Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field: Once the 2nd oldest stadium in the country

The owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Barney Dreyfuss, had a dream in 1903 to create the most beautiful stadium in the country. He wanted to move the Pirates from the Exposition Park location to a seven acre area in Pittsburgh. The design he selected would blend with the other buildings in the district of Schenley Park. At the time, that location was a bit of a trolley ride (10 minutes) from downtown and the project became known as “Dreyfuss’ Folley”. The name didn’t last long mainly due to his design concept: a 3-tiered stadium of concrete and steel, setting precedence for a stadium design as the first one in the country.

In 1909, Dreyfuss’ dream came true when they opened . The name was in honor of General Forbes, a local hero from 1758. The field included a roll up tarp to protect against rain damage and a scoreboard that was hand operated. The park had innovative features for the time, including elevators and ramps for the fans, an umpire room and a clubhouse for all of the visiting teams. Pale green steel against a roof of red slate and an outside area in a terra cotta tone known as ‘buff’ that pronounced the word “PAC” (standing for Pittsburgh Athletic Company). Seating around 23,000, the first game opened and over 30,000 fans were at the stadium, many at six and one half hours before the game itself. Talk about a hit! The game was between the Chicago Cubs and The Pittsburgh Pirates and was attended by special presentation by a Civil War Veteran, the mayor and manager of Pittsburgh’s first professional baseball team.

Part of the Dreyfuss design was to make sure that home runs would be earned. He therefore created a very large playing field. In 1925, renovations needed to add an additional grandstand reduced the size of the field. Forbes Field was known by pitchers to be a ‘friendly’ field, however, in the 4,700+ games there never occurred a no-hitter. The natural grass field was the norm of the time. Ivy was grown over the walls so that no advertising could be displayed. The remained until 1943 when a 32 foot billboard was erected for the United States Marine Corps.

Over the years additional enhancements would be made to expand the seating to its max in 1970 of around 35,000 seats. Forbes Field became the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Steelers, Steagles, Card-Pitt, University of Pittsburgh, Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh American and Phantoms.

The use over its 60 year span took a toll on the stadium as the park was officially listed as the second oldest in the nation. Additional problems occurred when the area was enhanced with busy businesses, leaving no real parking for the fans. Reality brought about construction of the Three Rivers Stadium in 1968 and, in 1970 the Pittsburgh Pirates played the last game with a win over the Chicago Cubs. Demolition was finally planned when a second fire broke out in 1971. A memorial brick lined area was created and honorary brick walls painted with “436 FT” and “457 FT” were allocated to indicate where the original location and flagpole stood.

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