For about three decades, a ballpark in Abell was the center of baseball in Baltimore. Then, on July 4, 1944, the stands, offices, turf and the roof burned down.
What would be known as Oriole Park between 1916 and 1944 first belonged to another team: the Baltimore Terrapins. Built at the intersection of 29th Street and Greenmount Avenue for $90,000, the stadium opened in April 1914. Directly across the street was the home of the minor-league Baltimore Orioles, built in 1901.
After two tough seasons, the Federal League folded, bringing the Terrapins with it. Perhaps sensing an opportunity for new digs, the Orioles forked over $25,000 in 1916, moved in and put their name on the exterior. The park hosted the club as it won seven straight International League pennants between 1919 and 1925 (the O’s were still in the minor league in those days). Then, the team entered a pennant-free stretch that lasted until 1944.
As Baltimore’s time without an International League pennant grew, the wooden building got older. To make the structure last, a two-man groundskeeper team hosed down the stands to ensure any burning cigarette butts were put out. That’s exactly what they did on July 3, 1944, following a tough 11-4 extra-inning Orioles loss.
It wasn’t enough. At around 4 a.m. on the Fourth of July, a fire started near the third base grandstand. Groundskeeper Mike Schofield reportedly referred to the blaze as a “sheet of fire.” When the tarred roof caught flame, firefighters had no chance of saving the ballpark.
The Orioles lost everything: Their trophies, their archives, their photos and, according to a 1994 Sun article their uniforms. When the sun rose the next morning, all that was left of the stands was rubble.
The Orioles, for their part, went back on the road for two weeks until finally moving into Municipal Stadium (later known as Memorial Stadium). As for Oriole Park? The land was cleared, eventually, and it is now home to Barclay Elementary School and a brewery.
This post initially contained a photo of Municipal Stadium at night that was erroneously labeled as Oriole Park in Abell. That photo has been removed. The Sun regrets the error.