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Palmer Park: Roseland’s playground

No matter where you went to school as a kid, there was the ‘play’ part of your life. If you lived just outside of Roseland in Stewart Ridge, that life existed at West Pullman Park. However, if you lived in Roseland, that exciting part of your life centered on Palmer Park!

Whenever the topic of Palmer Park comes up, whether at Spaghetti-Os or the Roseland Roundtable meet-ups, you immediately get two or three people telling stories about the fun they all had. During the ’60s, that usually involved swimming or taking part in classes or clubs. During the ’40s and ’50s, baseball was king, with several championships being won by Palmer Park teams.

In the photo of the Palmer Park pool below, taken from an old National Geographic Magazine, you’ll notice that everybody is standing in the foreground. That’s because the far end was 12 feet deep, and was used mostly for diving.

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Over the past few years, I’ve been shown some great photos of people picnicking at Palmer Park. Not just couples, but whole groups of six or eight people hanging out and having a great time while watching everyone at play. I’ve also seen photos of spectators lining the foul lines of the baseball diamond as they cheered their teams on. There are about a dozen photos that you can see at www.pullman-museum.org.

According to Paul Petraitis, one of the co-founders of the Roseland Roundtable, Palmer Park was laid out by the Olmstead Brothers, who designed New York’s Central Park and Chicago’s own Jackson Park and Lincoln Park. The field house was designed by legendary local architect Daniel Burnham. The picture of the field house below was taken by Henry R Koopman and can be found at the Pullman Museum website.

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The grounds were the original location of First Elim Lutheran Church. In a photo in the Pullman Museum collection you can see the church on the northeast corner of the property near Calumet Ave. The church was moved from the north side of 113th Street, near Calumet Avenue, to the south side of 113th. It has never closed and is still a Lutheran church.

The land was originally farmland kept lush with grass for horses grazing en route to Chicago; a harness shop was located at 113th Place and Michigan. Wild strawberries grew there, too. The land was owned by a Dutch family who sold it to Col. James H. Bowen who, in turn, sold it to Pullman, whose heirs sold it to Chicago Parks. Construction on Palmer Park was begun in 1904, and it opened in 1905.

I recently met up with Gardner Park Athletic Club team members Joe Pesavento and his wife Josephine, and Larry Lovino and his wife Bea, and the guys told me about their 1950 single-loss season and the team that became the 1951 Calumet Region Football Champions. The Gardner Park AC Team played their games at Palmer Park and at Yates Stadium, and had their clubhouse behind Sola’s at 123rd and Michigan Avenue.

The Gardner Park AC team consisted mostly of friends who had come out of Scanlan School. They told me about the memorable 1950 Championship Game they played against an All-Star Team in the snow at Yates Stadium on the Southeast Side. It ended up being the only game Gardner Park lost all season. The final score was 7-6. World Middleweight Champ Tony Zale, Gary’s “Man of Steel,” who beat Rocky Graziano twice, was the guest speaker at the dinner dance the next evening.

Some of the players on the Gardner Park Championship team were coach Leno Pretto, Cal Calabrese, Larry Lovino, Joe Pesavento, Ed Kozieski, Chuck Erickson, Mario Bocardo, Don Rigoni, Art Caschetta, Kyle Bonagura, Chuck Olsen, Italo Bagnero and Joe Galassini (who played on an earlier team and was a really good player).

In the photo below are Orli Sullivan, Larry Lovino (25), quarterback Leno Valente (41), Bruno Bagnera (33), Bert Bettinardi (40), Jim Gavin (28), Bill Weir (44), and Coach Rich (who had a wooden leg). Thanks to Larry Lovino and Joe Pesavento for naming as many of the players as they could. Please let me know if you recognize anyone else.

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In Memoriam

Gilbert Munoz, age 63, a good friend of mine since our Fenger Junior College days, passed away on March 9. My deepest condolences go out to his wife, Maria, and sons Christopher (Heather) and Phillip; his sisters Sandy and Julie (Rod) and his brother Ron (Jean). Most of all though, to his mother, Julia, who continues to reside in the family home at 116th Street and Indiana. Julia and I are members of the St. Anthony 8:30 a.m. Mass Coffee Club and see each other weekly.

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Gil was a good friend throughout the years and even recorded my wedding back in 1972. His love of music was well known and he could always be counted on to serve as DJ whether at a block party or a family party. Gil was definitely happiest when he was making sure others were having a good time. We know he’s keeping busy playing some of God’s favorites now.

Frances M. Adducci, age 90, of Country Club Hills/Homewood, and Adeline Cortese, age 82, Glenwood, also passed away.

Contact CJ Martello at 1501 W. Belmont Ave. #708, Chicago, IL 60657; 773-525-7823; or cjfranoi@yahoo.comRoseland Roundtable on Facebook.

About C.J. Martello

CJ Martello has returned to his roots as the author of “Petals from Roseland.” After five years of writing his column as a resident of Chicago's North Side, CJ put his money where his heart is and moved to Pullman, near the Roseland area in which he grew up. Having joined the Spaghetti-Os, Veneti nel Mondo and St. Anthony of Padua Parish and being one of the founders of the Roseland Roundtable Facebook page, CJ has become reacquainted with countless friends and acquaintances from his youth. CJ is looking forward to retirement and completing the books he has put on hold, including one that will encompass as much of Roseland's rich, beloved history as possible.