MARK T. FATLA, center, executive director of the Northside Leadership Conference, is penning a book entitled, “Pittsburgh’s Historic
Ballparks,” for Arcadia Press. He’s wondering if anyone has photos of Central Park, in the Hill District, from the early 1920s, where the
Pittsburgh Keystones Negro Leagues team played. Also pictured are Carol Washington and James Freeman, in this file photo courtesy of
the Northside Chronicle.
On June 27, 1925, William G. Nunn’s “Diamond Dope” column in the Pittsburgh Courier discussed the “passing of Central Park,” a park that was the home of the Pittsburgh Keystones Negro Leagues team in the Hill District. The park sat near the corner of Wylie Avenue and Chauncey Street, completed in the summer of 1920 by A.D. Williams, who founded the team. By 1925, however, the park was no more, at least for baseball.
“Upon the spot where the most famous colored players of modern days once planted their spikes arises a summer dancing pavilion,” Nunn wrote in the Courier. “The pavilion will be completed by the end of this month, and where the shouts of the diamond enthusiast once held sway the shrill chatter of the modern jazz-crazed youth will be heard.”
Nunn continued: “And with the passing of the grand old park memories of those halcon days of 1920-21-22 rise to haunt us like ghosts of the night.”
Now, Mark T. Fatla, executive director of the Northside Leadership Conference, told the Courier that he’s using some of his free time during the coronavirus pandemic to write a book, “Pittsburgh’s Historic Ballparks,” for Arcadia Press. Fatla said the book will cover the nine ballparks that hosted Major League Baseball in Pittsburgh, including the Negro Leagues.
“Central Park remained for a few more seasons, hosting independent Black teams, including a new version of the Keystones. Central Park also hosted band concerts and gatherings of the Knights of Pythias. But by 1925, the Homestead Grays had become the dominant local Black team and they squeezed out the Keystones and other Black teams. By the following year, Central Park was demolished,” Fatla said.
“During its short life, Central Park seemed insignificant and today it is almost entirely forgotten, but it appears to have been the first ballpark in the country owned, designed and built by African-Americans. It pre-dates Greenlee Field, which was the home of the Pittsburgh Crawfords. No other park in the country has a documented claim to that historic first.
There’s just one problem, Fatla said. “Amazingly, no photographs of Central Park are known to have survived. The Courier reported on the Keystones and ran pictures of their players, but did not print any photos of the park. Teenie Harris had not yet begun his incredible career and local photo archives and the Heinz History Center have nothing.”
So now, Fatla is on the hunt. He believes that someone, somewhere in their local photo album or scrapbook in the Pittsburgh area must have some photos of Central Park. At the time, people may not have thought Central Park was significant, but, some 96 years later, Central Park played an important role in history.
Here’s what Fatla wanted to tell the current Courier audience:
“The search for this lost Negro League ballpark is on! Pull out your old family albums and scrapbooks. If you have old photos of ballplayers or ballparks, we’ll scan them for study. If we can verify a photo as being of Central Park, it will fill an important gap in our history. As a bonus, such a rare photo may be of value to collectors of vintage baseball and Negro League memorabilia.
“Your family albums may also have photos of Ammon Field or Greenlee Field. A small number of photos exist of these Negro League parks, but any newly uncovered images will help tell their story as well.
“If you have any photographs that you think may be of interest, please contact me at 412-231-4714, ext. 200. I’ll be happy to meet with you to scan and return your photos. I’ll also be happy to share anything I learn about the photos. Let’s find Pittsburgh’s lost ballpark!”
Nunn finished his column in the Pittsburgh Courier in 1925 about Central Park this way: “Central Park is no more, but it will always hold fond memories for thousands.”