With the baseball season almost upon us, and pandemic lockdown restrictions disappearing across North America, many Nova Scotian members of Red Sox Nation could soon be making their plans to resume their annual pilgrimages to Fenway Park to see some Boston Red Sox games.
However, few of these returning fans will realize that the design and construction of the ballpark owe a lot to two Nova Scotians. Two people who do know the story are Jim Prime and Glenn Stout.
Prime is a resident of New Minas, a well-known author of baseball books, and one of the founders of the Boston Red Sox Bluenose Brotherhood. “I think it’s a fair statement to say that most Nova Scotia baseball fans wouldn’t know that connection, but certainly the hardcore in the Bluenose Bosox Brotherhood would know that,” Prime said in a recent interview.
Stout is a US native of Ohio with Atlantic Province and Nova Scotia roots, and also the award-winning author of “Fenway 1912 – The Birth of a Ballpark, a Championship Season, and Fenway’s Remarkable First Year.”
Stout found the Nova Scotia connections, in his research for the book about the design and construction of the park and the Red Sox 1912 World Series championship season.
James E. McLaughlin, who was born and spent his early youth in Halifax, is the architect who designed Fenway Park and arranged for its construction in 1911 and 1912. His general contractor for the task was Charles Logue, who as a teenager found his way from Ireland to Newfoundland and ultimately Nova Scotia. He spent some years in Nova Scotia before returning to Ireland and later immigrating as a skilled carpenter with his brother to Boston where he set up his own construction company in 1890.
The McLaughlin family moved to Boston in 1885, when James was 12 years old, and by the time he was 20 he was working as a draftsman in the city. He began his own business as an architect in 1905. Evidence suggests that he was likely self-taught as both a draftsman and an architect, but also may have been an apprentice to, and later co-designer of buildings with an architect uncle who had immigrated to Boston earlier.
His success in obtaining the architectural commission for the design of Fenway Park appears to be due both to the politics of the day and his own reputation. Boston in the early 20th century was a city whose politics were dominated by the Irish. The status of Irish immigrants rapidly had begun to change in the mid-1880s. Irish tradesmen and businessmen began to get their share of business and construction contracts from the city of Boston and the Catholic Church, and James McLaughlin was an active participant in that rising tide.
Stout in his book on Fenway Park noted that by 1911, Red Sox and Boston Globe owner Charles Taylor would have been aware of McLaughlin’s solid reputation in designing public buildings in the Boston area. Also, an Irish Catholic Architect in a city politically dominated by the Irish would probably not have gone unnoticed by Taylor.
The other key to the project was its general contractor, Charles Logue, who like McLaughlin had developed a reputation in the city as a respected builder, and sources indicate he got the contract on the project without bidding because he knew the Taylor Family.
The construction of the park and the seamless adjustments made during the project show a remarkable symbiotic relationship between the architect and his contractor reflecting an empathy possibly born of their Nova Scotia roots. Both Stout and Jim Logue, Charles Logue’s grandson, agree that considering the initial footprint of Fenway Park was constructed on “raw rough land” in the winter over a six-month period between baseball seasons was a remarkable feat.
But beyond that feat, why is Fenway Park the unique ballpark that it is today? Stout says answering that question was his primary mission in writing his book.
“I wanted to crack the code, the architectural code of why Fenway Park looks the way it looks and I had to do a lot of research to figure that out,” he said.
His research showed they had used Tapestry Bricks found in the arts and crafts style architecture tradition on the “outside façade” of the ballpark. Then looking at other McLaughlin-designed buildings, which were “ubiquitous” around Boston at the time, he also saw “echoes” of McLaughlin’s utilitarian and “aesthetically pleasing” public buildings.
Architectural Innovations at that time included “increasing the pitch of the grandstand as it rose to maximize the number of seats and improve sightlines” and also the long descending ramp that guided fans easily down to their seats which were below street level.
Another major challenge that Stout cites involved the construction of the predecessor to today’s “Green Monster” left-field wall. This involved the construction of a retaining wall for the fence to hold back Landsdowne Street behind it. The result was the creation of an embankment leading up to and supporting the wall. In those early days of the park, it was known as “Duffy’s Cliff” and its physical features played a major role in the outcome of many games in the early years. The “Pesky Pole”, the right field foul pole, and the anomaly of a curvaceous right field corner, may have been the result of the park being built inward from its Ipswich Street Boundary. But it was not from any dearth of space, according to Jim Logue. While not generally well known, the first home run curled around the “Pesky Pole” was by famous left-hand hitter and Hall of Famer Ty Cobb.
For the 1912 World Series McLaughlin and Logue also had to team up to produce a flexible plan to put in an additional 10,000 seats over a three-week period near the end of the regular season. During the season, the grandstands ended shortly after the third base and first base, with some seats in center field. This all changed for the World Series with the addition of mostly wooden bleacher seats encompassing the entire outfield.
And finally, McLaughlin had to deal with Charles Taylor hedging his bets on constructing a second deck to the grandstand. Stout believes that Taylor wanted maximum revenues for the park which a second tier would produce. But the indications were that he planned to sell the team, and did not want to construct something from which he would not benefit financially. McLaughlin’s compromise was to design and lay the groundwork for a second tier, but not build it. This, according to both Stout and Jim Logue, enabled the renovations of Fenway Park in the late 1980s when there were thoughts of demolishing the old ballpark and building a brand new one.
The flexible approach to the design and construction of Fenway Park for the 1912 season allowed significant renovations in later years but the initial footprint of the park stayed the same.
Anyone who has ever visited Fenway Park including the likes of Prime, Stout, Jim Logue, and this writer can all recall in vivid detail the magical display of emerald green and the atmosphere that they confronted the first time they set their eyes on the park. A 1912 creation by Nova Scotians of that magical baseball kingdom has always been recognized for its value in Boston. But it seems it has never been noted or recognized in Nova Scotia. One hundred and 10 years later, it certainly now seems time that the Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame and professional associations of architects and builders should provide that formal recognition.
Sources: Glenn Stout and his book “Fenway 1912 – Birth of a Ball Park”, NS Archives, Jim Logue of Logue Engineering, and Wikipedia.
Bob Doherty is a free lance writer and the author of “Silver to Gold” – a book about St. FX Coach Steve Konchalski’s 25th anniversary season and two national championships. He lives in Halifax.