Posts tagged Wilbert Robinson

The 500 Block of North Howard Street and The Diamond Cafe – Baltimore’s First Sports Bar

Thirty years ago this April, the City of Baltimore tore down a three-story brick structure at 519 North Howard Street. It was demolished along with the rest of the east side of the 500 block of North Howard Street in an attempt to spruce up a portion of the decaying, former theatrical and shopping district. Redevelopment would come soon, or so the city thought. It did not, and, in the process, Baltimore wiped away a building that once housed an important part of the city’s history.

The 500 Block of North Howard Street Looking Southeast, Demolished in 1989 and a Parking Lot Ever Since


The 500 Block of North Howard Street Looking Northeast, Demolished in 1989

From 1897 to 1915, the building at 519 North Howard housed the Diamond Cafe -the brainchild of future baseball Hall of Famers John J. McGraw and Wilbert Robinson, then both members of the National League Baltimore Orioles. The Diamond Cafe is believed to be Baltimore’s first sports bar.

519 North Howard Street, Circa 1967, Baltimore, Maryland (photo courtesy of Thomas Paul –

At the time, the National League Orioles were at the height of their success and fame, having won their third consecutive National League Pennant in the Fall of 1896. McGraw and Robinson were next door neighbors and lived on the 2700 block of St. Paul Street, less than two miles north of the Diamond Cafe.

The National League Baltimore Orioles

Locating the Diamond Cafe on North Howard Street was a smart business move. From Centre Street to the north, and Lexington Street to the south, North Howard Street was one of Baltimore’s finest shopping districts.

Howard Street Looking North of Lexington Street, Baltimore, Maryland, Circa 1907 (Postcard publisher unknown)

Anchored by Lexington Market to the west, North Howard Street boasted department stores such as Hutzler’s, Hochschild Kohn’s, and Hecht’s.

Howard Street, North from Lexington Street, Baltimore, Maryland, Circa 1912 (Postcard published by I & M Ottenheimer)

At the intersection of Franklin Street and North Howard Street was Baltimore’s Theatrical District, which included some of the city’s finest theaters. The Diamond Cafe was located right in the middle of that block opposite several theaters.

Howard and Franklin Streets, Theatrical District, Baltimore, Maryland, Circa 1930 (postcard no. 7091, publisher unknown)

The Kernans Hotel and Maryland Theatre sat at the southwest corner of North Howard Street and Franklin Street.

Franklin Street, Looking West from Howard Street, showing Kernans Hotel and Maryland Theatre, Baltimore, Maryland Circa 1911 (postcard published by Baltimore Stationary Company).

The building that housed the Kernans Hotel still stands to this day. In the photograph below, the Maryland Theatre is shown as well, although that building was demolished by the city in 2017.

Franklin Street Looking West from Howard Street showing former Kernans Hotel and Maryland Theatre, Baltimore, Maryland (February 3, 2016).

The Auditorium Theater at 506 North Howard, later renamed the Mayfair Theater, was constructed in 1904. Previously, another theater building occupied the site.

Auditorium Theater, Baltimore, Maryland, Circa 1904 (postcard published by I & M Ottehnheimer)

The Mayfair closed in 1986, but somehow the structure still remains to this day, even after being damaged by a fire a few years ago.

The Former Mayfair Theater, 506 North Howard Street, Baltimore, Maryland


North Howard Street Looking South from Former Mayfair Theater, Baltimore, Maryland

Hope remains that the former Mayfair Theater will be restored or repurposed, rather than have it meet the same fate so many of its contemporaries have met.

Detail of the Former Mayfair Theater, 506 North Howard Street, Baltimore, Maryland


Detail of the Former Mayfair Theater, 506 North Howard Street, Baltimore, Maryland

In a vacant lot to the right of the former Mayfair Theater once stood the Academy of Music at 516 North Howard, which was directly across the street from 519 North Howard.

Interior of the Academy of Music, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, April 3, 1890

The Academy of Music was constructed in 1875 and demolished 50 years later to make way for the Stanley Crandall Theater in 1927.

500 Block of North Howard Street (even numbers) February 3, 2016.

The Stanley Theater was demolished in 1965 and the site has been a parking lot ever since.

