By LANCE ARMSTRONG
Editor’s note: This is the first article of a two-part series about the fire that destroyed the original Edmonds Field.
Sixty-five years ago, one of the darkest days in the history of baseball in Sacramento occurred as a community treasure, the original Edmonds Field, at the southeast corner of Riverside Boulevard and Broadway was destroyed by fire.
The fire at the roughly 11,000-seat stadium, which was home to the Pacific Coast League’s Sacramento Solons baseball team, was reported to have been discovered by Fire Battalion Chief Peter Mangan shortly before midnight on Sunday, July 11, 1948. Carl Murphy, the stadium’s assistant manager, had been the last person to leave the ballpark when he departed at about 9:15 p.m.
The stadium, which was originally known as Moreing Field, was constructed in 1922.
In its July 13, 1948 edition, The Sacramento Union described the loss of the mostly wooden stadium, which was built at a cost of $50,000, as a “gaping wound in the heart of the city’s sports world.”
Also lost as a result of the fire were the nearby homes of Roy Milner at 2605 Riverside Blvd., Clarence N. Baker at 2609 Riverside Blvd. and Harold Jordan at 2613 Riverside Blvd.
The Sacramento Bee reported that residents within a four-block radius of the stadium fought flying sparks and bits of smoldering wood with water emitted from garden hoses.
And The Union noted that at one point, “spewing flames, cinders and huge chunks of burning wood” fell upon the streets on both sides of the stadium.
Jack Dyer, who co-owned The White House restaurant at 2633 Riverside Blvd., where today’s Riverside Clubhouse restaurant now operates, lost his parked automobile after it caught on fire on Riverside Boulevard, 100 feet south of Broadway. Another car parked in the same area also caught on fire.
Nearby telephone and power lines collapsed, three transformers blew out and fear built regarding further danger due to a possible disaster if the gas station across the street from the stadium caught on fire.
According to The Bee, embers from the fire were carried in the wind more than a mile away.
Charles McDonnell, who resided at 2401 13th St., told The Union that he discovered cinders in his car in front of his home during the morning of July 12, 1948.
The Union also reported that “others said there were ashes as far north as Capitol Avenue.”
The blaze, which would eventually include flames that reached about 500 feet tall, drew an estimated 50,000 people, who were eager to view the spectacle that would ultimately level the majority of the ballpark. Only the outfield fence, a section of the left field bleachers, the scoreboard and the stadium’s lights were left standing.
The magnitude of the scene was partially described in The Bee, as follows: “As the flames shot upward, the entire section of the city in the vicinity of Broadway and Riverside Boulevard was as light as day for more than an hour.”
Others spectators, also numbering in the thousands, arrived at the site to view the charred ruins that were left behind after the fire was extinguished.
The Union noted that the onlookers, who observed the scene as “morbid souls gathering around a dying giant,” were “seemingly unable to believe their eyes at the twisted wreckage and waste of the grounds.”
Bill Conlin, The Union’s sports editor noted in his column that even members of the Solons, who were then managed by Joe Orengo, made their way down to the stadium site after the fire.
Conlin wrote: “The players, each of whom lost $100 to $200 in personal belongings, were visibly stricken over the dilapidated grandstand, which they had come to regard as home.”
Also lost in the fire was a collection of baseball photographs that had been hung on walls in the stadium’s press room, and Solons majority owner Oscar Salenger’s ornate office furniture.
Fire Chief Terence Mulligan was reported to have fractured his right wrist at the stadium while he directed a large firefighting force, and four firemen and a policeman suffered burns of various degrees, but no human casualties were reported.
Twenty-eight prized chickens in the backyard of the aforementioned Harold Jordan, who was the scoreboard operator at Edmonds field, were burned to death.
But fortunately, the baseball club’s cat, Alta, was eventually found to be a survivor of the fire.
Although it was never determined exactly how the fire began, a strong speculation was that it was caused by a possible smoldering cigarette that had been left behind following a game.
In its July 12, 1948 edition, The Bee reported: “It is believed a cigaret (sic) carelessly dropped in the stand during yesterday’s (last) doubleheader game may have started the disastrous blaze.”
A day later, The Union published the following words: “Day after day, patrons were warned to be sure to extinguish their cigarets (sic) to prevent just such a fire.”
Whether there is any truth to the matter in relation to the fire, the late Bee columnist Stan Gilliam, during his latter years, would often relate a story about how he believed it was his own cigarette that caused the stadium fire.
The idea that the ballpark was destroyed as a result of a random cigarette was not the only words that were being spoken around the city regarding the cause of the fire.
Two weeks prior to the fire, the insurance policy for the stadium had been raised from $140,000 to $250,000, causing some people to utter the dirty word, “arson.”
Furthermore, two days earlier, the stadium was the site of another early morning fire, which was quickly extinguished by local firefighters.
Fire investigators recorded the cause of the disaster as “undetermined.”
Because the then-last place Solons became homeless due to the fire, the team took on the role of a traveling club for the final 11 weeks of the season, playing at various times in San Diego, Los Angeles, Hollywood, San Francisco, Oakland and Portland.
In an effort to keep the Solons’ home games in the Sacramento area, Hughes Stadium in the Land Park area and the North Sacramento ball fields at Grant Union High School and Dixieanne Park were speculated upon in local newspapers as possible alternative home field playing sites. However, such temporary sites never materialized.
Yubi Separovich, the club’s general manager at that time, told The Bee that there was no grandstand in the Sacramento area that could accommodate a PCL crowd.
In order to maintain its franchise, the Sacramento Baseball Association, which had been formed four years earlier, acted quickly in its efforts to have a new stadium constructed either at the Broadway and Riverside site or somewhere else in the Sacramento area.
Shortly after the fire, Separovich spoke to The Union regarding the club’s intentions to have a new baseball stadium built in the Sacramento area.
“I am confident that we can count on 100 per cent (sic) support from Coast League directors,” said Separovich, who opened a post-fire, temporary office at 2422 13th St., which is now the site of Iron Steaks restaurant. “I mean full and complete help that will start us on our way to building a modern, concrete grandstand that will seat 16,000 or 18,000 persons. We must keep the Sacramento franchise in the Coast League and we must have a new park by 1949.”
As hoped for by the Solons ownership, fans and others associated with the team, construction of a new Edmonds Field, albeit built without financial assistance from the league, was completed at the site of the former stadium in time for the home opener of the club’s 1949 season.