The historical significance of Wrigley’s rooftops

Article by Joe Mock. All rights reserved

Recently I was asked to provide my thoughts about the rooftop seats on top of the tenement buildings beyond Wrigley Field’s outfield. I’m always up for a conversation about my favorite ballpark … but this was no ordinary request for an interview. The request came from a 7th grader in Oglesby, Illinois who was preparing a project for the Illinois History Fair Expo.

And the young lady, whose name is Lauren, did awfully well in that competition. In fact, her project was graded as "superior," which means she and her project will advance to future History Fairs at higher levels. Good for her! Of course, my responses to her questions aren’t what made her work so exceptional. It was her ability to assimilate information and present it in a fascinating way, as the photo attests.

Anyway, here are the questions she posed to me, and my responses:

Lauren: Our history fair project has to focus on something that is important to the history of Illinois.  I picked the rooftops of Wrigley Field as my history fair project because I am a big Cub fan and like going to Wrigley Field.  I watch all the games and they always show the rooftops on television.  When I have gone to a game, I always wondered what it would be like to watch a game from a rooftop. I have been to several other baseball stadiums and have never seen anything like Wrigley and the rooftops which I think are really neat.  My dad has told me that when he was my age the rooftops were usually people sitting in lawn chairs.  I went to my first rooftop game on Saturday, September 5th at 3639 Sheffield Avenue.

My focus is on the  uniqueness of the rooftops compared to other stadiums, that you can watch a game from outside the park, and the rooftops’ overall contribution to the history of Wrigley Field and Illinois.  I will be reporting on the history of the rooftops, how they have evolved over time, and my opinion on their importance to Wrigley Field and thus Illinois history.

Following are a few questions for you.  I have reviewed your website  and saw that  you listed Wrigley Field as one of the best ballparks in America.  Although my project is not on Wrigley Field itself, I think the neighborhood adds to the charm of Wrigley Field.

What is your full name and your job title? Please tell me about yourself and your experience with MLB ballparks.

Joe: Joe Mock, President of Grand Slam Enterprises, Inc., which owns and operates, which began in 1997.  I’ve attended games at every current MLB park and all 24 spring training parks.  In addition, I’ve visited all 159 ballparks currently used in Minor League Baseball.  I’m the author of the book Joe Mock’s Ballpark Guide, as well as over 40 articles that have been published in USA Today publications.

Lauren: How did you become interested in studying and writing about ballparks?

Joe: When I was a youngster, I loved taking pictures of stadiums.  When the Internet came along in 1997, I created simply so I could post my favorite pictures.  Millions of visitors later, it’s become the authoritative voice of ballpark news and reviews.

Lauren: Did you ever watch a game from the rooftops at Wrigley?  If so, what was your experience?

Joe: I have to be honest:  I never have.  I’ve studied the rooftops and researched the legal conflicts between the Cubs and the rooftop owners, but I’ve never actually sat and watched a game from one of the rooftops.  I will one day.  I know that.

Lauren: In your opinion, do the rooftops of Wrigley Field contribute to the uniqueness of Wrigley?  If yes, in what ways?   

Joe: Clearly, the rooftops contribute significantly to the character and uniqueness of Wrigley Field and its neighborhood.  While there have been other instances of fans attempting to watch sporting events from the tops of other buildings (notably in Philadelphia, which you might want to research), nothing has ever come close to the rooftops along Sheffield and Waveland.  It speaks to the wonderful neighborhood which has Wrigley at its heart.  There’s no place else like it.

Lauren: Do you think the uniqueness of Wrigley Field would change if the rooftops did not exist or could not be seen from inside the ballpark?

Joe: I for one am not happy that the changes to Wrigley have obstructed the views from some of the rooftops.  I wish that hadn’t have happened, and I wish the Cubs had handled the situation differently (from a legal perspective, it was the team that originally forced the owners of the rooftops to pay a “tax” to the Cubs, and then the Cubs turned around and blocked the view of those very rooftops).  But my opposition to Wrigley’s renovations go way past the fact that they blocked the view of some of the rooftops.  I think the very character of Wrigley Field has been damaged by the significant changes, particularly the video screens in the outfield.

Lauren: Do you think the uniqueness would change if the field could not be seen from the rooftops?

Joe: Wrigley is more than just the fact that spectators can see the field from the rooftops.  However, those rooftops provide a quality that is unlike anything else in sports. And it would be real shame if all of the rooftop seats stopped having a view of the field.

Lauren: My research has shown that some other  ballparks, for example St. Louis and the new Cubs spring training park in Arizona,  are trying to create a rooftop experience by including rooftops or false rooftops in their design.  Do you think this trend has anything to do with the rooftops at Wrigley Field?  Do you have an opinion of these attempts?

Joe: There is no doubt whatsoever that the rooftop areas beyond left field at the Cubs’ spring training park are a direct result of the rooftop seats in Chicago.  The architects of the park in Mesa, Arizona told me that they were.  I have no problem with them doing it … but you have to admit that it’s ironic that the Cubs have now effectively blocked the view of some of the rooftops across Sheffield and Waveland.

As for the new rooftop areas across the street in St. Louis, I don’t think the developers would admit it, but I truly doubt that they’d have gone to the trouble to design the ballpark village that way if the rooftops in Chicago had never existed.  They knew a popular idea when they saw one!

But I want to be clear in making this point:  there is a big, big difference between the rooftops in Chicago and any attempt to duplicate them anywhere else.  On the North Side of Chicago, the rooftop seats developed * organically.*  Tenement buildings grew up along Waveland and Sheffield, and folks discovered they could see the field from the top floors.  That led to a few seats being mounted on the roofs, and then more and more. Their popularity furthered their development – and only *there* did it happen.  The attempts to duplicate that in Mesa and St. Louis are merely that:  attempts.  They will never be as natural and as logical as they are in Wrigleyville.

Lauren: I think the rooftops have been important to the history of Wrigley Field.  Do you?  If so, in what ways?

Joe: While there are other aspects of Wrigley that I think are more important than the rooftops (for example, the bleachers and the ivy), I will be the first to admit that they are one of the most charming and interesting features at any ballpark in the country. As baseball season after baseball season have gone by within the Friendly Confines, and the sport and the ballpark itself have changed, the rooftops have remained.  I hope they always do.

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