Former Site of the Academy of Music and the Stanley Theater, North Howard Street, Baltimore, Maryland.

At the southwest corner of North Howard Street and Centre Street is the former site of Baltimore City College.

City College, Baltimore, Maryland, Circa 1920 (postcard published by the Chessler Co.)

The building still stands and, from the outside, appears much as it did when it was a college.

The Former City College Building, Baltimore, Maryland

The building now houses the Chesapeake Commons Apartments.

Chesapeake Commons Apartments Located at the old City College, Baltimore, Maryland


Detail of the Baltimore City College Building, Baltimore, Maryland

According to accounts in the Baltimore Sun, as early as 1885, W.H. Beach operated an establishment at 519 North Howard known as Beach’s Restaurant or Beach’s Hall. Beach leased his restaurant for use by the Cribb Club, which boasted the famous bare-knuckle fighter Jake Kilrain as an instructor who taught the art of self-defense and held sparring exhibitions. Beach was a friend of Kilrain’s and Beach adorned his restaurant with pictures of the pugilist in action. Kilrain would return to Beach’s Restaurant in 1889 after his fighting days were over, and again March 1894, where he refereed three boxing contests at Beach’s Hall. The second of the three sparring sets featured Joseph Brown, brother of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Stub Brown.

Beach’s Restaurant also hosted political meetings such as the Thom Democratic Association of the 11th Ward which was organized at Beach’s Hall in September 1889, and the German-American Democratic Club of the 11th Ward, which held a mass meeting in October 1889. In October 1892, the Neptune Boat Club organized the Neptune Club’s Foot-Ball Team at Beach’s Restaurant with J.W. Dawson Jr. elected as Manager and D.J. Hauer as Captain.

In December 1896, Beach put the stock and fixtures of his saloon up for sale, and that following February, McGraw and Robinson leased the building. When the Diamond Cafe opened in 1897, it included elegant bowling and billiard parlors, and a gymnasium. Four steel bowling alleys  were located in the rear of the first floor and billiards were located on the second floor. In 1898, additional bowling alleys were installed on the second floor, a reflection of the growing popularity of the sport. Legend has it that the used, splintered bowling pins at the Diamond Cafe were shaved down and used for duck pin bowling. City bowling leagues were formed at the Diamond Cafe, and city bowling championships were played there.

Baseball fans filled the Diamond Cafe to be near their idols and hear their stories while dining on cold cuts and crab cakes.  In October 1901, Joe “Iron Man” McGinnity, a member of the American League Baltimore Orioles in 1901 and 1902, built a shooting gallery on a lot adjoining the Diamond Cafe.

National League Baltimore Orioles Scorecard 1899 Season Advertising the Diamond Cafe

In July 1902, McGraw sold his interest in the Diamond Cafe to Robinson, just prior to McGraw’s departure from Baltimore and subsequent move to New York City, where he assumed the reigns as manager of the New York Giants. Robinson’s playing days ended after the 1902 season, but he continued to operate the Diamond another 10 years while also working as a pitching coach for McGraw’s New York Giants.

John McGraw as Manager of the New York Giants and Wilbert Robinson as Manager of the Brooklyn Robins (Library of Congress, Prints &  Photographs)

In May 1906, a fire damaged the second and third floors of 519 North Howard, but Robinson rebuilt the Diamond, and in 1912, Robinson purchased property adjoining the Diamond with thoughts of tearing down the adjoining building and constructing a five story hotel structure on that site, adding also an additional two stories to 519 North Howard. The Diamond, like Beach’s Hall before it, also held private events and political rallies during this time. For example, in October 1912, Samuel Gompers, President of the American Federation of Labor, attended a cigar makers banquet held at the Diamond.

