A Rare Baseball Find: Stars Park

26, October 2016

Walloping bats and roaring fans were commonplace at the intersection of Compton and Market back in the 1920s thanks to Stars Park, home of the Negro National League (NNL) franchise the St. Louis Stars. Originally called the St. Louis Giants, the team got new owners, a new name, and a brand-new ballpark in 1922. At the time, Stars Park was one of few facilities in the country built especially for a Negro League team, and the Stars played there until the NNL went out of business in 1931, a casualty of the Great Depression. Yet few, if any, photos of the 10,000-seat stadium were known to exist—until now.

Black-and-white photo of Stars ParkStars Park, ca. 1922. Swekosky Notre Dame College Collection, Missouri History Museum.

While going through some unidentified negatives in our Swekosky Notre Dame College Collection, photo archivist Lauren Sallwasser came across an image of a large ballpark exterior. Initially she thought it was Sportsman’s Park, but after comparing it to another photo, she realized they weren’t a match. Neither a clear sign stating the park’s name nor a helpful street sign that could give a clue to the ballpark’s location was present. But there was a small banner nailed to the building, hanging loose on one side and only partially legible. In the lower corner of it you can just make out the words Stars Park.

Close-up on Stars Park imageThis banner was our first clue that we had a photo of Stars Park. Swekosky Notre Dame College Collection, Missouri History Museum.

Had we finally identified a picture of of this elusive ballpark? The only way to know for sure was by doing some research. First, Lauren confirmed the location of Stars Park at Compton and Market. Today at this intersection you can find the ballfield for Harris-Stowe State University, but in the 1920s it would have been dominated by Stars Park’s grandstand and pavilion. Our picture clearly shows the outside view of a grandstand, so that was a good start.

Side by side photos showing the building near Stars ParkThe building that helped us identify Stars Park, roughly 12 years apart. The 1934 image is on the left, and the ca. 1922 image is on the right. Missouri History Museum.

The only other clue was the corner of a building on the far-left side of the photo. Lauren tried to find a business name posted on the building—no luck. Then she tried to find an address number—what was there was hardly legible. Next she looked to see whether we have any other photos of the intersection from the same era—bingo! In our St. Louis City Planning Agencies Collection, we have a clearly labeled photograph of the intersection of Compton and Market from 1934, just a few years after Stars Park closed. It’s a view looking at the opposite side of Compton Avenue from the ballpark, but right there on the corner is the same building as in the Swekosky image.

Black-and-white photo of the 1928 St. Louis StarsThe 1928 St. Louis Stars, champions of the Negro League World Series. Photo by L. H. Beckman. Missouri History Museum.

Thanks to Lauren’s detective work, we were able to confirm that our previously unidentified image showcases the ballpark that witnessed two NNL pennant wins and the performance of several men who would later be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. James “Cool Papa” Bell (center fielder), Willie Wells (shortstop), and George "Mule" Suttles (first baseman) all called Stars Park home during the 1920s, and now you can catch a glimpse of their home away from home.

—Amanda Claunch, Associate Archivist, Photographs and Prints

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