Seems Like Old Times.

Buff Stadium in Middle Right of Gulf Freeway, Early 1950s.

It was located four miles east of downtown Houston. When its first Opening Day came around on April 11, 1928, many Houstonians still grumbled over the fact that Buffalo Stadium, the new baseball home of the Houston Buffs had been built so far out in the sticks from the city. West End Park, after all, had been right there on Andrews Street, off Smith, near where almost everybody lived back in the booming 1920s. The old park may have found its way to some  dilapidation and it may have offered  inadequate seating capacity, but it was close. And close counted for something back in the pre-freeway days.

The city had rallied to the travel problem by making sure that rail service to the new ballpark from downtown was easy to use. Union Station, the current home site of Minute Maid Mark, in fact, was one primary place to catch the ballgame  train that went out to Buff Stadium on what was then known as St. Bernard Avenue in 1928. That same thoroughfare is called Cullen Boulevard these days. It’s been Cullen so long now that hardly anyone alive still remembers it by its earlier identity.

Buff Stadium was the brain child of Cardinals General Manager Branch Rickey. Buffs President Fred Ankenman oversaw the ballpark’s construction in 1927-28, bringing in the project on budget at a cost of $400,000 much harder dollars then the kind we see today. Mr. Rickey even came down from St. Louis on the train to attend the 1928 grand opening of the new ballpark in Houston and he brought Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis with him. Judge Landis was most impressed too, pronouncing the new Buff Stadium as the finest new minor league baseball park in America.

Landis’s favorable impressions were important to Rickey. Rickey hoped to soften the old man’s heart from the idea that major league ownership of minor league clubs was bad business for the local community. The original 8,000 seat Buff Stadium stood as a symbol of progress and improvement in Houston minor league baseball under Cardinal ownership. To some extent, Rickey had accomplished his mission in bringing Landis to Houston in April 1928. Nothing ever really cured the contentious relationship between these two men, as Rickey would learn years later when Landis freed Pete Reiser and a few others from reserve clause capture by the St. Louis Cardinals, but that’s a story for another day.

Look at the Houston skyline in the picture. The Gulf and Esperson buildings were still the icons of Houston architecture in the 1950s – and that freeway and its rascally pal roadways had only begun to play their role in Houston’s massive spread to the hinterlands.

The Houstonians of 1928 thought that the four-mile trip to Buff Stadium from downtown was a major expedition. Today we drive four miles just to reach a Whataburger or rent a DVD movie. So where’s all this progress we keep talking about?

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