It was as if a fairy had dusted everyone with happy powder: walking around Sloan Park for the first Cubs spring training game last March in Arizona, fans seemed almost giddy to be watching baseball again on a perfect, 75 degree cloudless afternoon. As I enjoyed sitting outside listening to the crack of the bat, I pondered what to do the next morning before venturing to Tempe Diablo Stadium for an exhibition contest between the Angels and Rockies.
To keep the baseball theme going, I checked out the Wrigley Mansion, built between 1929 and 1931 by William Wrigley, the chewing gum magnate and owner of the Chicago Cubs, who still play in the stadium that bears his name during the regular season. The stark white structure sits on a 100-foot knoll and boasts 24 rooms and 17 bathrooms. Featuring unobstructed views of downtown Phoenix and Camelback Mountain, it was called “La Colina Solana,” or the sunny hill.
Placed on the national register of historic places in 1989, it was commissioned by Wrigley as a 50th anniversary present to his wife, Ada. While some would say it “blends” elements of Spanish Colonial Revival, California Monterey and Mediterranean architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright had a different view – he called it “an architect’s desecration” because of the incongruent styles. (After hearing this, Wrigley had his main staircase designed in Wright’s signature style so people would think he designed the property.)
I left wondering if Wrigley had any single male relatives around today when I learned about the plethora of special touches he incorporated into the house for his wife: if it seems like it takes you awhile to sit down in your chair, our tour guide said, it’s because Wrigley had them specially designed for his wife who was only 4’11”. Also, their breakfast nook featured a soundproof wall so Ada didn’t have to listen to the servants cleaning while she watched the sun rise over Phoenix.
As fans of baseball history know, the Cubs previously held their spring training on Catalina Island and the mansion features a collection of rare Catalina tile. Visitors also get to peer into the hidden Philippine walnut cabinet in the library that was used to store alcohol during prohibition. The house has a Minnesota connection as well – since 1992, it has been owned by the family of Geordie Hormel (yes, of the meat company in Austin). Legend has it that Hormel, a passionate jazz fan, saw the Steinway player piano Wrigley had commissioned for the house and bought the entire mansion for that one musical instrument, which is today estimated to be worth $15 million.
After my morning history lesson, I stopped for one last panoramic glimpse of the Valley of the Sun before heading off to that day’s spring training game.