The City’s Most-Storied Piece of Property

Folks often wonder whatever became of Wet-Foot Field, the stamping ground of the city’s first Ethnic-League baseball team, the Blue Stockings. Well, appropriately enough, it was excavated, lined with concrete and turned into the world-famous Swimporium public indoor swimming pools at Mabel Tripp Gardens in 1902.

But wait, you might ask, whatever became of the world-famous Swimporium? After a 1907 bacterial infection caused an epidemic of Queensland Fever among summertime patrons of the swimming pools, almost four thousand tons of bleached sand were used to fill the pool and bury the surrounding dressing tents – just in time to simulate snowy hills for the Mabel Tripp Gardens Christmas Gala the following year, in 1908.

A sand flea infestation required the removal of all forty tons of sand, and ended in the death of three immigrant workers. In 1910, the area was reopened briefly as an open-air, fenceless petting zoo, built along the theories of ardent conservationist Pastor Martin David Dodger, who believed that open spaces quelled animal aggression. The high cost associated with retrieving runaway animals and subsequent lawsuits saw the zoo closed in the first few weeks of Spring, 1911.

Over the next ninety-five years, the space has housed such disparate facilities as the city’s only all-wooden roller coaster, an asylum for children believed to be falsifying deafness, no less than three department stores and four minimalls over the course of as many decades, an aquarium composed entirely of plaster fish contained in blue-tinted blocks of Lucite, a recording facility operated by former Police-frontman Sting, several community theater groups and a pair of Shakespearean troupes, five competing Renaissance festivals, the Lowland Games, a miniature model of the city of Pompeii with working volcano (firing soap-flake ashes every three hours of the day, beginning at six in the morning and ending at nine at night), and the site of the first three and last two reunions of ground-breaking local improv comedy troupe Fork, Knife and Spoon (for the last of which a custom bandshell was built in 2003).

Most recently, the land has been converted into a multi-story, 4,000-car capacity parking facility. Whether this latest incarnation will stand the test of time is yet to be seen, but one thing is for sure – drivers in the downtown shopping district are doing more than taking advantage of convenient and inexpensive parking when they make the short walk to any of the facility’s eight elevators or three stairwells – they’re taking part in history.

Fun Facts:
:: The Blue Stockings were largely Armenian, with three Greeks and one shortstop from Argentina.
:: The Swimporium broke all world records for deepest indoor swimming pool. Singapore has held that title since 1971.
:: Queensland Fever is typically only communicable through intimate contact with similarly infected farm animals.
:: The lease for the parking garage currently occupying the land runs until 2035.
:: Fork, Knife and Spoon co-founder Jones Murphy perished from Queensland Fever in 1981.
– J. Morris

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