The 500 Block of North Howard Street, Baltimore, Maryland. 519 North Howard is the Three-Story, Flat-Roofed Building with Three Windows Across (photo courtesy of Thomas Paul –

In January 1913, Robinson decided to devote more of his time to the upcoming baseball season and he sold his interest in the Diamond to Saloon Keeper August Wagener. Robinson vowed he would one day return to Baltimore to open a hotel. However, in 1914, Robinson became manager of the National League’s Brooklyn franchise and any thought of returning to Baltimore faded. Wagener’s ownership of the Diamond was short-lived and May 1915, the Diamond was put up for sale. In August 1915, Wagener filed for bankruptcy, and in October 1916, E. T. Newell & Company, Auctioneers, leased 519 North Howard from the Beach Estate, turning the Diamond Cafe into a three story warehouse.

In September 1927, Paul Caplan Company, Auctioneers, took over the lease, staying until September 1932. The National Furniture Company leased the building up until 1936, and from that point on, a variety of shops and business occupied some or all of the building, including the The Hub Piano Company in 1940 (featuring the “most complete stock of Victor and Blue Bird Records in Baltimore” (Baltimore Sun Feb. 1940)), the Carla School of Dance in 1944 (“Baltimore’s newest toe ballet studio for children and adult” (Baltimore Sun, Sept. 1944)), the Radio and Record Bar from 1945 to 1948, the Trustworthy Christian Books and Accessories Store in 1956, and the R.L. Polk Co. City Directory in 1961 and 1962.

There exists no known photograph of the Diamond Cafe, taken either inside or out. For some Baltimore baseball history enthusiasts, it is considered the Holy Grail of Baltimore sports-related photographs. The earliest known photograph of the building dates to 1924 and was published in James H. Bready’s book, The Home Team, showing only a corner of the building and the south-facing side wall advertising Newell’s Auctioneers. The photograph of the block below was taken in 1967 and is reproduced here courtesy of the wonderful Baltimore history website,

The 500 Block of North Howard Street, Baltimore, Maryland. 519 North Howard is the Three-Story, Flat-Roofed Building with Three Windows Across (photo courtesy of Thomas Paul –

An asphalt parking lot currently adorns the spot where the Diamond once stood, perhaps encapsulating the remnants of the building’s former cellar.

Former Site of 519 North Howard Street, Baltimore, Maryland

At some point in time, perhaps soon, redevelopment of the 500 block of North Howard Street will come to pass. When it does, care should be taken first to excavate the site to recover whatever can be saved of the former site of the Diamond Cafe. Perhaps buried amongst the debris beneath the asphalt are remnants of Baltimore’s baseball history or perhaps a portion of the Diamond’s steel bowling alleys. Redevelopment presents a rare opportunity to reverse, in at least a small way, the unfortunate decision 30 years ago that destroyed an important part of Baltimore’s history. Whatever historical artifacts still exist at the site should be investigated, understood, and, in some manner, preserved.

A Room With A View Overlooking Baltimore’s Union Park

stambroseprogramIt was March 31, 1894, and the National League Baltimore Orioles soon would begin their 1894 campaign, which ultimately brought Baltimore it’s first baseball championship. The Orioles opened at home that year on April 19th with a game against the New York Giants.

A mere 120 years later, on March 31st – Baseball’s Opening Day 2014 – that Championship Season was celebrated by St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center at the former site of Union Park, where the National League Orioles once played.

St. Ambrose's Green Room

St. Ambrose’s Green Room

St. Ambrose, whose offices are located at 321 East 25th Street, held an open house  celebrating the reopening of its “Green Room.” Named after one of its founders, the Green Room is located in the basement of the building and provides community space for the furthering of St. Ambrose’s worthy mission.

The building at 321 East 25th Street has great historical significance to our National Pastime as it was once located adjacent to Union Park’s grandstand and its parking lot was once part of the actual playing field. 

The back of the building can be seen in the 1897 photograph below – it is the house with the distinctive pitched roof just to the right of Union Park’s grandstand.

Union Park Grandstand (detail from The Winning Team, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Union Park Grandstand (detail from The Winning Team, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Here is that building today:

325 East 25th Street, Baltimore

321 East 25th Street, Baltimore

I had the pleasure of attending St. Ambrose’s open house as a guest speaker. After the event , I took a tour of the  building, heading to the third floor for a panoramic view of Union Park’s former playing field as seen through the two windows located just below the tip of the roof.

