Baseball Way Back: Meet the architect of Comiskey Park and Wrigley Field
One of the most valuable players in Cubs and White Sox history made his mark with blueprints, not a bat or glove.
Zachary Taylor Davis sealed his lasting connection with both teams as the architect of old Comiskey Park and what eventually became known as Wrigley Field.
I spoke recently with his great-grandson, Todd Protzman Davis, who has a degree in art history and a background in art and historical research. The Chicagoan worked with the Ricketts family on the development of the Hotel Zachary, which is named after his great-grandfather.
The Aurora-born Zachary received his degree from the Art Institute of Chicago, before working for famed architects Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan as a draftsman.
He became the architect in residence for meat packing giant Armour & Co., where he became focused on the latest innovations in construction.
Protzman Davis said, "He became this go-to architect in the United States for packing houses and slaughterhouses because he always embraced the latest technology."
That focus on technology transferred into his design for ballparks, seeing its first application at Comiskey Park, which opened in 1910.
"That was the first time that concrete and steel were used in ballpark construction," Protzman Davis said, pointing out previous ballparks were vulnerable to fire because they were built of wood. "And so my great-grandfather was the first to start this innovation using what I think stemmed from his experience designing slaughterhouses with concrete and steel."
Davis was influenced by Henry Hobson Richardson, whose Romanesque Revival style included such distinctive elements as the arches Davis designed at old Comiskey.
Comiskey Park gained a reputation as "baseball palace of the world," but Davis had problems with it because his original design was rejected as being too expensive.
Comiskey Park's eventual design had a major impact on White Sox history due to pitcher Ed Walsh's input. He and Davis toured ballparks together, the result being generous dimensions and its fate as a "pitcher's park."
Davis' work at 35th and Shields led to more baseball work, including one memorable project for Charles Weeghman, the lunch counter king of Chicago and owner of the Federal League's Chicago Whales.
Protzman Davis said the future Wrigley Field, with its "kite-shaped" design and more intimate dimensions, was closer to his great-grandfather's vision.
Davis worked on another Federal League park, Washington Park in Brooklyn. The Standard Union in Brooklyn reported Feb. 24, 1914, plans "are to be the same as those used in Chicago," with a "kite-shape layout."
It reported Davis "it is said has charge of the Brooklyn stands." The paper bemoaned, "Are there no architects here in Brooklyn capable of building this gigantic structure?"
Davis returned to Wrigley in the early 1920s for expansion work. An upper deck was added, as was a house where longtime groundskeeper Bobby Dorr lived.
Recently, the groundskeeper's house was restored as part of the latest Wrigley renovations and stands directly behind the ballpark.
As a result of his work on the Wrigley expansion, Protzman Davis said, his great-grandfather was paid in Cubs stock.
The family still held shares until the early 1960s.
Protzman Davis said his great-grandfather's passion was commercial design -- ballparks, churches and school buildings, including St. Ambrose Church and Mount Carmel High School.
Despite his dislike for residential design -- because it involved too much interaction with the client -- one of his better known works was the summer cottage of Cubs owner William Wrigley Jr., built on Mt. Ada, named after his wife, in Avalon on Catalina Island in California. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is now a bed-and-breakfast.
Protzman Davis said the Georgian Colonial mansion was the favorite house of Ada Wrigley and overlooked the field where the Cubs held spring training.
"Evidently William Wrigley would sit in the house and look down with binoculars and watch the ballplayers practicing," he said.
Davis designed a second Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, which was built in 1925 and torn down in 1969 and is best known as the park where the television series "Home Run Derby" was filmed. It also was the first home of the American League's Los Angeles Angels. Its distinctive feature was a clock tower.
Protzman Davis noted his great-grandfather entered into the competition for the design of what became Soldier Field.
Prior to his death in 1946, Davis was the superintendent of repairs on schools for the Chicago Board of Education.
Protzman Davis did the research work and helped curate for the Hotel Zachary project, which put his great-grandfather back in the spotlight.
"Up until then, he was really a forgotten architect from a Chicago history standpoint. Books that have been written about Wrigley or Comiskey would mention his name in one line, but it's with this hotel project that it was nice to see him kind of revitalized."