Sunday, July 09, 2006

Unexpected Survivor

A little west of my place, there's a modern shopping center (Borders, Home Depot, Whole Foods, etc) where once stood Atlanta's main baseball field. Ponce de Leon Park housed the Atlanta Crackers minor league baseball team, which always struck me as an odd name for a team, as well as the Atlanta Black Crackers, which always struck me as even odder.

Ponce Park also had a number of other attractions, I guess -- an amusement park, a lake, and most famously, a giant magnolia tree in center field. The park was torn down some years before I was even born, and any traces seem to be long gone.

Well, not quite. I was always under the impression that the legendary magnolia was part of the past -- so I was surprised and thrilled, while researching another, long-term project (and you're forgiven if you're starting to think that's code for "thing I'll never finish"), to find out that it actually still stands.

This morning -- trying to do something healthy before the World Cup and inevitable hours of drinking -- I strolled over and dutifully took a few pictures of the tree, and the surrounding area. It's hard to really get a feel for the park's layout -- the tree was in center field, but if my estimations are correct, that was a short center field, and it's hard to figure out where the stands were. Even this postcard doesn't give much of an idea -- nothing tips me off as to which direction was which (and where's the damn magnolia?). The boundaries are easy enough-- all the surrounding land is considerably higher than the former park -- but I can't really overlay an image of the old park onto today's geography.

It's hard to imagine the surrounding area at all back then -- though several of the buildings are consistent. The lofts to the southeast were a Ford Motor factory -- now it's a pretty unpleasant-looking building. The Sears building directly across Ponce is now variously city offices, a police station, a gym, and empty. The once-important railroad tracks that must have run behind center field are now in ruins, the railroad bridge that runs over Ponce a rusted hulk.

The Braves coming to town doomed the park -- they required one of those colosseums that were so popular in the '60s and '70s. Hard to imagine what the area would be like now if it had stayed, if it would have boosted or brought down the surrounding areas. When describing my neighborhood to out-of-state friends, I've called it the equivalent of Chicago's Wrigleyville without the baseball field; it's a lazy answer, but maybe actually not that far off.


Brushback said...

Cool story!

I love hearing about old ballparks, even if all that's left is a tree.

gsdgsd13 said...

Hey, thanks. It was kind of a cool little exploration.

For those further interested, I went to a site today that I should've visited in my initial "research" - Atlanta Time Machine. He's got two pics up of the old stadium:

here and here.

Jett said...

I've referenced your post in my recent post: The Tree that Babe Ruth put a Baseball in. I ran across your post searching for an image of the ballpark that included the tree.

Sara Cheshire said...

Hi Greg! I'm doing a project with Trees Atlanta and was wondering if I could have permission to use your magnolia tree photo at the old ballpark. Happy to provide a credit line. Thanks!

gsdgsd13 said...

Sara - Yes, absolutely, go for it. Shoot me a line at postpessimist at gmail dot com if you need more info.