Broadway and 168th Street, with its rocky terrain, isn’t exactly the best place for a baseball stadium.
Which partially explains why in 1903, New York’s newest baseball team, the appropriately named Highlanders, only played in a ball park at the site for the next 10 years.
Called American League Park and nicknamed Hilltop Park, it was hastily built in six weeks, just in time for the start of the spring season.
A New York Times piece summed up the challenge of turning a hilly nine-acre trapezoid of land into a worthy stadium:
“From Broadway looking west, the ground starts in a low swamp. It rises into a ridge of rocks perhaps twelve to fifteen feet above the level of Broadway. From the top of the ridge the land slopes off gradually to Fort Washington Road.”
“As the property is today it will be necessary to blast all along the ridge, cutting off a slice eight feet or more. … There are about 100 trees to be pulled up by the roots.”
With the help of Tammany insider Thomas McAvoy, construction on the park began. Five hundred men (paid $2 a day) set to work digging, blasting and carting away 12,000 cubic yards of bedrock.
“In a remarkable six weeks, the McAvoy construction crew had converted a picturesque but forbidding mesa into a serviceable, if unfinished, venue for major-league baseball,” states the Society for American Baseball Research.
“Fans would be accommodated in three grandstand sections ringing the home-plate area and extending along the baselines. Single-deck bleacher areas extended from the grandstands to the outfield fences while an adequately sized scoreboard was erected near the left-field foul line.”
Over the decade, the Highlanders didn’t win many games. But they attracted big crowds to the 16,000 person venue, especially with the help of the new subway system.
The 1912 season was their last at Hilltop Park, which was constantly beset by flooding and other problems.
The team now known as the Yankees shared the nearby Polo Grounds with the Giants, then moved into their own stadium in the Bronx in 1923.
Nothing appears to remain of Hilltop Park, bulldozed to make way for a tabernacle and then Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in 1925, which occupies the hilltop today.
But there are a few interesting remnants. First, the lone tenement apartment building that stood out so prominently in early photos of the park still exists on 168th Street, long surrounded by other apartment houses.
And a small base-shaped plaque in a hospital courtyard marks the site of home plate.
[Top photos: Library of Congress; fifth photo: copyright David B. Stinson; bottom photo: Uptown Collective]