Interior of 325 East 25th Street, Baltimore

Interior of 321 East 25th Street, Baltimore, Third Floor

For nine seasons, from 1891 to 1899, the view through those windows was one of the finest in all of baseball, providing witness to the feats of some of the game’s greatest ballplayers, including Orioles Hall of Famers Dan Brouthers, Hughie Jennings, Wilbert Robinson, Willie Keeler, John McGraw, Ned Hanlon and Joe Kelley. Indeed, on that spot, the Orioles won three consecutive National League pennants, from 1894 to 1896.

Site of Union Park's Former Playing Field, as seen from 325 East 25th Street, Baltimore

Site of Union Park’s Former Playing Field, as seen from 321 East 25th Street, Baltimore

Today that field is a parking lot, surrounded by row houses and brick garages. But 120 years ago, it was the center of baseball in Baltimore. St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center is proud of its connection to Baltimore baseball history and there is talk of honoring Union Park and the old Baltimore Orioles with a wiffle ball game to be played in the parking lot where Union Park’s infield once sat. Should those plans come to fruition, I will post information on this site.

The 1890’s National League Baltimore Orioles As Seen Through The Sporting Life

Union Park and the National League Baltimore Orioles of the 1890’s play a prominent role in my book Deadball, A Metaphysical Baseball Novel, and it is not often that I come across artifacts from the team or that era. When I do, they typically are way out of my price range. But as luck would have it, I was able to purchase at auction recently four copies of the Sporting Life that feature the 1890’s National League Baltimore Orioles on the front cover, as well as a page out of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper featuring a preview of the Orioles and the New York Giants in the Temple Cup.

The Leslie’s newspaper page is extraordinary for it’s pictorial history of early baseball star including Orioles Hall of Famers Dan Brouthers, Hughie Jennings, Wilbert Robinson, Willie Keeler, John McGraw, Ned Hanlon, plus several New York Giants who appear in the team photo including John Ward, Amos Rusie, and Roger Connor.

1894 Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper

The Orioles won the National League pennant in 1894, the first year of a dynasty that would last almost until the team’s demise at the end of the century. The Orioles won three consecutive pennants from 1894-1896. This is reflected in the October 3, 1896, Sporting Life below depicting a Baltimore Oriole player standing next to Uncle Sam on top of the world with the inscription “the world is mine.”

October 3, 1896 Sporting Life

The 1897 season saw a turn of fortune for the Orioles, who lost the pennant to the Boston Beaneaters by two games that year (they came in second behind the Boston Beaneaters in 1898 as well). The May 18, 1897, Sporting Life foreshadows the Orioles fall from the top of the world that season, with a depiction of Uncle Sam presenting a Baltimore baseball player a letter that reads, “Uncle Sam – Some of the other clubs want the pennant this year. Respectfully yours: Uncle Nick.” The caption at the bottom of the page states: “Uncle Sam – Well son, what are you going to do about it.”

May 18, 1897 Sporting Life

The 1899 season would be the last for the National League Baltimore Orioles. The July 15, 1899, Sporting Life depicts Orioles Player/Manager John McGraw, who is said in the caption to be “The brilliant player and capable manager of Baltimore.” Although McGraw would remain in Baltimore as player/manager of the American League Orioles in their inaugural 1901 season and part of the 1902 season, McGraw would move to New York to manage the Giants towards the end of the 1902 season. It was in New York where McGraw achieved his most notable fame, where he is recognized as one of the greatest managers of all time.

July 15, 1899 Sporting Life Featuring John McGraw

On February 24, 1900, when the Sporting Life below was issued, Willie Keeler was still identified as an outfielder for Baltimore, however, by then he had been playing for the Brooklyn Superbas since 1899, alongside fellow former Orioles Joe Kelley, Aleck Smith, and Hughie Jennings. Additional former Orioles Harry Howell, Frank Kitson, Joe McGinnity, Jerry Nops, Gene DeMontreville, and Jimmy Sheckard joined Brooklyn after the 1899 season.

February 24, 1900 Sporting Life Featuring Willie Keeler

Of course it helped that the former owner of the National League Baltimore franchise, Harry Von Der Horst, also owned the Brooklyn franchise, back in the days of syndicate baseball. The Superbas would win the pennant in 1899 and 1900 thanks in part to the contribution of the old Orioles, including former Orioles Manager Ned Hanlon who joined the Superbas at the helm in 1899.

