The stadium project jointly proposed by DMPS and Drake University could be an overdue, cost-efficient, win-win, innovative and fully funded idea that promises to pay dividends for generations of students at both institutions. But in terms of the school district as a party to a community sports venue, it’s not unprecedented.
If you’ve ever attended an event at Grubb Stadium, the football home of the North High Polar Bears since 2002 at the corner of 6th & Holcomb, you may have noticed a modest memorial to a historic event that took place on those grounds long before the current facility was built there.
On the plaza outside the stadium entrance are plaques that commemorate a baseball game played on the EVENING of May 2, 1930 at Holcomb Park. The Des Moines Demons beat the Wichita Aviators by a score of 13-6 in their home opener that also happened to be the first professional ballgame ever played under fixed lighting. It was a big deal, credited by many at the time with saving minor league baseball, which had been withering with America in the grip of the Great Depression.
Holcomb Park was built in 1912 to be the home of the Des Moines Boosters, the Class A Western League predecessors of the Demons. One of the team and ballpark owners was Tom Fairweather, obviously a fan, who also happened to be a city councilman in 1916-17 and mayor in 1918-19.
In 1920, Fairweather and company sold Holcomb Park to the Des Moines school district, according to a 1963 edition of Iowa Annals republished under the auspices of the State Historical Society of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. One of the conditions of the sale was that the Boosters, and later the Demons, would continue to play their home games there.
The Demons eventually folded in 1937 and the dismantling of Holcomb Park began when the historic light towers were moved to a WWII ordnance plant in Ankeny to enable round the clock shifts in support of the war effort.
Then, in 1945, the school board held an auction to sell off the wooden grandstands from the briefly famous ballpark. Presiding as auctioneer was then-board secretary George Garton, the man for whom Garton Elementary School was to be named when it opened in 1958. That’s one year, incidentally, after the “new” North High opened at the school’s current site. It would be almost half a century before a fundraising drive catalyzed by a hefty seed donation from stadium namesake John Grubb, North High Class of 1935, reached its goal of a million dollars and change and a home field for the Polar Bears was constructed.
Now, the inexorable inflation of construction costs notwithstanding, the district has a chance to provide modern home football and soccer fields for 15 schools, ten middle and five high, and their fans at about the same rate per school that Grubb cost North alone at the turn of the century.
This opportunity is historic in its own right.
NOTE: The historic photographs in the album at the top right of this page are courtesy of Schenectady Museum and Science Center and www.digitalballparks.com. Click here to see more.