As the Friendly Confines continue to evolve, it’s natural for baseball fans to feel nostalgia for the iconic field. But as much as the contours and coziness of the famous ballpark strikes a chord with sports fans, the original architect and designer, Zachary Taylor Davis, rarely gets more than a passing mention. Chicago’s own “Frank Lloyd Wright of Baseball” not only designed Wrigley Field, then known as Weeghman Park, but he also drew the plans for Comiskey’s Baseball Palace on the South Side. It’s important to note the work of a man whose designs have been copied by scores of modern ballparks.
Aurora-born Zachary Taylor Davis couldn’t ask for a more auspicious, Chicago start to his architecture career. After graduating from the Art Institute, Davis started as a draftsman for Louis Sullivan, where he briefly worked alongside Frank Lloyd Wright. He eventually became an in-house designer for Armour & Co. creating packing plants. But projects such as the Kankakee Courthouse and a private home for Big Jim O’Leary, Gambling King of the Stockyards, attracted enough attention to win bigger commissions.
Davis’ entree into stadium construction started on the South Side when he designed the original Comiskey Park, an old-school, kite-shaped symmetric stadium which critic Blair Kamin once called “tough and tart as a Chicago cop.” Davis didn’t leave much to chance when he sketched plans for the new ballpark in 1910, which cost a half a million and was to be “the best in the land” according to the Chicago Tribune. He toured other stadiums with White Sox pitcher Ed Walsh to prepare for the job, and styled the brick exterior to blend in with the surrounding factories.
After that success, it’s only natural Davis would get the call to design the stadium that would eventually be called Wrigley Field. Taylor dreamt up the innovative, single-grandstand, steel-and-concrete structure for self-styled businessman Charley “Lucky Charlie” Weeghman, a coffee boy turned restaurant owner who needed a new field for his recently purchased Chicago Federals ball club (who would later become the Whales and then the Cubs). When it debuted in April 1914, Weeghman Park was celebrated by the media and sports fans, though complaints that the shallow left field led to accusations of “cheap shot” home runs which resulted in the wall being pushed back.
Taylor, who died in 1946 and was buried at St. Ambrose Church in Kenwood, which he designed, would go on to help renovate Wrigley in 1922, among many other projects. The new Hotel Zachary, which opened last year across from the Cubs’ park, is named in his honor. But his original work in Chicago stands as the template for what we often consider a classic ballpark.