Touring the Lost Ballparks of Baltimore With Author Burt Solomon

Burt Solomon and Terry Hartzell Touring the Former Site of Union Park

As a die-hard Baltimore Orioles fan and amateur  historian, one of my all-time favorite books is Burt Solomon’s Where They Ain’t, The Fabled Life and Untimely Death of the Original Baltimore Orioles, the Team That Gave Birth to Modern Baseball, ranking right up there with James Bready’s Baseball in Baltimore, The First Hundred Years. Thanks to Terry Hartzell, a fan of both Burt’s book and my book Deadball, A Metaphysical Baseball Novel, I had the opportunity to take both Burt and Terry on one of my Lost Ballparks of Baltimore Tours. Our first stop was the former site of Union Park at the corner of East 25th Street and Guilford Avenue, followed by a walking tour up Barclay Street to East 29th Street and the former site of American League Park, which is now a McDonald’s.

Burt Solomon and David Stinson Standing in Front of Memorial Stadium's Former Infield, Now a Youth Baseball Park Courtesy of the Ripken Foundation.

Next we walked across East 29th Street to the former site of Terrapin Park/old Oriole Park, where we confirmed that the 16 original row houses that sat behind what was once right-center field all remain at the site. After walking back to the car, we drove less than a mile from Union Park to the former site of Memorial Stadium, where pieces of brick and concrete from the stadium still can be found amongst the dirt, exposed by the weather.

After bidding adieu to Burt, Terry and I continued on to New Cathedral Cemetery, where four Hall of Fame Orioles are interred (John McGraw, Joe Kelley, Ned Hanlon, and Wilbert Robinson). Our final stop for the day was the former site of St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, where a young Babe Ruth was raised as a ward of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.  The historic baseball site includes the field where Babe Ruth learned to play the game, a building from St. Mary’s dating back to Ruth’s time at the school (the former Industrial Arts Building), and the former St. Mary’s Chapel, which was converted into a school building prior to Cardinal Gibbons High School arriving there in 1962.

I hope to conduct another Lost Ballparks of Baltimore Tour some time this spring. If you are interested in coming along, just send me a comment to this post.


John McGraw and St. Ann’s Catholic Church, Baltimore

Three miles north of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, at the intersection of Greenmount Avenue and East 22nd Street, is St. Ann’s Roman Catholic Church.

St. Ann's Catholic Church, Baltimore, Maryland

The church is forever tied to Baltimore baseball history as the place where former Oriole and baseball Hall of Famer John McGraw married his second wife, Blanche Sindall, on January 8, 1902.

Interior View of St. Ann's Church Where John McGraw Married Blanche Sindall

St. Ann’s plays a prominent role in two of the latter chapters of my book Deadball, A Metaphysical Baseball Novel. However, in the interest of not spoiling the the story line, I will leave it at that. For those of you who already have read my book, here is a look at the church described in Deadball.

The Gothic-revival church is constructed of grey stone and white marble.

Side View of St. Ann's Church

The church has two steeples, one soaring high above the church to the right of the front entrance and a second, of lesser height, behind and to the left of the entrance.

The Two Steeples of St. Ann's Church

A pointed stone archway made of alternating blocks of marble and stone frames a set of red painted doors decorated with ornate iron hinges. A simple, yet elegant rose window, framed by a similar stone archway centered above the entrance adds an understated flourish to the front of the church.

Front Entrance to St. Ann's Church

The white plastic lettering of the church’s marquee sign next to the sidewalk announces that the church is “Anchored In Faith.”

Marquee Sign, St. Ann's Church

The reference to “anchored” is a pun, for resting alongside the cornerstone to the right of the entrance way is a large, gold-painted, allegorical anchor once belonging to Captain William Kennedy.

Captain William Kennedy's Anchor

Commander of the Baltimore clipper ship “The Wanderer,” Kennedy prayed for safe return when caught in a storm off the coast of Vera Cruz. He promised to build a church should his prayers be answered. They were, and Kennedy kept his promise, providing the land and money to build St. Ann’s. The good Captain is buried beneath the main floor of the church, along with his wife, both of whom died in 1873, the year the church was built.

