street. The Park Board hastily converted it to use for baseball, and the team moved in overnight. The Orioles drew well on 33rd Street, and curiously, the old wooden ballpark seemed to be recalled mainly for the fire it produced.

Now Babe Ruth adds to the confusion. As a rookie Oriole, he began his career on yet another Oriole Park field south of 29th Street, also at Greenmount. It too needs a marker, near the McDonald’s restaurant that stands there today.

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