From 1931 until 1996, Bush Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana served as the home of the Indianapolis Indians; a AAA minor league baseball team currently affiliated with Major League Baseball's Pittsburgh Pirates. The Art Deco stadium complete with it's ivy covered walls saw the Indians play as the farm team for not only the Pirates, but the Cleveland Indians, Milwaukee Brewers, Montreal Expos (Now the Washington Nationals), Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Braves (Now the Atlanta Braves) and even the Cincinnati Reds.
I once took a history class entitled: "The History of American Baseball: 1930 - Present." The professor of the class had a saying: "Baseball mimics culture," referring to how trends in popular culture and trends in America's favorite past time coincided with each other. I didn't fare too well in the course, but that quote really sparked a deeper interest in baseball for me. Bush Stadium had not only seen baseball change, but so many aspects of our culture change. From a depression era ballpark when baseball was at the height of it's popularity to the increasing commercialization of minor league baseball in the mid 90's, Bush Stadium had been there.
The Indians organization of the International League vacated the stadium in 1996 for a more modern facility closer to downtown. In 1997 the stadium was purchased and transformed into the 16th Street Speedway, a quarter midget auto raceway. It's signature ivy that had once adorned the walls was ripped out and the traditional baseball diamond was replaced by a dirt track and steel fence.
After two seasons, the 16th St. Speedway closed and the stadium eventually came under the ownership of the Indianapolis Parks and Recreation Department. Today it sits idle, awaiting a future. Paul Smith, of Indy Parks and Recreation was kind enough to allow me access to photograph the stadium after I contacted him. This was a great opportunity to not only see where players I remember watching growing up as a kid and members of the Big Red Machine passed through on their way to Cincinnati, but to visit a stadium that had been witness to so much history.
After a four hour drive, my dad and I met up with my cousin Jeff and my good friend Jesse Marchbanks, a current Indianapolis resident who had visited the stadium as a kid. As we entered into the now overgrown outfield, the saying "They don't build em like they used to" came to mind. They certainly don't make stadiums with this much character anymore.
The view from the Bush Stadium press box:
Traversing the roof, we walked beneath the stadium's old lighting structures which were very similar to the ones at Wrigley Field in Chicago and that were once found at Crosley Field in Cincinnati. Bush had been used as a stand in for Crosley Field during the filming of the 1987 movie "Eight Men Out."
From the roof we headed back down to the main stands and towards the building's executive offices.
An interesting feature of the stadium that Paul had mentioned to us was the pulley system found above the ticket booths. The ticket booths were located within the main concrete supports of the stadiums outer facade, on the second level of the stadium above each booth were compartments like this:
Inside the compartments was a mirror and a rope pulley. When the admission windows were accumulating enough money or needed more change, bags of money could be fastened to the ropes and lowered down or raised up straight into the team's executive offices.
At the very end of the executive offices was the owner's office. It's a cliche figure of speech, but "if only these walls could talk" it's interesting to think of all the scouting, trading and negotiating that went on here between 1931 and 1996.
The owner's office came complete with it's own fireplace and bath room which overlooked the stadium concourse. It even had a set of stairs leading to a personal garage on the lower level for the owner's vehicle.
Despite the changes made by the speedway people, many artifacts of the stadium's baseball history still remained.
Out in the stadium's right field, wooden bleachers that once served as "cheap seats" have begun to rot away.
In the outfield, ivy that had once been ripped out by the speedway operators, has begun to grow back.
As with many AAA and major league teams; the Indians moved to a newer, more commercialized facility, more evidence of how "Baseball mimics culture." Today only a handful of parks in the various levels of baseball can hold a candle to the charm and history of a place like Bush Stadium. From time's when it was fashionable to don a fedora and suit to catch a ball game to the steroid scandals and home run chases of recent baseball history, Bush Stadium has seen it all. One can only hope the good folks at Indy Parks in the future will somehow develop a use for the site in some capacity.
After posting his pictures, my friend Jesse remarked about a memory he had from an Indians game at Bush Stadium:
"After a while as we were standing in the grand stands I started to look around and remember the area's of were I had sat at during many of games I attended there as a young boy and through Junior High. I even got so caught up in my memories that I shared a few endearing moments of how my dad (now deceased) knew a catcher one year and and when we went to a game the catcher came over signed a few autographs for some lower seated fans then looked up to us and said "Hello Jim good to see you, thanks for coming out" then throwing a baseball to my dad and said "give that to your boy will ya" I remember feeling frozen in my seat and thinking Wow how great is my dad knowing the catcher like that. The baseball was signed and it sat in a special baseball cradle on a shelf in my room until I moved from home."
Much thanks and grattitude to Paul Smith of Indy Parks for his help and assistance in this photo essay!
EDIT: Since the posting of this article in 2009, Bush Stadium has undergone some changes. After being used as a car storage lot in the "Cash for Clunkers" program, the stadium was eventually renovated by a private company. The building has been saved and converted into luxury apartments. Some of the photos from this article were used in a documentary about the renovation process. You can read more about that and see the full documentary here.