Here’s a close-up look at Fenway Park

05/08/21 – BOSTON, MA: Northeastern University celebrates its undergraduate and graduate 2021 Commencement ceremonies at Boston’s Historic Fenway Park on May 8th & 9th. Speakers included Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern, a distinguished group of influential figures as well as student speakers. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

If you are sitting in Fenway Park for Northeastern’s 2021 Commencement —or visiting virtually— you are experiencing the oldest active stadium in Major League Baseball and home to the Boston Red Sox. The park holds a special place in the hearts of generations of Bostonians, as families have seen the Red Sox struggle and triumph in the shadow of the Green Monster, the iconic 37-foot left field wall. Let’s take a look at some of the history and lore of the park that the author John Updike famously dubbed a “lyric little bandbox.”

Before Fenway

Northeastern has a direct connection to the Red Sox and Fenway Park. Huntington Grounds, located in the area between the present-day Cabot Center and the William E. Carter playground, was one of two large ballparks in baseball-crazed, turn-of-the century Boston. It was the home of the American League Boston team from its inception in 1901 until Fenway Park was built in 1912. The first World Series was played on Huntington Grounds in 1903, and the legendary Cy Young pitched the first perfect game there in 1904 (a statue commemorating Young stands on the south side of Cabot, where the pitcher’s mound used to be).

Huntington Grounds in 1903, facing south from the roof of the Boston Storage Warehouse building, the current site of Northeastern’s Marino Center. Huntington Avenue in foreground.

Spectators sitting on “Duffy’s Cliff” under the “Green Monster” in 1914.

Fenway Park

Red Sox owner John I. Taylor built Fenway Park just north of Huntington Grounds in an urban marsh area of Boston known as the Fens. To fit in Boston’s compact streetscape, the park had to be constructed on an asymmetrical city block, and as a result sported several unique quirks and features, some of which remain to this day. Perhaps the most iconic feature is the legendary “Green Monster” wall in left field. While part of the original 1912 construction, the wall has been altered significantly during its lifetime. Originally, the wall was covered with advertisements and billboards. A small embankment in front of the wall was known as “Duffy’s Cliff” (named for an outfielder who was particularly skillful at playing the area) was sometimes used for overflow seating during important games.

Fenway Park in 1946, before the addition of lights. Courtesy of the Boston Globe Library Collection at the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections.

After a fire in 1933, the wall was rebuilt, Duffy’s Cliff was removed, and a hand operated scoreboard was added, which is still in use today. During renovations in 1947 (which also included an upper deck and lights for night games), the wall was painted green but it was only in the 1960s and ‘70s that fans started referring to it as the “Green Monster.” The exterior of the wall has been covered in various materials over the years, including wood and metal, and is currently clad in a green plastic compound. The inside of the wall is covered in signatures and graffiti from players past and present.

Beyond baseball

The proportions of Fenway made it an ideal choice for football, and the Boston Redskins of the National Football League team played there from 1933 to 1936 until they moved to Washington D.C. The Boston Patriots football team played at Fenway In the 1960s until the league was reorganized and the team moved to Foxboro, Massachusetts to become the New England Patriots.

Plan for the layout of a football gridiron inside Fenway Park, 1941. Courtesy of the Boston Globe Library Collection at the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections.

By the 1990s, serious discussions about replacing Fenway Park with something more modern were underway. A grassroots “Save Fenway Park” movement began, allowing time for a new ownership group led by John Henry to take over and make the decision to renovate and extend the life of Fenway Park rather than replace it. New seating and luxury amenities were added, original infrastructure was upgraded, and premium seating was added to the top of the Green Monster.

The “Green Monster” in 1996.

The “Green Monster” in 2006, after renovations and the addition of seats on top of the wall.

The first annual Beanpot baseball tournament at Fenway Park in 1990 pitted Northeastern against Boston University. Photo courtesy of Northeastern University Library, Archives and Special Collections.

In an effort to make the old park more profitable, the ownership has hosted sports such as soccer, lacrosse, Irish hurling, and concerts by artists such as The Who, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and Dave Matthews. Fenway has also recently seen winter service as an outdoor venue for college and NHL Winter Classic hockey games. When COVID-19 vaccines became available earlier this year, the Massachusetts government used Fenway Park as one of several mass vaccination sites.

Click on the baseballs to learn about some unique features of Fenway Park:

A map of Fenway