Final Resting Place of Captain William Kennedy and his Wife

Behind the church on East 22nd Street is the rectory.

St. Ann's Rectory - The Anchorage

Next door to the rectory is  a three story tan brick row house with a first floor stone. It is the former home of Oriole Hall of Famer Joe Kelley.

Former Home of Hall of Famer Joe Kelley

Joe Kelley and several of McGraw’s teammates were in attendance at his wedding that day, including Wilbert Robinson, Willie Keeler, Steve Brodie, and Hughie Jennings.

Willie Keeler, John McGraw, Joe Kelley, and Hughie Jennings

In her memoir The Real McGraw, Blanche McGraw noted that St. Ann’s was overflowing with people for the 6 pm wedding, which was conducted by St. Ann’s Pastor, Father Cornelius Thomas, who himself was a big baseball fan.

A “church of baseball” or at least a “church with a baseball connection,” St. Ann’s can be visited on the web at

New Cathedral Cemetery and the Four Hall of Fame Baltimore Orioles

Less than five miles west of Orioles Park at Camden Yards on Route 40 is New Cathedral Cemetery.  The cemetery holds the distinction of being the final resting place of four Baseball Hall of Famers.   In Chapter 20 of  Deadball, Byron Bennett visits New Cathedral in search of the ghosts of the former players, all of which were once members of the 1890’s world champion National League Baltimore Orioles.

Entrance to New Cathedral Cemetery, Baltimore

As you enter the cemetery, there is to the left a white, clapboard building that houses the cemetery’s office.  Available inside is a 8″ by 14″ handout entitled “Baseball Hall of Famers” which includes a map of the cemetery. The map’s legend includes symbols identifying the final resting place of each Hall of Famer.

McGraw - Van Lill Mausoleum

McGraw – Van Lill Mausoleum

The final resting place of former Orioles’ third-baseman John McGraw “ is located in Lot 197, Section L.”

Entrance to McGraw - Lill Mausoleum

Entrance to McGraw – Lill Mausoleum

McGraw is entombed in a stately granite mausoleum with an oxidized, green copper roof.  “J.J. McGraw” is carved into the granite above the front door along with “S. J. Van Lill, Jr.,” whose family shares the space with McGraw and his wife, Blanche. Mrs. S. J. Lill and Mrs. McGraw were sisters.

John McGraw Inscription Above Mausoleum Door, New Cathedral Cemetery

Just over the hill behind McGraw’s mausoleum is the grave site of Joe Kelley, former right fielder for the Orioles.  A set of marble stairs at the base of a small hill leads to Kelly’s grave.

Stairway Leading To Internment Site of Joe Kelly, New Cathedral Cemetery

Kelley is  buried alongside his wife and son.

Joseph J. Kelly, Hall of Fame Baltimore Oriole, New Cathedral Cemetery

Ned Hanlon, the Orioles’ former manager, is interred just a short walking distance from Kelly’s grave.

Ned Hanlon Family Plot, New Cathedral Cemetery

Hanlon’s wife is buried alongside Foxy Ned.

Edward Hanlon, Hall of Fame Baltimore Oriole, New Cathedral Cemetery

A matching block of granite honors the memory of Hanlon’s son: “Joseph Thomas Hanlon, Born March 3, 1893, Died July 31, 1918, Killed In Action, Buried At Thiaucourt, France.”

Joseph Hanlon, son of Ned Hanlon, New Cathedral Cemetery

The grave site of Wilbert Robinson, former Orioles catcher, and his wife, is situated in the northeast section on the opposite side of the cemetery.

Wilbert Robinson Family Plot, New Cathedral Cemetery

A large chunk of black granite is missing from the corner of Robinson’s headstone.

Wilbert Robinson, Hall of Fame Baltimore Oriole, New Cathedral Cemetery

New Cathedral Cemetery is just one of the many examples of Baltimore’s rich baseball history.  Given its close proximity to Camden Yards, the cemetery certainly is worth a stop for any true Orioles fan.